By: Peter Haas
The 25th New York Cabaret Convention
Rose Theater, at Jazz at Lincoln Center
Opening Night: Monday, October 20, 2014
The lobbies leading into Rose Theater, at Jazz at Lincoln Center, bubbled with hellos, hugs and “how’ve you been?” as cabaret fans and performers greeted each other for the first evening of the Mabel Mercer Foundation’s 25th annual New York Cabaret Convention.
“It is a convention!” said KT Sullivan, the Foundation’s artistic director, opening the show. “Here we are, coming from all over the country, to enjoy each other and the music provided by these gifted performers!”
Each of the four evenings carried its own theme. The first, titled “I Love a Piano,” was a tribute to cabaret’s singing pianists. Its host, however, wasn’t a pianist but jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein. Known for both his musicianship and his wit, Aaron deftly combined his wry humor with a neat, warm job of introducing the acts.
It would be encyclopedic to name everyone who performed; the show ran almost three-and-a-half hours! Here, instead, are some highlights, from one audience member’s viewpoint:
Opening the evening was the ever-masterful Barbara Carroll (who has played at every one of the quarter-century’s Conventions), performing Bernstein and Gershwin, partnered with Jay Leonhart on bass … Broadway song-writer Jason Robert Brown introduced a bright, cheery song, “I Love Betsy,” from his forthcoming show, Honeymoon in Vegas … Youthful, energetic Liam Forde created a mini-production number, “I Love a Violin,” featuring Aaron Weinstein … Eric Yves Garcia, gifted not only as a pianist but, increasingly, as a solo stand-up singer, sang “Lose That Long Face.”
Steven Lutvak, composer of Broadway’s Tony award-winning show, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, performed two songs. One was a number from that show; then, turning back the clock to his early years as a cabaret artist and songwriter, he encored with his classic “Bagel Maker to the Czar” – with knowledgeable members of the audience joining in on the punch line.
Steve Ross, elegant in white tie and tails, performed a virtuosic piano solo of numbers celebrating Paris, while Tony deSare introduced a boogie version of “Sabre Dance.” Mark Nadler sang and played his original song/story of “BoBo’s Bar and Grill” and the colorful characters who inhabited it.
And that was only Act One.
Sidelight: In The New York Times later in the week, its major cabaret critic chided Mark for the length of his piece (it ran 13-plus minutes), and called for a time limit on all Convention performers. After the item appeared, it was a topic of intermission conversation among a number of convention-goers. Many chided the chiding.
The evening’s second half presented a combination of newer faces and familiar ones. Among them: singer/pianist Matt Baker, from Australia; Devin Bing, playing kazoo while plucking the piano strings; favorite Daryl Sherman, singing and playing in tribute to Blossom Dearie; Alex Leonard, performing his song, “Intimate Nights,” inspired by James Gavin’s book depicting New York’s cabaret scene of bygone days; and Loston Harris and his group, stylish, lilting, smooth, and just about to open their season at Bemelman’s Bar.
A Celebration of Julie Wilson’s 90th Birthday
Night Two: Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Julie Wilson turned 90 on Tuesday, October 21, and the Cabaret Convention’s second evening was devoted to celebrating. With her portrait, complete with gardenia in her hair, hung above the stage; with Julie herself – a bit more frail, allowing her hair to go gray, but with her spirit and humor still intact – present in a box seat up front, and with KT Sullivan presiding as host, more than 20 performers took to the stage to sing in Julie’s honor.
Among them were singer/director Lennie Watts, in his Convention debut, singing “Nothin’ But the Blues.” T. Oliver Reid sang and danced “But Beautiful” and, with a masterful imitation of Louis Armstrong, performed ”Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” Marissa Mulder, a rising young star, performed Sondheim’s “With So Little To Be Sure Of.”
Christine Andreas, with her superb voice and acting skills, starred in a moving version of Kern/Hammerstein’s “Bill.” Wayne Hosford created a fast-paced medley of 40 songs, all with ladies’ names, ending with reference to “Julie, that cabaret dame.” Lauren Fox gave an exquisite, moving performance of Kurt Weill/Maxwell Anderson’s “Stay Well,” from Lost InThe Stars. KT Sullivan and her mother, Elizabeth Sullivan, offered a warm duet of Elizabeth’s song. “As Long As We Sing.”
The ever-fabulous Marilyn Maye, with energy that could light Manhattan, sang “I’m Glad There Is You,“ with lyrics tailored to honor Julie, and, as an encore, delivered what could be Marilyn’s own anthem, Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here.” Ann Hampton Callaway, in her trademark act, requested words from the audience to describe Julie, then fashioned them into an original song in her honor. Ann herself was honored with this year’s Mabel Mercer Award.
A surprise guest performer was Holt McCallany, a strong, personable actor and singer – and Julie’s son – singing “That’s Life,” and reading a congratulatory note to Julie from Bill Clinton. Carol Woods was the final formal act, with “Don’t Ask a Lady” and “Here’s to Life.”
The evening ended with a grand finale: the entire cast, reassembled on stage, and joined by the audience, to sing “Happy Birthday” to Julie.
Photos: Russ Weatherford