BWW Review: In Her Charming Cabaret Debut at Don't Tell Mama, Helen Glassman Offers 'Confessions' About a New York Life Well Lived

BWW Review: In Her Charming Cabaret Debut at Don't Tell Mama, Helen Glassman Offers 'Confessions' About a New York Life Well Lived

Let the river run
let all the dreamers
wake the nation.
Come, the New Jerusalem.
Silver cities rise
the morning lights
the streets that meet them,
and sirens call them on
with a song. --Carly Simon

It seemed appropriate that a cabaret show titled Confessions of a Native New Yorker would begin with the quintessential "call to all dreamers" song "Let The River Run" by native New Yorker Carly Simon. Wearing an elegant black and gold brocade dress--the very personification of class--Helen Glassman took the Don't Tell Mama stage by storm in performing her debut show on June 28. Glassman, a native New Yorker, chronicles her life in music to the beat of "the city that never sleeps." Beginning by pointing out the ironic love/hate challenges of existing in the Big Apple, Glassman croons the wonderfully hip Portia Nelson classic "Confessions of a Native New Yorker," showing us a delightfully flippant comic side that serves her well throughout the evening.

Exploring her youth through the summer heat and grit of the city, Glassman sings The Lovin' Spoonful's 1966 rock classic "Summer in the City" (Mark Sebastian/Steve Boone/John Sebastian), while effectively intersplicing nostalgic city remembrances from her childhood throughout the song. Glassman takes on the mermaid song "Part of That World" (Ashman/Menken from the Broadway musical and film The Little Mermaid), but this time with a decidedly clever twist--additional lyrics provided by her director, Lennie Watts. Just as the mermaid longed for adventure in the "human world" so does Glassman as a teen hunger for the sites and lights of the big city. Watts' lyrics are beautifully tailored to fit the subject matter of the show yet still express the longings of a teenage girl eager to begin her life. I was born in this shimmering Mecca! Opportunity lies at my feet, but I can't help but think something's missing. A whole world all below 96th Street. Then moving into her young adulthood, Glassman sings a fun, jubilant "Tear Up the Town Tonight" (Brian Lasser). The audience applauds in appreciative support.

Now into adulthood, we learn that Glassman was a nurse in the 1980s, working with isolated Aids patients at St. Vincent's Hospital in the village. Drawing on those devastating experiences, Glassman beautifully performs one of her best songs of the evening, "Angels, Punks and Raging Queens" (Bill Russell/Janet Hood), showing us in song her infinite capacity for human compassion and understanding. It was a beautiful moment to witness. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. Glassman then moves on to another emotional New York moment in her life. Sharing her September 11th experience with her audience, Glassman dedicates the poignantly uplifting Stephen Schwartz song "Beautiful City" (from Godspell) to her fellow New Yorkers who experienced that fateful New York day in 2001. Seeking solace for herself (and the audience), Glassman joyfully takes us "Up On the Roof" (Gerry Goffin/Carol King), thereby restoring serenity to all.

Glassman tells us she met the man of her dreams at work and announces that she has been happily married for 36 years and generates cheers from the near sold out house. Singing a heartfelt "Where Do You Start" (Johnny Mandel/Marilyn and Alan Berman/Linzer/Randell), Glassman's connection to the lyric is strong and focused. Finishing with the Stephen Sondheim Follies classic "I'm Still Here," Watts provides additional personalized lyrics. Glassman marches through the song like she lives her life--with purpose and great strength of spirit to the utter delight of her adoring audience.

Musical Director Steven Ray Watkins provided top-notch musical arrangements, accompaniment, and vocal support. Lennie Watts always brings out the best in his performers, but this time he goes one step further by penning great additional lyrics for Glassman to more effectively tell her wonderful story of life in the Big Apple.

Helen Glassman will perform her debut show "Confessions of a Native New Yorker" one more time on October 7 at 7 PM at Don't Tell Mama. To make reservations go online to www.donttellmamanyc.com or call the club at 212-757-0788 after 4 PM.

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