The Cabaret Chronicles: Algonquin Salon, Cast Party and Gretchen Reinhagen!
Happy Friday, everyone!
I kicked things off this week by heading to the Algonquin Salon, which takes place every Sunday evening in the lobby of the historic Algonquin Hotel. Pianist Mark Janas is the founder and host, and every week, he invites a special guest co-host. Well, this week, the guest co-host happened to be one of my favorite singers, the fabulous Karen Mason! Karen has starred on Broadway in shows including Mamma Mia!, Sunset Boulevard, and, most recently, Hairspray, and she's also had a luminous cabaret career. I always enjoy listening to her sing - not only does she have an amazing voice, but she performs with incredible strength and passion. She did a terrific job of co-hosting the Salon - she performed three numbers herself, and was a charming and gracious emcee...and boy, did she have some great talent to present! Salon regulars such as Julie Reyburn, Stephen Wilde, Susan Winter, Maureen Taylor, and Richie Eisenberg performed, and there were some fantastic newcomers (or relative newcomers!) as well! Ray Jessel (about whom I wrote last week!) did one of his great ditties, and Rita Gardner (who originated the role of The Girl in The Fantasticks!) performed, too - although I'm very sorry to report that I missed her performance, as I was coming from another appointment and had to get to the Salon a little late. All in all, it was a terrifically entertaining evening, and I was so happy I was able to make it!
The following night found me at another talent-heavy gathering: Jim Caruso's Cast Party at Birdland (yeah, I know - just for a change, right?!). Seriously, though, there's a reason I make it a point to be there every week I can - it's so much fun!! The number of amazingly talented people (from Broadway stars to jazz divas to folk icons) that have gotten up to the mic there is simply mindboggling! And this week was no exception - jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein was jaw-droppingly good; Sir Richard Rodney Bennett and Claire Martin (who are visiting from England and in the middle of a run at the Oak Room at the Algonquin), brought the house down with their super-jazzy renderings of "The Very Thought of You" and "I Thought About You," which they seamlessly wove together, folk goddess Christine Lavin treated us to one of her catchy original tunes, and singer Nate Lombardi mixed things up a bit with his jazz/hip-hop take on "The Way You Look Tonight." And the list of talented folks goes on and on - what a night! Jim Caruso was, as usual, the perfect, charming host and Tedd Firth and Steve Doyle (on piano and bass, respectively) provided top-notch accompaniment for the parade of perfomers. Can't wait for next Monday!
On Thursday, it was off to the Metropolitan Room to see Gretchen Reinhagen in her new show, Almost Blue. As you may have guessed from the title, the show was chock full of blues tunes...ALMOST all of the songs were blues, hence "Almost Blue!" Very clever! The show was a bit of a departure for Gretchen, who, in her first few shows in the city, pretty much stayed with the formula of showtunes/standards/special material, so it was fun to see her let loose a bit and give herself over to the material! She was backed by a rockin' all-female band (Lisa Brigantino on bass, Donna Kelly on drums, Karen Mack and Heidi Weyhmueller on backup vocals and musical director Tracy Stark on piano), which was also a big departure for her, as her previous shows were done with piano only. I really enjoyed not only the sound of the band (they were terrific), but the rapport Gretchen shared with them - it made for a very fun show! My favorite song? Oh, such a guilty pleasure, but I'm sure I'm not alone...it was "No More Tears (Enough is Enough)," for which musical director Tracy Stark split the lead vocals with Gretchen. It was such a fun moment - Gretchen and Tracy rocked out, the whole room was dancing and mouthing along, the band was smokin' and the disco lights were going...I mean, what more could you ask for?! Of course, the title song, Elvis Costello's Almost Blue, was included, and it was paired quite touchingly with Alan Gordon's "My Heart Belongs To Me". Toward the end of the show, Gretchen announced that her next show, which she's been dropping hints about for a while, but keeping under quite tight wraps, is going to be a Kaye Ballard show. She did a couple of tunes from that show as a sneak preview, and boy, I can't wait to see it - it seems like a perfect match of artist to material, so you can bet I'll be there when it opens in December! All in all, a quite enjoyable evening at the Metropolitan Room!