FAR OUT! Lauren Fox and Friends Rock & Roll at 54 Below with a Reverential and Remarkable Woodstock Tribute Show
Cabaret Reviews and Commentary by Stephen Hanks
In cabaret, there are variety shows and there are VARIETY shows. Going on close to three years as a reviewer and attending a myriad of these affairs that can range in feel from Ed Sullivan to The Gong Show, I no longer have much patience for the lower case version. But every once in a while there's a multi-performer extravaganza that screams capital letters. It turns out that MAC-Award winning singer Lauren Fox (now also a director and producer) has acquired the knack for staging "Big V" variety shows because they are all about the themes, the stories, and the music, and not about the performers. And wouldn't you know it? With the egos being upstaged by everyone's joy and passion for the project, everybody wins . . . especially the audience.
Fox previously played variety show impresario this past January when she staged Cabaret Rocks the Rockaways, a benefit at the Metropolitan room featuring numerous cabaret luminaries, which raised money for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts in that devastated area of New York. While that show blew everyone away, Fox did herself one better last night at 54 Below with One Night of Peace & Music: A Tribute to Woodstock, commemorating the iconic three-day concert and festival 44 years to the day it opened on Max Yasger's Farm in Bethel, New York in 1969. In just under 90 minutes, Fox and company produced a show that could have run three hours and I doubt anyone in the audience would have complained. In fact, the vibe in the room was so Woodstockian, the crowd might have wanted to simulate a summer of '69 rain storm and engage in mudslides down the 54 Below stairway leading to the club. And no exotic hallucinogens were necessary; this was one show that gave everyone a natural high. It was a welcome respite from the recent and seemingly relentless negative news about conservative attacks on labor, women, voting rights, and civil rights in this country, and made one long for that aspect of the late 1960s when committed activism brought about real change.
While the Sylvester "Sly Stone" Stewart songs "Everyday People" and "I Want to Take You Higher" were featured mid-show (more on that later), "It's a Family Affair" might also have been appropriate since almost every member of the Fox clan participated in the concert (even Fox's niece, Finley Fox Eisenberg, served as a "flower child greeter"). Lauren's dad, Ray Errol Fox introduced the show with a tribute to his late friend John Roberts, an original Woodstock producer (who didn't pay the last bill on the concert until 14 years after the event), before Lauren's sister Haley (who as narrator delivered quotes from each of the show's original artists as an introduction to the songs) offered a line from Richie Havens as the urban world music group, The Audiobodies, led by lead singer Wyme and guitarist Obtuse, took the stage and then delivered a soulful, percussive, rousing, and slightly reggae interpretation of "Freedom."
The room was already rocking by the time rising cabaret star Marissa Mulder--looking as angelic as ever in a floor-length, one-piece dress that was so multi-colored you might have thought your cocktail was spiked with an acid tab--took on the Nansi Nevins role for Sweetwater's "Two Worlds," and Mulder's rendition sounded even more powerful than the original. Scanning the show's set list and quickly checking it against the original Woodstock sets revealed that the 18 performances Fox selected were in the same order as in the actual Woodstock shows (five from Day One, eight from Day Two, and five from Day Three). Pretty groovy.
One of the night's true surprises came from Tony Award-winner Norbert Leo Butz (Catch Me If You Can and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), who revealed his inner folk singer, soloing on guitar with a rapturous rendition of Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe." Butz was boss. Who knew? Then Lauren Fox (photo, right) stepped to the stage looking all flower-child-like and wearing a sparkly headband. Fox has a great feel for songs that work perfectly for her Joni Mitchell-esque voice and took on Melanie's ethereal "Close To It All," which featured fine flute accompaniment from Kelley Barnett. The lovely flutist was part of an excellent band that was totally far out the entire show, including Fox's go-to bandmates, Musical Director Jon Weber on piano, Ritt Henn on bass, and Peter Calo on guitar. Joining the group for this bash was guitarist Ted Stafford and percussionist Rex Benincasa. (Please click on Page 2 below to continue.)