BWW Reviews: New York's Cabaret Stars Shine Brightly in Emotional MARGARET WHITING Tribute Show at Carnegie Hall
Cabaret Reviews and Commentary by Stephen Hanks
When Margaret Whiting died on January 10, 2011, the news was like a dagger into the heart of the New York cabaret community. Whiting was a beloved singer for almost seven decades, who seemingly delivered every American popular song ever written, conquered almost every musical art form--from Big Band to Country to Musicals to Cabaret, from radio to the recording studio--and who after three failed marriages became an early "cougar," coupling with a gay porn star when she was 60 and he was in his late '30s. What wasn't to love?
On top of all that, Whiting worked with and mentored many New York cabaret musical directors and performers, including the late Mary Cleere Haran and K.T. Sullivan, who along with Whiting's daughter Debbie, hosted a 90th birthday Whiting tribute show on Monday night at Carnegie Hall's elegant Weill Recital Hall. Presented by The Mabel Mercer Foundation, for which Sullivan is Artistic Director, It Might As Well Be Spring! A Celebration in Song of the Life of Margaret Whiting was an almost three-hour concert featuring two All-Star teams worth of cabaret stars spanning a few generations, from 30-year-old rising star Marissa Mulder to 86-year-old living legend Marilyn Maye.
Pulling together this kind of variety show, featuring 23 performers doing 26 songs and one extended medley, is an immense task with logistics up the proverbial wazoo. Sullivan and Debbie Whiting deserve mucho kudos for producing a charming and classy event filled with sweet stories of Whiting's long career, anecdotes about Whiting's composer father, Richard, her long association with the legendary lyricist Johnny Mercer, and classic songs presented by great singers.
The producers cleverly selected a few performers who over the past couple of years have staged shows featuring tunes also connected with Whiting's career and included those singer/song match-ups Monday night (i.e. Tanya Moberly on Francesca Blumenthal's "Lies of Handsome Men," which Moberly featured in her recent cabaret show, I Love NY Songwriters, Karen Oberlin on "Remind Me," from her new show and CD, A Wish, and Stacy Sullivan on "That Old Black Magic" which was part of her Peggy Lee tribute show). Tex Arnold, who worked with Whiting for 27 years, was the obvious choice to be the event's Musical Director/Pianist and Arnold did yeoman accompanist work throughout the show. Saadi Zain, one of New York cabaret's many terrific bass players, provided pulsating percussion support with his string instrument.
Below is a short, sweet, and staccato review of the Margaret Whiting Tribute Show performances, in order of appearance. But first, a little BroadwayWorld video tribute to the legendary singer . . . who is timeless.
Stacy Sullivan--"That Old Black Magic" (Harold Arlen / Johnny Mercer): It never gets old listening to K.T.'s sister, who is always magical on this song featured in her award-winning Peggy Lee tribute show.
Barbara Fasano-"Moonlight In Vermont" (Karl Suessdorf / John Blackburn): With hubby Eric on piano, she was sweetly hypnotic on this Whiting standard.
Eric Comstock / Barbara Fasano--"Ain't We Got Fun" (Richard Whiting / Gus Kahn / Ray Egan): The married duo sure did enjoy themselves on this swinging song that Whiting performed on radio with Bob Hope.
Karen Oberlin--"Remind Me" (Jerome Kern / Dorothy Fields): Whiting may have sung the Kern songbook better than anyone, but this luminous blonde reminded us that today's generation of cabaret singers can also captivate when singing Kern.
K. T. Sullivan / John Fricke--"Songs My Father Taught Me" (Richard Whiting Medley) "Till We Meet Again" (Raymond Egan) / "Breezin' Along With The Breeze" (Haven Gillespie / Seymour Simon) "Louise" (Leo Robin) / "On The Good Ship Lollipop" (Sidney Claire), "Too Marvelous For Words" (Johnny Mercer) / "Hooray For Hollywood" (Johnny Mercer), Beyond The Blue Horizon (W. Franke Harling / Leo Robin): The Judy Garland and Wizard of Oz historian joined Sullivan on songs composed by Whiting's dad, Richard. K.T.'s Shirley Temple on "Lollipop" sounded more like a stoned Betty Boop, but the duo marvelously breezed along on the rest of the medley.
Natalie Douglas--"Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" (Jerome Kern / Oscar Hammerstein II): You couldn't help loving her after hearing her soar on this classic from Show Boat, and after the song she was rewarded with the second annual Margaret Whiting award from the Mabel Mercer Foundation.
Carole J. Bufford--"Anyplace I Hang My Hat Is Home" (Harold Arlen / Johnny Mercer): Another typically terrific performance on this classic that is one of the many highlights of her critically acclaimed current show, Shades of Blue. You could hang your hat on this hot Act I closer.
Heather Mac Rae--"My Favorite Year" (Michele Bourman / Karen Gottlieb): The daughter of the late singer/actor Gordon MacRae was introduced with, "Is there anything sadder than a daddy's girl without her daddy?" Then her tender, melancholy rendition opened the audience water works. One of the candidates for best-in-show.
Eric Yves Garcia--"The People That You Never Get To Love" (Rupert Holmes): The songwriter was on hand to introduce the 2013 Margaret Whiting Award winner and hear the smooth young crooner sweetly deliver Holmes' tender ballad.
Eric Yves Garcia--"You Better Love Me While You May" (Hugh Martin / Timothy Gray): With Saadi Zain providing cool bass licks to EYG's jazzy piano arrangement, the audience had no choice but to love this number.
Lauren Fox--"Can't Help It (If I'm Still In Love With You)" (Hank Williams): And I can't help it if I was in love with her version of this country ballad, which sounded like a cross between Joni Mitchell and Linda Ronstadt, but was all Fox.
Bufford/Fox/Mac Rae/Debbie Whiting--"4 Girls 4" Special Material (Johnny Meyer / Tom Hatten): Channeling Margaret Whiting, Helen O'Connell, Rosemary Clooney, and Rose Marie, respectively--who performed as a singing group around the country from 1977 to the late '80s (see video below)--this foursome was frothy fun.
Tanya Moberly--"Lies of Handsome Men" (Francesca Blumenthal): She is one of the best "one-off" song singers in cabaret and Tanya topped herself on this wistful wail of an easily seduced woman. Even better than when she performed it in her recent tribute show to NY songwriters. Another best-in-show candidate.
Terese Genneco / Shaynee Rainbolt--"Baby, It's Cold Outside" (Frank Loesser): One of cabaret's favorite and most talented couples produced a delightful turn on a Whiting and Johnny Mercer duet that was number three on the hit parade in 1948.
Baby Jane Dexter--"I'd Rather Leave While I'm In Love" (Peter Allen / Carole Bayer Sager): Was holding my breath hoping she wouldn't over-interpret one of my favorite Peter Allen songs, but Baby Jane played it pretty straight and left the audience in love with her rendition.
Marilyn Maye--"One For My Baby" (Harold Arlen / Johnny Mercer): With Whiting gone, Maye is now the Grande Dame of Cabaret, and with Stritch at the piano she cleverly opened with "Drinking Again" (Johnny Mercer / Doris Tauber) before sounding as good as ever on the classic Arlen/Mercer song.
Carol Woods--"(I'd Like to) Hate Myself in The Morning" (John Meyer): The songwriter was in the audience and had to love how the current Mama Morton in Chicago on Broadway sang his tune in the evening.
Marissa Mulder and Cast- "Time After Time" (Julie Styne / Sammy Cahn): The lovely young redhead took the lead on Whiting's 1947 hit (which became the theme song for the 2009 film Julie and Julia, and which Whiting loved) before the entire star-studded group joined in for an emotional group harmony finale. (See video above.)