CABARET LIFE NYC: Upcoming Must-Sees: Williams, Robert at Iridium; Oberlin, Katona Bennett at Feinstein¬'s
Cabaret Features and Commentary by Stephen Hanks
When I began writing cabaret show reviews almost two years ago, I decided one of my policies would be to NOT promote upcoming shows, lest I be accused of playing favorites. But now that I'm also a cabaret "columnist," I've amended my policy, kind of as a reader service, and each month may recommend a few shows featuring performers that I've previously seen and/or reviewed-and, of course, appreciated. This doesn't mean that their new shows will engender automatic raves, it just means that based on this reviewer's previous experience, you're likely to have a swell old time. For this first foray, I'm flagging two shows each at two of our most venerable nightclub venues.
Back in the mid-1970s, when I was deeply into my Elton John fanatic haze, a couple of trusted college friends introduced me to another gay, piano-playing, singer-songwriter. They were big fans of Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli so this Judy protégé and Liza's first husband was on their radar. One day they played for me the album "Taught by Experts" by the late Peter Allen and I was immediately hooked by the intelligent lyrics, the wonderfully upbeat pop hooks, the lovely ballads, and Allen's infectious personality. Then hearing his live double album recorded at Reno Sweeney's, "It's Time for Peter Allen," only sealed the deal. I've been a huge fan ever since.
So I was more than intrigued when about three years ago, I found that one of Peter's fellow Aussies, Darren Williams, was performing an Allen tribute show at the Metropolitan Room. As a die-hard Peter fan, I was going to be tough to impress, but I was floored by Williams' reverential, yet not imitative, homage to one of my musical heroes. I've seen Darren's show "Not the Boy Next Door" a couple of times since (at the Met Room and at the Laurie Beechman), and he's been terrifically entertaining every time. Handsome, charming, and possessing an even stronger voice than his muse, Williams' take on the Peter Allen songbook should be a treat even if you're discovering both amazing Aussies for the first time. Darren Williams will be performing two sets of "Not the Boy Next Door" at the Iridium on Thursday, July 26 at 8pm and 10pm.
A couple of years ago, I went to Dana Lorge's Halloween party at her Wednesday Night at the Iguana variety show, and one of that night's singers was an attractive, curvy blonde who took the stage in a tight-fitting police outfit, complete with handcuffs and billy club. I immediately wanted to be placed under arrest, not just because she looked great in uniform, but because she sounded amazing. Lauren Robert blew the roof off-and me away-with the kind of powerful renditions of blues and R&B songs that would make most blue-eyed soul singers blush.
Though Robert has been a professional singer, songwriter, and actor for almost two decades, and spent 14 years as the lead singer of the popular Louisiana Zydeco-funk band Mojo Hand, she may be one of the best kept singing secrets in New York. Perhaps Robert won't be a secret much longer, as she has just released a 15-song CD of passionately original songs (you can find it on the website CD Baby) tinged with glorious blues and gospel colors, and she will be singing many of them (hopefully, along with some blues classics) at her show Lauren Robert with the Barry Levitt Band at the Iridium on Tuesday, August 7 at 8pm. (Please click on Page 2 below to continue.)
If you haven't yet made your entertainment plans for this evening (and I doubt you're going to Queens to see the fading Mets), make a call to Feinstein's at the Loews Regency and book a reservation for Karen Oberlin's latest show, "I'll Be Hard to Handle: Songs of Daring Dames" (I'm feeling seduced just writing that title). The beautiful, blonde MAC, Bistro, and Nightlife Award-winning vocalist-who possesses a lovely voice reminiscent of Doris Day-promotes her show as being about "bold, brave, and brazen women." What member of either gender wouldn't get turned on by a show with a theme like that? If Oberlin's latest effort is anything close to being as entertaining as her January show "Stringing Along With Love" at the Metropolitan Room, she'll have another winner on her resume. Karen Oberlin will be performing "I'll Be Hard to Handle: Songs of Daring Dames" at Feinstein's at Loews Regency, Tuesday July 24 though Saturday July 28, all at 8pm.
Another beautiful lady of cabaret, Raissa Katona Bennett, will be hitting the stage with her glorious soprano at Feinstein's in August. The show will be a celebration of the release of her latest CD, "Another Kind of Light," featuring a combination of jazz, pop, and musical theater standards, and a few original songs, a couple of which were composed just for her (by Michael John LaChiusa). Raissa, who once played Christine in Phantom of the Opera, and most recently appeared at the Midtown International Theater Festival in Rosemary Loar's original musical Spoolie Girl, is a pretty busy girl herself these days. As the award-winning producer of the "Concerts for City Greens," she will be hosting a "Tribute to Neil Sedaka" variety show, featuring the legend himself, at Tudor City Greens (between 41st & 42nd Streets, and 1st & 2nd Avenues) on Wednesday, August 1 at 6:30 pm (rain date the following night). These free concerts that raise money for New York's "green spaces" always feature some of the city's best singers and musicians so you can be entertained and also contribute to a great cause. Raissa Katona Bennett will be performing "Another Kind of Light" at Feinstein's at Loews Regency, Tuesday August 21 through Saturday August 25, all at 8pm.