Sterling's Upstairs at the Federal Opens with Kritzerland Salute to Composer Bob Merrill
On Sunday April 1 Kritzerland presented its monthly show, this time Take Me Along saluting composer/lyricist Bob Merrill at the all new Sterling's Upstairs at The Federal in NoHo. This also marked the opening night for the new venue. Bruce Kimmel hosted a lovely evening with singers Melody Hollis, Juliana Hansen, Julie Garnye, Kristopher McNeeley, Jeffrey Christopher Todd and special guest Lainie Kazan. Christy Crowl served beautifully as musical director at the piano. Shelly Markham played for Miss Kazan. As always, Kimmel told some interesting stories about the composer. As for Merrill, he composed all of his tunes on a toy xylophone and had a series of pop tunes in the 50s long before he had a Broadway success. Songs performed in the 90-minute set included these tunes as well as Broadway fare from hits like Funny Girl, Carnival and Sugar, as well as from flops Pretty Belle, Henry, Sweet Henry, based on The World of Henry Orient and Holly Golightly otherwise referred to as Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Kazan, who was understudy to Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl in 1964-65 actually did go on for her - one year and three months into the run, but, as she relayed, it was not easy. Barbra had a bad case of strep throat, and on the evening that Kazan was set to take over the role of Fanny Brice, after calling a list of hundreds of producers and casting people, Streisand showed up for the performance. Kazan said she went up to her dressing room and cried, but the next day, she did in fact get the opportunity to play the matinee and evening performances. She was told to keep it hush, hush, but luckily her mother had a duplicate list of people to call, and it was a great coup for her tremendous talent. What an elegant lady, Miss Lainie Kazan, who praised Steisand for her guts in getting professionally what she wanted! After her anecdotes about the difficulties on the road with Funny Girl, Kazan essayed the gorgeous "The Music that Makes Me Dance" to the delight of the packed house. She is still a stunner.
Other highlights of the evening included: a 50s pop song medley "If I Knew You Were Coming, I'd Have Baked a Cake", "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?", "Honeycomb" and "Mambo Italiano" given that extra special spark by 14 year-old Melody Hollis, who also performed "I'm the Greatest Star" from Funny Girl. Jeffrey Christopher Todd and Kristopher McNeeley gave us - in drag - a first for Kritzerland - a spot-on colorful rendition of "The Beauty that Drives Men Mad" from Sugar; McNeeley later offered a gorgeous "Her Face" from Carnival. Julie Garnye lent her great pipes to "People" and "Don't Rain on My Parade" from Funny Girl. Pretty Juliana Hansen offered a scrumptious "I've Got a Penny" from Breakfast at Tiffany's and the sweet delight "I'm Blue Too...Sandra Dee" from Henry, Sweet Henry. Todd did a nice rendition of "Who Are You Now?" from Funny Girl, usually reserved for a female singer, and Melody Hollis brought down the house with a delicious "Poor Little Person" from ...Henry.
This Kritzerland show was most definitely up to its expected standard of greatness. They are laden with such joy! Don't Miss next month's Broadway Bound, honoring shows that didn't quite make it like The Yearling and Minnie's Boys ... on Sunday May 6.
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A quick word about the staff and food at the Federal: superb! The service is fast and pleasant, and the food served quite elegantly. I had a wonderful grilled salmon on a bed of mashed potatoes and kale, my friend had short ribs...and they serve the most delicious big burly burgers with a side of to die for garlic fries... all for a modest price of under $20.