Winter Rhythms Series at Urban Stages produced by Tom Toce concludes with an all star cast singing optimistic SONGS OF HOPE
by Linda Amiel Burns
On December 21, the last of 20 shows of the 2018 Winter Rhythms Series, closed with an evening featuring “Songs of Hope” with an accomplished cast of top notch performers. Urban Stages Artistic Director, Frances Hill, welcomed the audience and brought Tom Toce to the stage who has taken over producing reigns this season from Peter Napolitano. He also produced, directed and hosted this final and inspirational evening. At the piano was the extraordinary musical director Jon Delfin who supported each singer beautifully.
Tom opened with a heart warming song that he composed called “Day Has Ended” written for his grandson (who was in the audience) as adorable photos of the little boy flashed across the screen. The uber-talented songwriter/singer/pianist Douglas J. Cohen (Tom was Best Man at Doug’s wedding) played and sang “Thank You For Today,” a lovely song about being grateful. Mardie Millit’s medley of “Make Someone Happy (Styne-Comden-Green) with Blitzstein’s “I Wish It So” was perfect. The theme continued as Steve Ross delighted us with a wonderful version of Kander and Ebb’s positive “Yes.” Renee Katz dazzled with Maury Yeston’s “I Am Longing.” The tender side of the great Sidney Myer was seen with a David Yazbek song that I did not know called “Nothing is Too Wonderful To be True.”
Natalie Douglas can sing anything and her rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water (Paul Simon) offered comfort and solace as she asked the audience to join in at the end. Good to see Eric Michael Gillett looking so well as he told the story of his difficult few years with a fire in his apartment, and then falling down the steps of 54 Below suffering great injuries. He sang a song from what he said was the “only Kander & Ebb show that did not make it to Broadway,” the title song from “The Skin of Our Teeth” about resilience. Cynthia Crane who can teach us all a lesson in survival and being able to move forward through many setbacks, wowed us with a sincere version of Berlin’s “Count Your Blessings.
Lauren Stanford, a MetroStar Winner, performed a Ben Folds song called “The Luckiest.” Tom has written with the great Lew Spence who when asked why he keeps on writing songs said, “Because I Can.” Lynn Henderson who walked out on stage with a cane (said she couldn’t walk a few weeks ago) adopted the lyrics to state why performers continue to sing, “because I can, because I must.” Christine Lavin (who did a full show at Winter Rhythms) recited a poem sans guitar called “The Polka-Dancing Bus Driver and The 40 year-Old Mystery.” Tony Award winner Trezana Beverly, accompanied by Tuffus Zimbobwe, sang her own composition called “The Spirit Moves” and we were all moved by this powerful singer.
Mark William who made a stunning cabaret debut this year at The Green Room 42 combined “Pure Imagination” (Bricusse-Newley) with “Over the Rainbow” (Arlen-Harburg) in a terrific arrangement. The golden voiced Bill Dyszel (14 years with the City Opera) performed an emotional “Without a Song” (Eliscu-Rose-Youmans). His MAC nominated cabaret show The Internet Ate My Brain continues to play around town and at festivals. One of the highlights for me was Ann Kittredge’s beautifully sung medley of “Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo” (Deutsch-Kaper) with “Love Makes the World Go ‘Round” (Merrill), making this sad love song hopeful as “tomorrow I’ll probably love again.” The perfect ending to a remarkable evening, was Julie Gold’s Grammy Award Winning Song (written 32 years ago) “From a Distance.” It is the ultimate song of hope for love and peace on earth. Tom called the cast to the stage for the funny closing song that he wrote, “The Best. Christmas.Yet. Song.”
Kudos to Tom, the marvelous cast, the crew of Urban Stages for a brilliant evening and especially to Tom for continuing Winter Rhythms and keeping this successful series alive and thriving.