BWW Review: Former 1960s Nightclub Performer Turned 1970s New York Mayoral Aide ARLENE WOLFF Continues Inspiring Singing Comeback at Stage 72

BWW Review: Former 1960s Nightclub Performer Turned 1970s New York Mayoral Aide ARLENE WOLFF Continues Inspiring Singing Comeback at Stage 72

During New York City's turbulent 1970s, newly elected Mayor Abe Beame faced one of the worst financial crises in the city's history. It was a time of frozen salaries, union picket lines, a plummeting Wall Street, and pending bankruptcy, all causing general mayhem throughout the city. Searching for a fiscal solution, Beame petitioned for federal funds, a request which President Gerald Ford denied, leading to the infamous Daily News headline: "Ford to City: Drop Dead." Yet by the time Beame left office by 1978, the city budget went from a $1.5 billion deficit to a $200 million surplus.

So, why the history lesson you may ask? Because one of the powers behind that exacting pint size politician (Beame was a statuesque 5-foot-2) was the Assistant to the Mayor, Arlene Wolff, who had been a former 1960's London nightclub entertainer named Arlene Blaine (see photo below).

In her recent cabaret show, More Than You Know (November 23 at The Triad's Stage 72), Wolff continued a comeback that has been 50 years in the making (which started last November when she performed at the Waterwheel Café in Milford, PA). Revisiting her youth and those turbulent political years, Wolff offered up a smorgasbord of delectable "Tales from the City" over a two-hour long concert of some 22 songs, presented in a two-act format with one intermission. Dressed in a white sequined silk shirt and alluring lacey leggings, Wolff positively beamed (no pun intended) as she opened the show by welcoming her adoring sellout crowd with "I'm Shooting High" (Ted Koehler/ Jimmy McHugh). Wolff is a stylish, slender woman who although appearing frail at first glance, possesses a voice as strong as when she first started singing professionally as a teenager. Relying on an impressive repertoire of standards, Wolff vocally revisited the classics with a smoldering propensity, impeccable phrasing and articulation--never once dropping a lyric.

This is a woman who has lived her music. From her mother's early warnings as expressed in "Blues In the Night" (Arlen/Mercer), to the captivation of first love "Falling In Love With Love" (Rogers & Hart), to the forlorn nature of love-on-the-rocks with "Mean To Me" (Ahlert/Turk), followed by a saucy "Why Don't You Do Right?" (Joseph McCoy), Wolff tracked her three marriages in song (and delightfully acerbic patter) throughout the evening, reaching the conclusion that "Married I Can Always Get" (Gordon Jenkins). And in one of the best moments of her show, Wolff shined on "Once In A Lifetime" (Newley/Bricusse). Finishing her first act with a surprisingly energetic Judy Garland-like "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby" (Schwartz/Lewis), one felt that if the audience stayed, she would sing all night.

BWW Review: Former 1960s Nightclub Performer Turned 1970s New York Mayoral Aide ARLENE WOLFF Continues Inspiring Singing Comeback at Stage 72Musical Director (and brilliant pianist) Ian Herman began Act II with a vibrant original piano composition, "Too Fast" (an ode to George Gershwin). Wolff slinked to the stage dressed in a black sequin top and pants, with comical oversized clanking earrings (which thankfully she later removed). She continued her captivating storytelling as she related her "mover and shaker" involvement in the Beame administration, first as a political fundraiser, then as the Assistant to the Mayor (where she created the Ninth Avenue Food Festival, the first ever street fair in New York City), then how she helped bring the tall ships into the New York Harbor for the 1976 Bicentennial celebration. She also told of falling hard and fast for the one-time renowned Chief of Police for Manhattan South, Mickey Schwartz, who she eventually married atop the World Trade Center--which is about as New York as you can get.

Director and Producer Scott Siegel brought out the best in Wolff, guiding her skillfully through her story with great ease and elegance. Howie Gordon on drums, and Dave Dunaway on bass musically enhanced Wolff's fascinating stories that so richly reflected the resilience of New York, which like Arlene Wolff is perpetually moving forward.

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