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Review: A CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION OF MISS PEGGY LEE From The Mabel Mercer Foundation

The artistry of Miss Peggy Lee will live forever and The Mabel Mercer Foundation shows why.

Review: A CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION OF MISS PEGGY LEE From The Mabel Mercer Foundation Broadway World Cabaret has gone back into the clubs of New York City to cover live entertainment as it returns to the stages; however, there remains a good deal of virtual entertainment for at-home audiences to enjoy, so we are both happy and proud to welcome a new correspondent who will be reporting exclusively on virtual cabaret and concerts. For his first Broadway World assignment, Jarrod Cafaro shares his thoughts on the latest offering from the in-house filmmaking team at The Mabel Mercer Foundation, A CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION OF MISS Peggy Lee. Jarrod, welcome to the Broadway World Cabaret family.

Look for Jarrod's future reviews under his own byline.

A Centennial Celebration of Miss Peggy Lee

Norma Deloris Egstrom, or Peggy Lee to a commoner like me, should have had her 100th birthday celebrated at Carnegie Hall. In fact, that was the plan. The multiple Grammy Award winning singer, actress, and composer of nearly 300 songs was set to be honored last June at the Weill Recital Hall. As disappointing as it must have been to have to postpone and reimagine the event, the ultimate result is a well-paced and beautifully put-together video montage of performances that debuted online on May 25th. Bravo to the Mabel Mercer Foundation, the divine KT Sullivan, and director Chinua Thomas for creating an entertaining and virtually seamless evening (or afternoon, depending on when you watch - let's be honest, after a year of quarantine, I no longer know the difference between the two) that doesn't sacrifice any of cabaret's intimacy.

Can you believe I have worked in piano bars and cabaret rooms on and off for 23 years (Eighty-Eights in the house!) and I have NEVER heard Natalie Douglas sing? I can't believe it, myself. Ms. Douglas was the Hostess with the Mostess for this evening of artists, and I can proudly say that I, now, see what all the fuss is about. Not only is hers a wonderful voice, but Natalie is a truly artful and technically proficient singer as well. Her opening performance of "He's a Tramp" was everything it needed to be, and she made Lee's legendary hit "Fever" seem like a Natalie Douglas original. The D-flats at the end were to die for, ensuring the number as a highlight. Working alongside Douglas on both numbers, viewers got a chance to see the predominant musical director of the evening, the talented Jon Weber, in action.

When I was still performing, working at the bars and doing solo shows kept me in the loop and familiar with many of my colleagues, contemporaries, and the luminaries of the cabaret stage. Returning to that world by viewing this production has been an unexpected joy, and though many of the faces are new to me, the group KT Sullivan has gathered is clearly the cream of the crop (and if they aren't, they should be). Mary Foster Conklin immediately commanded attention with Leiber and Stoller's "Some Cats Know" and didn't ever let it go - every moment was true and connected. I think I watched her whole performance without blinking once, occasionally wondering how she could be looking directly at me through a computer screen. Her hypnotic performance was followed by Broadway regular and Bistro award winner Aisha de Haas, whose fun and bouncy "Them There Eyes" didn't prepare me for the haunting and grounded "The Folks Who Live On The Hill" that followed it.

Using a truly beautiful baritone and charming personality, Nicolas King brought pure entertainment to two Peggy Lee originals, "Things Are Swingin" and "There'll Be Another Spring", along with the added benefit of being accompanied by Miss Lee's musical director, the great Mike Renzi. A rich contralto and acting chops gave Celia Berk a chance to embody a complex and beautiful "The Shining Sea"; then the show introduced me to some new faces in the persons of coquettish Julia Parasram, and the energetic Danny Bacher. Julia's lovely voice and coy demeanor worked well with "I Love The Way You're Breaking My Heart" and Danny's well-suited selection of "It's A Good Day" was entertaining while showing off his voice and his soprano sax (while Jon Weber played the piano like he had extra fingers on each hand).

Cabaret power couple Barbara Fasano and Eric Comstock showed their stuff with "Jump For Joy" and "These Foolish Things" with some sweet assistance from Sean Smith on Bass. From the days of her "Girls of Summer" show at Eighty-Eights, Ms. Fasano seems unchanged by time, except for the rich beauty of a voice that has gotten better in the two or three years that have passed.

What can be said about Sidney Myer that hasn't already been said? It's difficult to watch Mr. Myer objectively, as he was my boss for many years, but it was a real treat to see him lending his signature style to what I can only imagine is the autobiographical "Louisville Lou." Bravo, Sidney!

Catherine Russell. Wow. I'm ashamed to say this was my first time hearing this multiple Grammy Award winner sing, and I was left wanting more after her charming rendition of "Sugar" - thankfully, I wasn't wanting for long. Launching immediately into "Where Can I Go Without You" Ms. Russell completely satisfied my newfound craving. Though Ms. Russell proved a hard act to follow, Gabrielle Stravelli's grounded performance and haunting voice did the trick as she presented the beautiful "Too Late Now" in the signature jazz stylings for which she is known.

As if this Peggy Lee tribute weren't already enough, the show sent out some heavy hitters to bring it home. Billy Stritch, oozing charm and buoyancy with a devilish smile, Mr. Stritch played and sang Lee's own composition "I Don't Know Enough About You" in a way that made me want to tell him more. Chicago The Musical Alum Amra-Faye Wright took a song that has never especially resonated with me, "Is That All There Is?", while Stacy Sullivan filled every moment she was onstage for "In The Days of Our Love" - for former had me laughing out loud, while the latter was in the pocket, and her song beautifully sung.

It would be remiss to not mention Natalie Douglas' interview with Peggy Lee's Granddaughter, and the President of the Peggy Lee Association, Holly Foster-Wells. It was here that Peggy Lee fans learned that a biopic starring Michelle Williams is being produced by Reese Witherspoon and Billie Eilish. Miss Foster-Wells, further, confirmed the re-release of Peggy Lee's autobiography and also told viewers that an exciting new coffee table book of personal photos. The discussion between the two friends was a special segment in an already-lovely program of performances by some of cabaret's most accomplished musicians.

To view A CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION OF MISS Peggy Lee please visit the Mabel Mercer Foundation YouTube Channel at THIS link - this show will be available to watch until June 8, 2022

Learn all about The Mabel Mercer Foundation at THIS link.

Jarrod Cafaro Bio:
A fan of the website for years, Jarrod is thrilled to be writing for BWW! Having been a performer for a couple of decades, Mr. Cafaro cut his teeth in the cabaret rooms of yesterday. Starting as a waiter in the piano bar and cabaret rooms, he eventually made his debut as a performer upstairs at Eighty-Eights, receiving rave reviews in the New York Post, and a MAC nomination for male debut. This led to a string of shows and singing gigs at clubs and venues all over NYC. Some highlights include shows at Don't Tell Mama, Judy's (Chelsea), and being featured in two of Scott and Barbara Siegel's events and concerts at Town Hall. First, he appeared in the Songs of WW2, where he had the impossible task of having to follow Karen Mason's opening number, and then Cafaro was in their Kander and Ebb tribute where he was lucky enough to reprise A Little Bit Of Good, Mary Sunshine's number from Chicago. As an actor, Jarrod had the good fortune of performing across the US, Europe, and Asia. Some highlights include Chicago (Mary Sunshine, National Tour, and China), Cats (National Tour), A Chorus Line (National and European Tour), Jeffrey (Darius/Clarke Th, Lincoln Center), and the singular distinction of doing dueling sopranos with Grammy Award winner Sandi Patty, while dressed as a Hot Dog, for the Indianapolis and Baltimore symphony orchestras.


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