by Marilyn Lester
It’s always good to be in a room where love is poured out liberally, but it’s even better when that love overflows the cup. Such was the case as family and friends gathered to salute cabaret’s own Linda Amiel Burns. It’s no wonder that Metropolitan Room Managing Partner, Bernie Furshpan, hosted Burns for a This is Your Night!(TM) honor. Burns has been a lifelong supporter, participant and mover and shaker in cabaret and musical theater. Her contributions are much to sing about, particularly with the inspiration she had in 1977 to begin her Singing Experience program. These workshops have taught singing, but are notable for their especial effect of instilling confidence in participants. The Singing Experience, with Burns as its heart and soul, has literally changed the lives of thousands of individuals (from all walks of life) for the good. This is a legacy that was radiantly clear from the start of this magnificent evening of tribute.
Kicking off the honors was pianist and music director for the evening, Richard Danley, a product of the Singing Experience (who’s also been the long-time M.D. for it). Danley offered “Let Me Sing/I’m Happy” (with special lyrics) with bravado and the lush piano that would support all the performers who followed (ably aided by bassist Steve Doyle). A large part of the evening was a testament to Burn’s ability to draw the best out of people. Nonprofessionals Bill Thomas and Jeff Tischler, singing “Perhaps Love” and “The Kid Inside,” respectively, were living proof of Burns’ ability to help those who want to discover their hidden talents and perhaps have dreams come true too. Jerry Osterbergg got to the heart of “Melancholy Baby” with true meaning, while Dean Benner brought smiles to faces with the novelty song, “Before You Kill Us All.”
Novelty was a significant part of the evening, starting with the second number “Side by Side.” Richard Danley began the tune in complete seriousness, only to be interrupted by Debbi Whiting with mock horror at being excluded from the scheduled duet. Whiting took the stage with her usual verve and expressiveness, bringing the song home with feeling. Former opera singer and current cabaret maven, Bill Dyszel, delivered an eloquent appraisal of “wizard” Burns – whose methods, he attested, are “magical” – culminating in a parody entitled “Amazon” (to the tune of “Camelot”), dedicated to their mutual love of online shopping. Also in the department of novelty, the much-loved Sidney Myer, not to be outdone, presented a rendition of “Pheromones” that had the room collapsing in laughter and joy.
Family was represented by cousin and close friend, Joan Adams (Burns’ two non-performing children and other family members were in the audience). Adams story-sang “Puttin’ on the Ritz/Let Yourself Go” with a sincerity that would have pleased the doyenne of the style, Mabel Mercer. Best friend and soul-sister, Sandi Durell, with her rich, warm vocalizations, provided perfectly tailored special lyrics to the tune of “Broadway Baby.” Several professionals who took The Singing Experience with profound gratitude to Burns were veterans Susan Baum, and Nancy McCall McGraw, offering, respectively, “I Feel a Song Coming On/If You Feel Like Singing, Sing” and “Comes Once in a Lifetime.” Emma Campbell, at the crest of a career, had a special number for Burns – an opposite to her self-admitted preference for the dark and morose – Duke Ellington’s bouncy, swinging “Hit Me With a Hot Note.”
All good things must come to an end, as the saying goes, and what better way than with two performers who radiate stage charisma. Richard Skipper, who took The Singing Experience as a New York newcomer (and who went on to a brilliant career) sang an explosive and vibrant “Before the Parade Passes By.” Next, at the piano, the impossible-to-follow Mark Nadler, with his perfect timing and impeccable sense of humor sang “A Jewish Christmas,” made all the more special with the song’s composer, Larry Kerchner, in the audience. Finally, the honoree herself, Linda Amiel Burns, took the stage with the cast to lead an audience sing-along of “On a Clear Day.” Here was Burns in action: a clear and powerful example of what everyone had been saying all along. When it comes to enthusiasm, encouragement and bringing out the best in folks, Burns has no competition. Who could not be in awe of this ultimate cheerleader, this passionate pied piper of feel good.