by Alix Cohen
On the last night of its 27th annual celebration, the New York Cabaret Convention pays homage to theater icons Sheldon Harnick and Charles Strouse, both in attendance. Host, Klea Blackhurst opens with the seminal theme from All in the Family, “Those Were the Days” (Charles Strouse/Lee Adams): And you knew where you were then/Girls were girls, and men were men/Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again… “whoever thought he would sound like a fantastic alternative!?” she quips.
Though off to a fine start, the show’s first number reflects a gaping omission that continues throughout. Almost never is the audience told who wrote a song or what it’s from.Highlights:
Joanne Tatham’s playfully flirty rendition of “You’ve Got Possibilities” from It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman (Charles Strouse/Lee Adams) arrives a sophisticated rumba. Why can’t I be-hands clasp behind her back- your little friend? she sings with infectious delight, segueing into a jazzy second half, leaving us smiling.(Alex Rybeck-Piano)
On a completely different octave spectrum, Corinna Sowers Adler is equally enchanting with “Ice Cream” (Sheldon Harnick/Jerry Bock from She Loves Me). The vocalist’s pristine soprano is aided and abetted by charming enactment of the confused character. And oh the frisson of that last note! (Alex Rybeck-Piano)
“Miracle of Miracles” (Sheldon Harnick/Jerry Bock from Fiddler on the Roof) erupts out of Stearns Matthews like a geyser of entirely believable joy (Christopher Denny-Piano) while Scott Coulter’s “There’s Always One” (Alan Jay Lerner/Charles Strouse from Dance A Little Closer) sounds like a magical invocation of unseen spirits. Coulter’s phrases loop out and back with finely wrought control. (John Fischer-Piano)
Newcomer Lena Moy-Borgen’s version of “Gorgeous” (Sheldon Harnick/Jerry Bock from The Apple Tree) begins with a broad monologue which could have gone either way. Fortunately Moy-Borgan transitions into the song with entertaining comic delivery and robust vocal. (Katy Pfaffl-Piano) From first notes, we know the multifaceted Liam Forde is back. Ever polished, (but not too), Forde aptly comments that Harnick’s work is always artful and truthful. His two inhabited numbers do both authors justice.
This year’s Julie Wilson Award, endowed by Linda and Peter Hanson, is given to Lauren Stanford “in celebration of her emotional sincerity and truth in performance…” Stanford’s bewildered “Dear Friend” (Sheldon Harnick/Jerry Bock from She Loves Me) quietly sparkles, but her interpretation of “Alive” Charles Strouse/Lee Adams from Applause) exhibits stiff physicality in conflict with the abandonment of lyrics. (Mike Pettry-Piano)
Uber romantic Todd Murray garners the 2016 Margaret Whiting Award. Margaret’s daughter Debbi Whiting tells us her grandfather Richard Whiting advised singing songs simply and with great affection. This, she says, describes the honoree. Proving the observation, Murray offers what I can only call a divoon “Dance a Little Closer” (from the musical of the same name) and a palpably warm, deeply nourishing “Sunrise Sunset” (Fiddler on The Roof- Alex Rybeck-Piano) Beautiful.
As performed by Marieann Meringolo, “Far From the Home I Love” (Fiddler on the Roof) is both clearly and avowedly personal. The wrenching plea is rich without excess. It vocally soars, pausing at one point rife with silent feeling. (Doyle Newmeyer-Piano)
This evening’s showstoppers are unquestionably veterans Anita Gillette and Penny Fuller. A subtly arranged duet of “Once Upon a Time” (Charles Strouse/Lee Adams from All American) is utterly wistful and golden. Both artists are completely focused, looking inward toward memories when the other sings. Gillette’s “What Makes Me Love Him?” is beguiling without ever losing substance (The Apple Tree). Fuller declaratively speak/sings “Welcome to the Theater” (Applause) with visceral conviction. Take a lesson newbies. (Paul Greenwood-Piano)
Host Klea Blackhurst has kept the evening wry and light. Accompanied by Scott Siegel’s Broadway By The Year Chorus (Directed by Scott Coulter), Blackhurst closes with a pithy “Tomorrow” a song in which, during these trying times, we would all dearly love to believe. (Annie-John Fischer-Piano).
Also featuring: Eric Comstock’s utterly charming “She Loves Me” (Sheldon Harnick/Jerry Bock); Shana Farr in glorious, serious soprano (Steve Ross-Piano); admirably poised, 12 year-old, Zoe Gelman, effectively belting two songs from Charles Strouse/Martin Charnin’s Annie (Alex Rybeck-Piano; Corrina Sowers Adler-Vocal Coach); Valerie Lemon’s animated, humorously personified “Marry the Very Next Man” (Fiorello by Sheldon Harnick/Jerry Bock , Mike Pettry-Piano); Joshua Lance Dixon’s appealing, resonant vocals (Tracy Stark-Piano) ; Shawn Ryan’s over the top, self indulgent patter ruining what might have been a wry version of “Little Girls” (Annie- John McDaniel-Piano); Amra-Faye Wright’s inappropriately flamboyant “I Love a Cop” (Fiorello-Mark Hummel-Piano) Skip Ward-Bass, Ritt Henn-Bass, Mike Lunoe-Drums, Dan Gross-Drums.
Another year, another banquet of cabaret, 70 vocalists, 40 musicians performing for US= you and I. Patronize your local cabaret clubs people! This is not a once a year art form.
The Mabel Mercer Foundation 27th New York Cabaret Convention
Saluting Sheldon Harnick and Charles Strouse
Hosted by Klea Blackhurst
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater
October 21, 2016