CABARET LIFE NYC: It's Raining Women -- Reviews of 12 Shows From a Cabaret Fall
Charlotte Patton, The Duplex, September 19
Finding Her Voice While Looking for Love
Charlotte Patton isn't in her 20s or 30s. She's even past the age-if the 40s is the defining number-to be classified as a "cougar." Patton is a mature, attractive and youthful woman who has been married and divorced, and has lived through the beginnings and endings of passionate love affairs. But she hasn't let romantic disappointments or her current chronological age stop her from pursuing love and appreciating men, no matter how many horror stories may emerge from hookups with the opposite sex-of various ages-that she has encountered either online or while on a bar stool. Frustrated? Yes. Bitter? No. Discouraged? Hell, no!
With cabaret singer Karen Oberlin doing a fine job as her director, and Musical Director Barry Levitt providing great arrangements, Patton's Looking for Love in the 21st Century, was a warm, humorous, self-revealing, and relatable show from an experienced actor and comedienne with a sweet alto, who also knows all about the vagaries of life and love. She opened adorably with Lyle Lovett's "Here I Am," which includes the suggestive line: "Given that true intellectual and emotional compatibility/Are at the very least difficult if not impossible to come by/We could always opt for the more temporal gratification of sheer physical attraction/That wouldn't make you a shallow person would it?" In a riff on internet dating, she admitted to being honest in her profile, then sang "Confession," which includes the Arthur Schwartz lyric, "I always go to bed at 10 . . . and I go home at 4."
Patton's show really picked up steam-and got steamy-by her seventh song in the set, Dave Guard's "Scotch and Soda." After admitting that "the least effective way to meet men is in bars, not that I didn't give it my best shot," she sang the number while sipping a cocktail and acting progressively tipsy ("I've played a lot of drunks in plays and movies," she later admitted). By the next song, Cindy Jordan's "Jose Cuervo," she was writhing on top of Levitt's piano, as if waking up the next morning after a one-night-stand. Patton ended her delightful show with a flourish of classics, including Jerry Herman's "Before the Parade Passes By" (which she delivered as a pensive, emotional ballad), Rodgers & Hart's "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" (sung from the perspective of an older woman wanting one more chance at love), and a life-affirming medley of "Pick Yourself Up" and "Let's Face the Music and Dance."
Charlotte Patton is obviously a woman who is always picking herself up and who isn't ready to stop facing the music, the dancing, or the romancing.
Janis Siegel, 54 Below, September 27
Still Sensational After All These Years
When I interviewed the great Janis Siegel a couple of weeks before her late-night, one-off show at 54 Below, I could tell that in spite of her near legendary status as one of the fantastic foursome of The Manhattan Transfer (which celebrated their 40th anniversary this past year) and as one of America's best female jazz singers, she was feeling a touch of trepidation about the gig. Siegel was getting ready to hit the recording studio to lay down tracks for a new CD and the 54 Below show would be the first time she'd be working on some of the songs in front of an audience. As it turned out, there was no need for her to fret.
In a no-frills show, and with the support of a stellar band--including John DiMartino on piano, Martin Wind on bass, Paul Meyers on guitar and Tommy Campbell on drums (that he played at one point in the show with his hands behind his back)--Siegel was her smooth vocalizing self. After opening with a jazzy take on Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower Is a Lonesome Thing," she really sucked this Park Slope resident in with her sensational scatting on the uptempo, Transfer-sounding "I Know the Way to Brooklyn" and her sensual delivery of the jazz standard "Midnight Sun" (Lionel Hampton/Sonny Burke with lyrics by Johnny Mercer).
But for those in the audience who stayed to see Siegel that night after Ann Hampton Callaway's sumptuous tribute to the Barbra Streisand songbook, one of the show's highlights came next. Janis invited her friend Ann to the stage ("So, here we are in this down and dirty basement," Ann quipped) for an on-the-spot blues improv sung in e-flat, which ended up being an awesomely fun lyrical tribute to each other. Siegel then transitioned into a dreamy version of Callaway's song, "Slow," before lending a bossa nova feel to Rodgers & Hart's "Lover." And at that point, Siegel was only halfway through the set. Later, she gave an even jazzier color to Janelle Monae's "Say You'll Go," took Randy Newman's ballad "Marie" to a beautiful new level, and went full out funky on Jon Hendricks' jaunty "The Sidewinder." If this stuff is on the new disc, the car CD is going to be busy.
Grace Cosgrove, Metropolitan Room, September 29, A Singing Labor of Love
Among the most glaring omissions on the BroadwayWorld.com 2012 Cabaret Awards ballot (and there weren't many) is that Grace Cosgrove's lovely show honoring the music of the late, great Laura Nyro isn't listed in the "Best Tribute Show" category as it was easily one of the most loving and well-crafted homage shows of the year. Not every singer is an ideal fit for the singer-songwriter they wish to honor, and a keen sense of musical self-awareness is necessary before making that leap. (Heck, I love Frankie Valli but trying to hit that falsetto on "Rag Doll" would induce a hernia.) Listening to Cosgrove during her CD preview show To Laura with Love, one knew within just a few bars of the bouncy opener "Luckie" that this was an ideal marriage of singer to hero and to material.
While Cosgrove's voice doesn't have the edge or bluesy flavor that Nyro's possessed, the expert arrangements of her Musical Director Don Rebic (with support from Sean Harkness on guitar, Dan Gross on drums, and Jason DiMatteo on bass) were perfect for the adorable brunette's sweet, lilting, and expressive soprano. From the upbeat country groove on "California Shoeshine Boys," to being right in the pocket with the pop/folk style of "Blowin' Away," to subtly powerful versions of the ballads "He's a Runner" and "I Never Meant to Hurt You" (featuring Rebic's nifty piano riffing), to acing a mashup of "Stoned Soul Picnic" with "Sweet Blindness," Cosgrove sensually captured the essence of Nyro's soulful sound and evocative lyrics. She and Rebic also pushed the interpretive envelope, coming up with a slower and bluesier "Stoney End" than the Barbra Streisand version, and pulling off a solid cabaret style arrangement of "Eli's Comin'" (featuring Margaret Dorn, Emily Bindiger, and Diane Garisto on background vocals).
As she continues presenting this show (and two more are scheduled in 2013 on January 10 and March 7 at the Metropolitan Room), Cosgrove needs to condense and smooth out the delivery of her script between numbers, and she could loosen up and have a bit more fun on stage (especially on the "Picnic/Blindness" mashup). But these are minor quibbles with a show that should have received Award consideration.
Meg Flather, Don't Tell Mama, September 30
Singing Songs That Are Man-Made and Meg-Made
Meg Flather may not present a cabaret show quite as often as some of her long-time compadres in the genre, but when she does it is sweet, sensitive, and, ultimately, sublime. Flather offered a deliciously engaging short-run show called Home Shopping Diva in 2011, and this September came back with a one-shot effort called Man-Made that was really two sets in one--half the tunes written by male songwriters and the other half her own compositions to celebrate the launch of Flather's latest and extremely listenable seven-track CD On the Second Floor. And all of the songs were delivered with her folk-infused mezzo, down-to-earth personality, and the adorable stage presence and sense of humor that comes naturally for a lady with years of experience hosting home-shopping TV shows.
With just her guitarist John Mettam joining her onstage, this was Meg unplugged. Flather set the sweet folk-rock tone of the show by opening with the alt-rock band Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know," and followed with her own "What Only We Can Know," a lovely lyric about revealing her personality in a journal. During the rest of the show, she seamlessly alternated between the songs by the male writers and her own tunes, with a pleasant and appropriate sprinkling of short anecdotes or personal musings to set up each number. Highlights among the former were a rare rendition of Paul Simon's "Keep the Customer Satisfied" (during which she impersonated a horn solo), a soothing Joni Mitchell-esque sounding "Once in a Very Blue Moon," and a beautiful take on "If" by David Gates of Bread, during which she and Mettam upped the tempo instead of doing it as the conventional--and somewhat pedestrian--slow ballad.
Flather's own songs were a delight, from the wistful, Irish-style ballad "Calling You," about missing a loved one while away, to the uptempo homage to her friends, "If All I Do Is Love You," to "New Dawn," her sensitive tribute to our current President. In setting up the lovely lyric for the ethereal ballad, "My Heaven (a song for Bonnie)" (which is dedicated to her mother's best friend), Flather offered a Field of Dreams mini-soliloquy: "My aunt tells me to 'Forget about out there, this down here is heaven.' So the angels are regular people who do good things every day, which makes this heaven." Was this show heaven? No, it was Meg Flather singing.
Corinna Sowers-Adler, Metropolitan Room, October 13, A Wizardess of Song Granting Requests
When I went to see the latest installment of Corinna Sowers-Adler's show By Request (based on song selections-and the stories behind them-previously submitted by potential audience members), it was late afternoon on my birthday and I was taking a holiday from reviewing. After all, it was the third time Corinna was staging the show this year and I had already raved about her April performance in Cabaret Scenes Magazine (in which she did an awesome job on my request of a song my mother loved, the Edie Gorme version of "If He Walked Into My Life," from Mame). But as Corinna belted one song after another out of the park, I couldn't help but start taking notes, and offering another 300 or so words of praise is the least I can do to acknowledge one of cabaret's more consistently solid singer/performers.
What's so impressive about this kind of show structure is not only the fact that Corinna must quickly learn the requested songs, but that she challenges herself by selecting an eclectic mix of song styles. In any given By Request show she can use her wide vocal range and lovely soprano to tackle ballads, uptempo pop, folk rock, Broadway standards, and even original tunes written by local songwriters (she was especially good on Clare Cooper's ballad "David," Bobbie Horowitz's funny "Nothing to Complain About Blues," and Richard Eisenberg's intricate, clever, and endless lyric on "Two Again."). Corinna also brings her solid acting experience, and a cool, confident, and convivial stage presence to the storytelling required to set up the requested songs. She told a lovely tale about one couple's courtship leading to a 54-year marriage before delivering a memorable version of "Unforgettable."
Musical Director/Pianist John DiPinto gave Corinna wonderful support on a languid, country ballad arrangement of the Nat King Cole classic "Ramblin' Rose" (Noel and Joe Sherman), the glorious Sarah Rice joined Corinna as a special guest singer for a haunting duet on Simon & Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair," and Corinna's husband Nicholas Adler joined his wife for a charming rendition of Jason Robert Brown's "I Give It All For You." As if that wasn't romantic enough, she then beautifully soared on Stephen Schwartz's "Meadowlark," before giving this Peter Allen fan a nice birthday gift sendoff by ending with "Quiet Please, There's a Lady on Stage." Indeed.
Lynda D'Amour, Don't Tell Mama, October 19
Not Foolish to Love D'Amour
Boston native Lynda D'Amour can't seem to catch a break when she comes to New York to perform a cabaret show. In October 2011, her wonderful Sammy Davis, Jr. tribute show at Don't Tell Mama fell on a day of thunderstorms and kept attendance low. This year, she not only staged her new CD release show Ordinary Fool on the last night of The Cabaret Convention (again keeping her audience down), but on an evening when global warming had turned a mid-October night into a steam bath. But the trooper that she is, D'Amour turned it into a positive, joking early in the show that her lovely blonde locks were wilting in the 100% humidity before segueing into a strong, sensual, and jazzy slow groove on Amanda McBroom and M. Brourman's "Hot in Here."
D'Amour continued to bring the heat throughout an eclectic set of songs that were an ideal fit for her deep, soulful alto range. Though her patter can seem a bit too improv and random (there was a way-too-long riff on her love of Donny Osmond), the meandering script didn't detract from her solid vocals and arrangements, which transformed the pop song "Brandy" into a beautiful ballad. The singer and her band--which included Bill Duffy on piano, Thomson Kneeland on bass and Eric Gross on drums--were terrific on a swinging arrangement that merged "Green Dolphin Street" with Lerner and Loewe's "On the Street Where You Live" from My Fair Lady (which isn't on the CD). D'Amour gave a cool, jazzy vibe to Rodgers & Hart's "I Wish I Were in Love Again" (also not on the CD), went slow and bluesy on Paul Williams' "Ordinary Fool", and was powerful and heartfelt on one of her hero Sammy Davis' trademark songs, "What Kind of Fool Am I?"
Lynda D'Amour is flying under the radar when it comes to New York cabaret audiences, but the next time she's in town you'd be a fool not to catch her show. Maybe even the weather will cooperate.
Maria Ottavia, Don't Tell Mama, November 26
Spreading Her Wings to Sing From the Heart
The word "chrysalis" is defined as a moth or butterfly in its inactive and immature form that is encased in a cocoon from which the adult eventually emerges. It was the perfect title for Maria Ottavia's recent cabaret effort at Don't Tell Mama, not because she is young or inexperienced ("Success teaches you absolutely nothing, but failure teaches you everything," she opined early in the show), but because the show enabled this sweet and humble woman to once again spread her performing wings.
Ottavia began doing shows at Don't Tell Mama just over 20 years ago (with the late cabaret star Nancy LaMott as director) and has long been a charming presence on the cabaret scene and who is very supportive of other performers. Her audience was really pulling for her during this show, not the least of which because she had to cancel the original date earlier in the month thanks to Hurricane Sandy. With Musical Director Barry Levitt at the piano, Ottavia began beautifully with a few bars of David Friedman's "Listen to My Heart," then segued into a enchanting Levitt arrangement of a mashup of Rodgers and Hart's "With a Song in My Heart" with Vincent Youmans' "Without a Song"--a perfect opening for a woman who pours her heart into singing.
Not that the show wasn't flawed and her vocals sometimes shaky. Ottavia's voice is lovely in the upper register, but has a tendency to go flat on the lower notes. Although she has acting experience, she didn't bring that ability to bear enough on Craig Carnella's "The Kid Inside" from Is Their Life After High School, her attempts at disco ("Hot Stuff"), jazzy arrangements of early rock n' roll ("Great Balls of Fire") didn't quite land, and her "Queen of the House" parody of Roger Miller's "King of the Road" (about ending up with a guy from Colorado she met on a dating site) was more like road kill.
On the flip side, Ottavia was lovely on her director Marcus Simone's vocal arrangement of Jimmy Webb's "MacArthur Park" and she sounded a bit like Barbra Streisand in a duet with Simone on the David Shire/Alan & Marilyn Bergman song "I'll Never Say Goodbye." After a crisp rendition of Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner's "On a Clear Day" (featuring an extended Levitt piano riff), Ottavia once again asked the audience to "Listen to My Heart." Based on the enthusiastic and heartfelt applause, there's no doubt Maria's message was heard and she left the stage looking like a beautiful and beaming singing butterfly.
Ruth Carlin, The Duplex, November 29
Solid but Unspectacular Song Moments
Ruth Carlin is a lovely woman and sensitive performer, who is obviously passionate about expressing herself through words and song. But it was impossible to observe her recent show at The Duplex, SongMoments (part of a run that began in the summer and continued this fall), without thinking it was a quadruple-whammy of self-indulgence. During the show, Carlin announced the upcoming release of a new CD, read five of her own fairly pedestrian poems to set up songs, and sang one of her own compositions. A-list cabaret stars can get away this; when lesser singers and performers try it the show becomes the kind of vanity production that doesn't always present the art of cabaret in the best light.
Still, Carlin had a few praise-worthy moments in SongMoments. Throughout the show, she displayed a sweet alto that alternated between smooth and shaky depending on the song and the octave. Her on-stage persona was confident but a bit shy and static, which prevented her from exuding the flirtatious sensuality necessary for a number like Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh's "You Fascinate Me So." In a very ballad heavy set, the highlights were "Why Can't I Forget" (Jeffrey D. Harris), about a woman not able to lose the memory of a former love (although she isn't enough of a comedienne to pull off the parody of "Memory" from Cats that followed), "Long, Long Time" (Gary White), and the funny "I Regret Everything," which was her finest acting turn. Carlin saved her best song moment for last on her poignant original tune "From Door to Door," a ballad that was written for her mother and featuring a touching, sensitive lyric about the three generations of women in her family. Other cabaret performers should ask about it as it definitely has cover potential.
Julie Reyburn, Urban Stages, December 7
Winter Songs That Warm the Heart
I was kicking myself for missing Julie Reyburn's show Winter Songs last fall and it's a shame that its initial run happened in 2011 (at Feinstein's) because Reyburn's performance certainly would have earned her a Best Female Vocalist nomination for the 2012 BroadwayWorld.com New York Cabaret Awards. I know that because I finally got a chance to see Reyburn's seasonal star turn at Urban Stages' recent "Winter Rhythms Festival" and experienced a charming performance from one of New York cabaret's true pros.
Not being a big fan of heavily Christmas-themed shows, Reyburn's eclectic mix of songs that conjured the sights, sounds, and sensations of the season was a breath of cool air. With the marvelous Mark Janas providing his expert musical direction, Reyburn's rich mezzo soprano delivered delicious songs from movies, musical theater, classic pop, and a number of solid tunes written by some of her fellow New York cabaret performers, including Mary Liz McNamara's cheekily funny "Christmas in Michigan," Scott Evan Davis' lovely mother/son ballad "Walk a Little Slower" (in a duet with guest Joshua Dixon), Matthew Martin Ward and Peter Napolitano's poignant and cinematic "In Tina's Room," and Bill Zeffiro's urbane, clever, and swinging "The Other Side of Winter," written expressively for Reyburn about parenting small children during snowy season.
Janas gave a wonderfully classical edge to Reyburn's beautiful rendition of two pop ballads, "Circle of Life" (from The Lion King) and "California Dreamin'. Julie was majestically dramatic on Amanda McBroom's "The Rose," and offered one of the best versions that I've heard of Stephen Sondheim's "What More Do I Need?" Reyburn ended this heartwarming show with a lullaby-like "Hey Jude," which was dedicated to her new son (born this past March and named for the song) and sung from the point of view of her daughter, Layla. You're one lucky kid if you have a mom like Julie Reyburn singing you to sleep.
Amy Wolk, The Duplex, December 9
This Show Was Made for Wolking
It was just a matter of bad timing that Amy Wolk's latest cabaret show, the aptly-named A Wolk on the Wild Side, ran between late October and early December. Had this wonderfully funny affair been staged earlier in the year, Wolk would have been a no-brainer nominee for a 2012 BroadwayWorld.com Cabaret Award in the musical comedy category (although she will get a chance next year as this year's October thru December shows will be eligible). With Lennie Watts as her director, Steven Ray Watkins as Musical Director, and Kikau Alvaro handling musical staging, along with her own solid writing and performing skills, Wolk's show was a clinic on how to blend an eclectic mix of songs, solid vocals, and wacky, comedic bits to produce an immensely entertaining cabaret show.
If you didn't already know that one of Wolk's performing influences is Bette Midler, it would have been obvious right from the show's opening number when her trio of gay boy backup singers (Stefan Basti, Jack Herholdt and Thomas Marcus) sauntered onto the stage singing Frank Loesser's "Once in Love With Amy." But you would definitely know you were on the wild side when Wolk, entering in a sexy black cocktail dress and her ironic smile, mashed that up with the pop star Kesha's "Blow." Then after a solid rendition of Madonna's "Cherish"-featuring some cute choreography-came a preview of what would be a recurring comedy bit from the "Jewish Broadcast Network," called "That's My Dad!" Seems that Wolk's father is a gynecologist and her cute and clever lyrics conveyed some very interesting conversations she's had over the years with her dad about sex.
Watkins is a superb arranger and with support from Matt Wigton on bass and Tim Lykins on drums, Wolk delivered some solid mashups, including the Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse version of "Candy Man" with the recent Christina Aguliera/Linda Perry pop song of the same title, and Donna Summer's "She Works Hard for the Money" with Huey Lewis' "Working for a Living." One of the many things Wolk has done for a living is teach English to school kids and that background has afforded her an acute sense of the butchering of words and phrases in song lyrics. Her hilarious "Grammar Medley" may have been the highlight of the show. "Songs have been making us dumber for decades," she insisted, before offering some delightfully funny schtick like "Lay Lady Lay should be Lie Lady Lie," that the Fifth Dimension hit should be "One Fewer Bell to Answer," and that Mick Jagger couldn't get any satisfaction."
There was much satisfaction to be had watching Amy Wolk's new show. As a performer, she combines intelligence, outrageousness and ironic quirkiness with a touch of danger, and her voice has a charming, childlike quality while also possessing understated power. That's a wild and compelling combination.
Rev. Roger Anthony Yolanda Mapes, The Duplex, December 16, Give Me That New Time Religion . . . Amen!
If Tammy Faye Baker was a flaming social liberal who looked like a middle linebacker and sang in a Prairie Home Companion show at the Grand Ole Opry that was broadcast over NPR-breath-she'd be Roger Anthony Mapes doing Rev. Yolanda's Old-Time Gospel Hour. Over many shows this past fall at The Duplex (with one more on January 20 at 3:30), veteran singer, songwriter, performance artist, and flamboyant drag queen Roger Mapes conjured up a life-affirming and spiritually-enlightened show offering a message of tolerance, self-acceptance, freedom, peace and love, all wrapped in the unabashed glory of gospel music, some of which were original songs featured on his/her recently released CD. This was a show even a lapsed Jew who is straight could love.
Wearing a neon blue suit with black stripes, a reddish blonde bouffant wig as tall as a small Christmas tree ("the higher the hair, the closer to God"), and more makeup than all the Kardashian women combined, Rev. Yolanda opened with a joyous, old-fashioned gospel hoedown song, the oft-recorded "I'll Fly Away." An engaging storyteller who obviously knows how to work patter into a cabaret show, Rev. Yolanda then offered a timely, self-deprecating audience thank you. "If you're one of the those people who believe the Mayan calendar says the world is going to end next week, I'm glad you made this one of your last shows."
With support from a heavenly band she calls the "Yolandaleers" (led by Musical Director Kenneth Gartman on piano, Dennis Michael Keefe on bass, Justin Smith on violin, veteran Bill Turner on banjo, and the Reverend occasionally on guitar), Rev. Yolanda gave musical testimony through songs like the gospel ballad "Do Lord," the uptempo "Step Back (and Let God Do It)," featuring nice backing vocals from Gartman, classics like "Amazing Grace" and "How Great Thou Art" (the "Thou" signifying the audience as much as God), and snippets of "Down By the Riverside" and "Let It Shine" during a fun sing-along finale. Rev. Yolanda's fine originals from the CD were sprinkled throughout, including Smith's lovely violin riff on "Love Divine," the cool, country-infused "I Can See Peace," and the rousing gospel rock song "Freedom." For an encore to this wonderfully entertaining, 90-minute faux radio show, the Reverend delivered a divinely-inspired lyric: "We are angels, we are angels, and we're struggling to be human." Amen.