by Marilyn Lester
If there is one man who epitomizes the New York City piano bar and cabaret scene, the odds are it’s Scott Barbarino. Barbarino has worn many hats – performer, producer, venue manager, musical director – and has done it all with joy and commitment. It all started at the original Duplex Piano Bar in 1980 and hasn’t stopped since. Metropolitan Room owner, Bernie Furshpan, kicking off the evening, the latest in the This Is Your Night series, tapped into his stand-up persona with a heartfelt and humorous rundown of the Barbarino biography. But get two impresarios in the same room, and it’s no surprise that Barbarino himself took over hosting, from the central banquette of the room.
Composer John McMahon, one of the dual musical directors of the show, was first up with a “tribute” song, penned with Jay Jeffries – a satirical piece based on a long-ago piano bar of disrepute that could not be named. McMahon also accompanied the fairly eccentric and humorous Elaine Brier, who sang an original song about her long but doomed relationship with Henry Pham, owner of the defunct “Rose’s Turn.” Kathy “Babe” Robinson, with McMahon, humorously rocked a nostalgic disco medley of “Last Dance/Hot Stuff/Bad Girls,” complete with props. On a more serious note, Robinson, who has become a jazz singer, working in the Philadelphia area, sang a personal, heartfelt “Both Sides Now.”
While humor abounded, jazz was another thread of the Barbarino tribute. Barry Levitt – a musical director and pianist who can play any style anytime, anywhere – with Jon Burr on bass and Howie Gordon on drums, accompanied Sue Matsuki’s swinging “Devil May Care.” The group also swung with variety artist, Warren Schein, who, after a little shtick sang a jazzy “Sing for Your Supper” paired with “”Sing Sing Sing” and “Sing,” complete with top-notch scatting. The jazz classic, “Frim Fram Sauce” was expertly delivered by Aaron Lee Battle with great energy and verve. Not to be outdone by jazz, the blues was represented by David Rubin, who, with the look of a local furrier, pulled out his harmonica and proceeded to knock everyone dead with a soulful, full-body workout of “Blues in G.”
Scott Barbarino was mentored by several important figures of the old piano bar/cabaret days, including the legendary Jan Walman. From his early years Barbarino learned the benefits of paying his good fortune forward. In this spirit, a young talent, Joshua Cruz, offered an impassioned “It’s Not Unusual” displaying the singing potential that Barbarino has spotted and is furthering. Richard Skipper, a seasoned performer with a life-affirming style of his own, and big voice, sang an unplugged and celebratory “Before the Parade Passes By.”
Lina Koutrakos, the final performer of the evening, accompanied by John McMahon, offered an intensely dramatic “Town Without Pity” in full-belt mode. Finally, taking the stage, the man of the hour himself donned his “magic jacket,” a sparkly gold blazer, and put on his singer’s hat. For his friends, family and admirer’s gathered at the Metropolitan Room, and those watching remotely via live-stream, Barbarino sang a spirited “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head.” When all was said and done, there couldn’t have been a better tribute to a man who believes strongly in gratitude, champions live entertainment, loves what he does, and intends to keep on doing it for as long as he possibly can. What a great night for Scott Barbarino.
This Is Your Night Scott Barbarino, April 4, 2017 at 7 PM
The Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street, 212-206-0440, www.metropolitanroom.com
Photos: Maryann Lopinto