by: Joe Regan Jr.
The 25th New York Cabaret Convention: Something Sort of Grandish: The Music of Burton Lane, The Lyrics of E. Y. Harburg
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater – October 22, 2014
The third night of the Mabel Mercer Foundation’s Cabaret Convention was hosted by two of founder Donald Smith’s favorite performers, the always elegant and stylish Jeff Harnar and Andrea Marcovicci, and they opened the evening with a duet on the title’s song “Something Sort of Grandish,” working in perfect harmony and obviously loving their work. There was a stellar cast of cabaret and Broadway names and I am going to list them all to give a sense of the caliber of the performers who were all first-rate and most of them gave very amusing introductions to their selections. They were, alphabetically, Karen Akers, Christine Andreas, Brent Barrett, Anna Bergman, Carole J. Bufford, Jim Caruso, Eric Comstock, Natalie Douglas, Barbara Fasano, Rita Gardner, Richard Holbrook, Sally Mayes, Anthony Nunziata, Jennifer Sheehan (who received the Donald F. Smith Award this year, made possible by Adela & Larry Elow) Gabreille Stravelli, Billy Stritch, and Iris Williams.
Especially exciting performances: Nunziata doing a solo on “On A Clear Day” with all its lyrics; Barrett singing the forgotten “They Weren’t You,” and then dueting with Bergman on a rapturous “Too Late Now,” Rita Gardner telling about being Barbara Harris’ standby in “On A Clear Day” and never getting to perform and then doing a stunning “How Are Things in Glocca Mora” in her crystal clear soprano; Andreas talking about going to Ted Hook’s backstage and one night Lane was there and she sang his song to him; and then belting out “What Did I Have” with its every lyric. Sheehan got every nuance out of “Here’s To Your Illusions.” And, after receiving her award, sang an emotional, moving, with great lyrical impact “Look To The Rainbow.”
Then we had the special treat of Billy Stritch pairing with Jim Caruso on a delightful “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” and Caruso singing a plaintive “If I Only Had A Heart” as a tearful ballad. Comstock and Fasano, after she sang a bouncy “The Eagle and Me,” doing a delightful (with updated lyrics) “How About You.”
Glamorous as ever, Akers began with the beautiful “Time For A Love Song,” but suddenly melded into the verse of “Fun To Be Fooled” – a beautiful choice. Holbrook, who confessed it was his first appearance at the annual event, did two songs from “Babes on Broadway,” the title song that Lane and Harburg wrote and the second one was the jazzy “Anything Can Happen in New York,” a list song with lyrics by Ralph Freed which Holbrook rocked on!
The most dramatic and exciting performance was by Williams, stunning in a strapless blue gown, singing a very slow and languid and yet powerful “April In Paris” with a verse she found on a Johnny Mathis record. It was an amazing rendition that built and built to a heart-breaking climax. Natalie Douglas did two great numbers, including one that included lyrics by both Harburg and Johnny Mercer from a 1932 show.
What could follow that: the entire cast on stage singing “Over the Rainbow.” A great night.
Photos Above: Maryann Lopinto
Closing Night: Come On And Hear: The Songs of Irving Berlin
October 23, 2014
The fourth night of the Mabel Mercer Foundation’s 25th New York Cabaret Convention on October 23 was dedicated to Irving Berlin. Hosted by Klea Blackhurst, who is well known for her Ethel Merman programs, she opened with a medley of Berlin songs, including “Hostess With The Mostest.” The performers this night were as star studded as the previous nights: Celia Berk, Peggy Eason, John Treacy Egan, Gregory Generet, Anita Gillette, Nicholas King, Kristoffer Lowe, Rebekah Lowin, Karen Mason, Tammy McCann, Sidney Myer, Karen Oberlin, Spider Saloff, and Stacy Sullivan. Every one of them was dressed glamorously and had great arrangements and Blackhurst did very personal introductions for each of them, some very amusing.
For example, Blackhurst discussed the Foundation’s creator’s rules for the convention: all the men were to wear suit and tie. There was only one exception: Sidney Myer! And Myer came on stage in the most glamorous Niemen Marcus black silk pajamas and sang a crazy novelty about all the towns he couldn’t return to because there were women that he made promises to who were well connected with law officers! It was funny as hell, and he did patter about Roy Rogers, the King of the Cowboys and his wife, Dale Evans, known as “The Queen of the Cowboys!” – and how, when he died, Rogers wanted to be stuffed and mounted like his horse Trigger!
And young Lowin who just graduated from Columbia, did a stunning “What’ll I Do,” accompanied by Peter Calo on guitar.
Saloff, with Ricky Ritzel on piano, sang one of Berlin’s early speakeasy songs, the innuendo laden “You’d Be Surprised,” to everyone’s delight. Oberlin did an unusual hard-edged “They Say It’s Wonderful,” which visibly melted down into tenderness by the last chorus. The extremely talented Eason stunned everyone with a sensitive but big voiced “Say It Isn’t So.”
Mason animated “Stepping Out With My Baby” and reversed gear with a great tender “I Got Lost In His Arms.” I should mention that each performer sang the verses of each song, some of them rarely heard.
Young King, who has grown up now, did a wonderful mix of “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” and “Change Partners” and then did a song he learned when he was 6 years old from an Al Jolson LP, “Let Me Sing and I’ll Be Happy.” Lowe, the recent winner of the Metro Star contest, sang “Moonshine Lullaby,” interjecting stories of his hillbilly family still in the woods – “Deliverance” territory.
One of the most unusual performances came from Sullivan who put together “Always” and “Remember,” and then, in her Peggy Lee persona, did a “Fever” styled arrangement of “Cheek To Cheek.” It was dazzling.
Best of all was Gillette who actually knew Berlin and starred in his last Broadway musical, “Mr. President.” She told wonderful stories about Berlin and saluted Robert Ryan, who played the lead, singing his song “It Gets Lonely in the White House,” which was as topical today as it was when that show was done. She tenderly mixed it with “All By Myself.” Gillette, who confessed to being almost 80, was a big crowd favorite.
Of course, Blackhurst tied it all together with Berlin’s show business anthem, “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” which sent everyone out in the night on a big high. The four nights were all top grade and I can’t wait till next year.!
Photos: Russ Weatherford