23rd Annual New York Cabaret Convention Recap: Two Out of Three Solid Shows Ain't Bad
Cabaret Review by Stephen Hanks
There may have been 40 cabaret performers strutting their stuff this past week at the 23rd New York Cabaret Convention at the Rose Theater at Lincoln Center, but the true star of the three-night extravaganza (October 17-19) was the late Donald Smith, the cabaret impresario and guru to the genre’s luminaries, who died this past March at 79. Sponsored by the Mabel Mercer Foundation, which Smith founded in 1985, this year's Convention featured numerous homages to Smith from the performers, many of whom had their career's supported and advanced with the help of the colorful and beloved cabaret producer and promoter. Early in Wednesday's Gala Opening Night show, the "first lady of the American keyboard" Barbara Carroll called her friend Donald Smith "the quintessential New Yorker," and when Mark Nadler closed night one with George and Ira Gershwin's "Our Love Is Here to Stay," he said, "Everybody who cares about the myths of these songs are in this room tonight." Well, it was clear that anyone who cared about Donald Smith was at the Rose Theater for at least one of the three shows.
Based on the overall buzz in the Jazz at Lincoln Center lobby, Smith would have been pleased with the first Cabaret Convention staged without his guiding hand, and which is now under the artistic direction of colorful cabaret chanteuse K.T. Sullivan. Over the three nights, audiences heard legendary singers and exciting up-and-comers, standards of the Great American Songbook and classic pop tunes, poignant tear-inducing numbers and quirky humor songs, all supported by some of the most accomplished musicians in cabaret and musical theater.
Opening night turned out to be the weakest of three shows, mostly due to some questionable song choices and arrangements than for a lack of talented performers. K.T Sullivan opened the show (which ran a bit over three hours but seemed longer) with "The Best Is Yet to Come," and after hearing from Jeff Harner, Barbara Carroll and Valerie Lemon (who paid tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch with “If You Remember Me”), the best finally came with the glorious Amanda McBroom (photo right) offering the hilarious and timely-for-election-season "I Miss Monica," which she wrote a couple of years back with Joel Silberman. "I miss Monica, I miss Bill/I miss the time before the slime of greed devoured Capital Hill . . . I miss honesty, I miss trust/The graceful guise of compromise/The innocence of lust." It was just icing on the cake when McBroom honored Donald Smith with a lovely medley of "The Way You Look Tonight" and her poignant original song "Dance."
Unfortunately, the first act momentum was brought to a screeching halt (literally) by Emily Bergl, who apparently thought it was more important to show off her lovely legs in a tuxedo jacket over a leotard than to perform with her best material. After the forgettable mashup of the Tin Pan Alley song "Hello My Baby" with Lady Gaga's "Telephone," which was very unlikely to connect with the predominantly AARP audience, Bergl offered a cringe-inducing impression of Elaine Stritch singing Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," a number which will not have people forgetting the great Christine Pedi any time soon. Gregory Generet was solid on George Gershwin's "Embraceable You" and Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" but the jazzy arrangements were way overdone (the highlight was Mark Gross’ sax solo), and Amra-Faye Wright's performance of "Good Little Girls (Go To Heaven)" was borderline burlesque without the sensuality, and weirdly placed in the show so soon after Bergl's leggy turn. (Wright’s gams did look great, though, when she put on some stilettos before her second number.) (Please click on Page 2 below to continue.)