The Cabaret Chronicles: Nicolas King, Carly Ozard, Ann Hampton Callaway, and Sarah-Louise Young!
Well, readers, it's been a busy month for me, but amid all of the hustle and bustle, I've managed to take in some truly outstanding entertainment. From 19-year old Nicolas King to one of the greatest established treasures of the Great American Songbook, Ann Hampton Callaway, it was definitely a musical month to remember!
When Nicolas King hits the stage, one is immediately blown away by his charisma, poise, charm, and...YES, talent! At a mere 19 years of age, the remarkable musicality and vocal prowess displayed by Mr. King are very exciting to watch. Exciting in their own right, because they make for one heck of an entertaining show, but perhaps even more exciting is thinking about what's in store for the future. Equally at home belting out a theater tune or scatting on a jazz standard, Mr. King shows incredible versatility and brings his own take to each song - something special in any performer for sure, but made extra special considering his young age. Titled NINETEEN, the show was a celebration of Mr. King's debut album of the same name, as well as various other favorite songs of his that are not on the album. In a program full of showstoppers, it's hard to single out favorites, but I was particularly impressed by "Mr. Paganini." Mr. King handled this challenging tune (first popularized by the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald) like an old pro, seamlessly transitioning between tempos and easily playing around with the melody. Also of note was his tender medley of "Where Is Love" and "Blame It On My Youth," which showed off a softer side of voice and allowed his acting chops to shine. "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" was yet another standout. Featuring an a capella start, an extremely zippy tempo, and an incredible scat solo, this selection served as another harbinger of incredible things to come in Mr. King's career. Supported by the top-notch trio of musical director Mike Renzi on piano, Chip Jackson on bass, and Buddy Williams on drums, Mr. King put on a simply incredible show at Manhattan's Metropolitan Room- one can only hope that he'll return for another solo gig in NYC soon!
Exactly a week after Mr. King's show, I had the opportunity to see another young performer in a completely different type of show, and I had an equally great time! Talented Bay-Area vocalist Carly Ozard made her NYC debut in Somebody to Love: My Musical Tribute to Freddie Mercury at Don't Tell Mama, and what a debut it was! Full of heart, passion, great music, and fantastic vocals, it was a thoroughly entertaining show from top to bottom. Backed by a truly rockin' band (Musical Director Joe Wicht on piano, Brendan Getzell on guitar, Matt Scharfglass on bass and David Silliman on drums), all of whom joined in on backup vocals, Ms. Ozard broke through all kinds of barriers (A classically trained vocalist singing rock? A female vocalist covering Freddie Mercury? A "cabaret show" consisting entirely of rock music?) to put on one of the most thoughtful, heartfelt shows I've seen in quite a while. Explaining her obsession with Freddie from a very young age (even her DOG is named Freddie Mercury), it was clear to see that this music spoke to her heart. Weaving in stories from her own life (the stress of training in classical voice at college made a lovely segue into "Under Pressure," for example!) with stories about Freddie (the singer, not the dog!), Ms. Ozard kept the show flowing beautifully and also showed off her quick wit and easy sense of humor in some impromptu exchanges with the enthusiastic audience. She wisely chose to make "Bohemian Rhapsody" an audience participation number (she's very talented, yes - but it would have been quite a challenge to sing all of the parts simultaneously!), which allowed everyone to allow their inner "Queen" out and join in the fun. A remarkable debut to be sure - hopefully Ms. Ozard will be returning to Manhattan soon, too!
On Wednesday, March 9th, it was off to Dizzy's Club Coca Cola to see the incomparable Ann Hampton Callaway. Seeing any show in this gorgeous club overlooking Central Park is a treat, but seeing Ms. Callaway makes it an extra-special one. One of the premiere interpreters of the Great American Songbook with a rich, soulful voice and spectacular musicianship, Ms. Callaway is a must-see for me whenever she performs in the city. On Wednesday evening, she opened her late set with "In a Mellow Tone," closed with "Lover Come Back To Me," and filled the middle with stellar selections including a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald ("How High The Moon") and a tribute to Lena Horne ("You Can't Rush Spring"). Backing up Ms. Callaway's fantastic vocals was an equally fantastic trio (Bill Cunliffe on piano, Peter Washington on bass and Tim Horner on drums), which made an already incredible performance even better! The evening was capped off by a very sweet song, which, per Ms. Callaway's tradition, was made up entirely on the spot. These "instant songs" are usually based on recommendations from the audience, and on this night, friends of Ms. Callaway's who had recently welcomed a new baby into their lives happened to be sitting right up front, so the song that was created was a celebration of their new family member! It was a truly beautiful way to end the evening.
That Friday (March 11th), I headed to Don't Tell Mama to see another debut from a visiting artist, only this time it was Sarah-Louise Young, who was in from London for a 2-show engagement. The title of the show was "Cabaret Whore" and the premise was that there were four singers competing against each other in the "Cabaret Whore" competition. In a brilliantly turned-out performance, Ms. Young played each of the four characters and had the audience in stitches for a good portion of the night. The first contestant was Bernie St. Clair, an aging "Off-Off-Broadway Diva" with a platinum blond wig and a bedazzlEd White gown a la Blanche in "The Golden Girls," who enjoyed sampling customers' cocktails as she worked the room and was the embodiment of so many divas who have passed their prime but not quite realized it. Next up, it was a catsuit-wearing, ukulele toting "Polish performance artiste" named Kasia with a sleek black wig and a thick Polish accent, who entertained the crowd with her songs "Neo-Cabaret," "Your Life is Like a Ukulele" and "Use Your Loaf (Get Off The Bread Line)." Following Kasia, it was a God-fearing Christian woman named Sister Carol-Ann from the "Ministry of Cabaret" who was attempting to "spread the good word" through the medium of cabaret (although it became abundantly clear that all she was looking for was an excuse to get on stage!), and finally, it was the headliner, La Poule Plombée (a tortured French chanteuse). Forever doomed to be in the shadow of the great Piaf, the frizzy-haired, knife wielding French songbird related her woes to the audience in the hopes of gaining their support in the Cabaret Whore competition. The show was absolutely terrific: each of the characters was fully developed, and Ms. Young was absolutely fearless in her portrayal of them - hard enough in an audience full of friends and family, but made all the more impressive by the fact that this was her New York debut and the only friends in the audience were the new ones she'd made in her brief time in the city! Additionally, all of the songs were conceived and co-written by Ms. Young, and, despite some of her characters' best attempts to cover it up, her lovely voice still managed to shine throughout the entire evening. It was a spectacular show, and one that should not be missed when Ms. Young returns to New York!
That's about all for now, but check back for a new column soon...and in the meantime, check out these terrific shows that are coming up!
Sunday, March 20, 2011: Tony DeSare at Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel from 9 p.m. - 12 a.m. A mainstay on the New York jazz scene, singer/songwriter/pianist Tony DeSare is one of the best acts in town. His smooth voice, eaSy Manner, and incredible piano playing make the three hours at Bemelmans go by in a flash, and the ambience of the room is nearly impossible to beat! Bemelmans does not take reservations, so arrive early to claim a good seat! If you can't make this Sunday, don't worry - Mr. DeSare will be playing at Bemelmans every Sunday through the end of April!
Sunday, March 20, 2011 & Monday, March 21, 2011: Katharine Luckinbill at Don't Tell Mama in LOVE (or lack thereof). I had the honor of being at Ms. Luckinbill's opening night of this show last month, and it was truly one of the best cabaret debuts I've seen in recent memory. She has a lovely voice, a warm personality and killer acting chops. Backed by a terrific band, Ms. Luckinbill tells the sometimes hilarious, sometimes devastating, stories of her failed relationships through carefully selected songs, conversations, and a monologue or two. I had such a wonderful time the first time around that I'm heading back for more! Show is at 7:00 p.m. both nights; reservations can be made by calling 212-757-0788. LOVE (or lack thereof) is produced by Michael Alden and Lucie Arnaz. To read my original write-up of Ms. Luckinbill's show, click here!
Pictured: Nicolas King