Cabaret Reviews and Commentary by Stephen Hanks

In this space back in mid-July, I offered up my list of the Best New York Cabaret Performances for the first half of 2013 (based only on the shows I had seen, of course) and I thought about coming up with a similar list for the second half of this year. But while there have been some wonderful performances and shows since the summer began, they just weren't as plentiful so I felt that idea would be, well, kinda repetitive. So I conceived of something that would at least excite me more (and since I write this stuff gratis, I'm all about turning myself on) and settled on picking those performers I feel were the best and most exciting in cabaret this year.

Now you're probably asking, "Why perforMERS and not perforMANCES?" At the risk of boring you, my dear readers, with another one of my interminable baseball analogies, it's kind of like the difference between picking the "Player of the Year" and the "Most Valuable Player." (Okay, I know this is already a stretch, but stay with me.) In baseball, the "Player of the Year" is the one who produces the most amazing statistics, but the "Most Valuable Player" is the guy who not only has great numbers but also has been integral to his team winning a championship. What's the cabaret-based analogy? Actually, not much (got ya!), but in this context it's the difference between people who were the most entertaining and ubiquitous in various cabaret shows throughout the year as opposed to those who stood out in one particular run of a show or an occasional appearance.

Again, this list is based only on performers I was able to see and don't include bold-faced name celebs who did star-turn runs at 54 Below (even if I did see and love a few of them). So listed alphabetically by first name (since they aren't being ranked you gotta have some semblance of a system), here are one reviewer's Best New York Cabaret Performers of 2013. Happy and Healthy 2014 to one and all.

Ann Hampton Callaway: Starting the list with the proverbial "no-brainer," the self-proclaimed cabaret "Diva" dazzled audiences during the run of her Sarah Vaughan Tribute Show at Dizzy's Jazz Club at Lincoln Center and her recent Songs I Wished I'd Written at 54 Below. The former is up for multiple 2013 BroadwayWorld NYC Cabaret Awards, and the latter likely will be next year. In between those two shows, she and sister Liz Callaway delighted their fans bringing back their show Sibling Revelry to 54 Below (see video below). Smart, funny, engaging, accessible, and with great pipes, Ann also gets my vote as the current Queen of American cabaret.

Cabaret Musicians: They are indispensable and underrated and should never be unappreciated. One of the most impressive aspects of the New York cabaret scene is the sheer breadth and depth of the talented musicians playing in these shows, whether it's the Musical Director/Pianists, the guitarists, bass players, drummers, horn players, etc. Particularly impressive again this year (they popped up everywhere) were MDs Jon Weber, Barry Levitt, Bill Zeffiro, Tracy Stark, and Don Rebic, guitarists Sean Harkness and Peter Calo, bass players Ritt Henn, Jon Burr, and Tom Hubbard, and drummers Ray Marchica and David Silliman. And that list just scratches the surface. The best of New York cabaret wouldn't exist without them.

Carole J. Bufford: Her outstanding performance in Body & Soul at the Metropolitan Room was one of the best shows of the year and would be enough to merit inclusion on this list. (Check out her amazing rendition of "Cry Me a River" in video below.) But she did so much more than that, just nailing guest star turns all over town, including at October's Cabaret Convention, Scott Siegel's Broadway Ballyhoo, and Lauren Fox's Woodstock Tribute Show at 54 Below, where Bufford bravely channeled Janis Joplin singing "Summertime." Possessing a powerful belt and a charming stage presence, she'll be culminating a great 2013 as the cover girl for the January/February 2014 issue of Cabaret Scenes Magazine (profiled by yours truly) and few in cabaret deserve such recognition more.

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Stephen Hanks During more than 30 years as a magazine editor/writer, website writer, and book author for a variety of national magazines and websites, Stephen Hanks has written about sports, health and nutrition, parenting, politics, the media, and most recently, musical theater, and cabaret. While by day, Stephen is the Advertising Sales Director for Habitat Magazine (a publication covering life in New York Metro area co-ops and condos), by night he writes reviews and columns about New York City cabaret for Stephen also writes feature stories about cabaret for Cabaret Scenes Magazine and He is also the Board President of Manhattan Musical Theatre Lab, which workshops new musicals in New York City, and he is the founder, producer and director of the Broadway Musical Fantasy Camp, which is a workshop for amateur performers that rehearses and presents staged readings of classic Broadway Musicals. In 2011, Stephen was an Associate Producer for the Off-Broadway show THE FARTISTE. Stephen most recently staged his debut solo cabaret show, "Beyond American Pie: The Don McLean Songbook" at the Metropolitan Room in New York. Please contact Stephen with your comments and questions at: