CABARET LIFE NYC: Conklin and Dotson Shows Highlight Six Reviews From a Cabaret Fall
Cabaret Reviews and Commentary by Stephen Hanks
It is hardly a secret in New York cabaret--and also an unfortunate dynamic (when it comes to the bottom line of performers and clubs)--that the large majority of non-celebrity cabaret shows draw their audiences primarily from four categories: Family, friends, work colleagues, and other cabaret performers. Now that sounds like a large well to draw from, but performers for whom cabaret is more than just an occasional vanity production or the living out of a fantasy, can find that the well runs dry in a hurry. Perhaps this will change some day when a person or persons comes up with a creative way to spread the New York cabaret message to a wider audience (like to tourists and the people who live in the vicinity of the clubs), but for now, for lack of a cleverer phrase, it is what it is.
But whether a room is packed or less than half full, the audience for most shows is already predisposed to be incredibly supportive, the maximum energy level not only based on the number of fannies in the seats, but also on that particular performer's personal popularity with his or her "fan base." This can be a double-edge sword for a reviewer. While I'm sure even the hardest-edged critic wants to attend shows packed with supportive and responsive audiences, said critic must maintain an almost poker-faced semblance of objectivity and can't be caught up in the enthusiasm of a crowd that might offer a standing ovation if their beloved performer just cleared their throat. There have been any number of shows that I felt were already toast one-third of the way into the set, but the audience around me was eating it up. In such instances, I find myself suffering creeping "Am I missing somethingitis," but usually manage to maintain my composure. Of course, the flip side of that equation is not penalizing a good-to-great performance because of a small crowd where the energy level is low.
Most of the shows reviewed in this latest quarterly cabaret compilation/procrastination column--Fall 2013 edition--were lucky enough to have had solid audience numbers, and even the ones that didn't exactly fill the room could boast extremely supportive audiences that hung on their every note. Whether their performances deserved such adulation is up to hopefully unswayable critics to judge. Of course, whether the "fans" agree with these judgments is a whole other story.
Well-respected nightclub veteran Mary Foster Conklin was recently nominated for two 2013 BroadwayWorld.com New York Cabaret Awards--one for Best Female Jazz Singer and the other for Best Tribute Show--and for good reason. Her homage to the songbook of lyricist Fran Landesman was one of the year's most compelling shows, and was especially timely given that "the Dorothy Parker of the Jazz World," as Landesman was called, died in July 2011 at age 83. Conklin's tribute (introduced at last December's Urban Stages "Winter Rhythms" Festival and then staged for runs at the Metropolitan Room this past March and September) was respectful, loving and a perfect fit for the singer's smoky and sensual sound and her beat-poet temperament.
On Landesman's website, she is described as "the poet laureate of lovers and losers; her songs are the secret diaries of the desperate and the decadent. No one could convey the bittersweet joys of melancholy or the exhilaration of living on the edge like Fran." Vocally, Conklin comes close to expressing the same qualities. On Landesman's classic "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" (music by Tommy Wolf), Conklin captured the wistful, emotional sense of longing of a mature woman who is craving a meaningful relationship after so many have fallen apart. She brought a cool, bluesy flavor to "Small Day Tomorrow" (music by Bob Dorough), and you can definitely imagine sidling up to Conklin at a Village bar and hearing her whisper in your ear, "We can swing until broad daylight, cause we got a small day tomorrow." (Please click on Page 2 below to continue.)