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Review: Karen Oberlin Sings from the Heart at The West Bank Cafe

Karen Oberlin and Tedd Firth Delight in Evening of Classics

Review: Karen Oberlin Sings from the Heart at The West Bank Cafe

Thanks to Governor Cuomo's loosened Covid restrictions, the West Bank Cafe was looking a lot more like a pre-pandemic restaurant tonight. The doors to the outside are still open, but all the plexiglass partitions between tables have been taken down and the bar was a lot more bustling. Fortunately what has not changed is the quality of the music in the Dinner Music series that was added in February. Tonight it was a particular treat as Karen Oberlin sang a set of reimagined classics with the help of jazz wunderkind, Tedd Firth. I had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Firth a few weeks ago when he played with Mellissa Errico. His style here is adjusted to Oberlin's more introspective voice but is equally marvelous.

Karen Oberlin (Our Sinatra) is not only a delicious singer blessed with great musical sensitivity and excellent diction, but she is also a wonderfully passionate actor who can bring a wide range of emotions to every well-formed phrase. Some singers take great care to make sure the emotions land on the audience. Oberlin has a much lighter touch. She has the gift of making sure the emotions land on her and then allowing the audience to come to her. It's a wonderful thing to watch a singer stop performing and practice the much more difficult art of just being. Ms. Oberlin makes all the hard work look very simple.

Oberlin and Firth have worked together for 20 years (neither looks old enough to have done anything for 20 years.) And in some ways the set I caught could be considered their "Greatest Hits", being comprised of songs from shows they have put together over the years. Oberlin opened with a wonderfully soft-spoken reading of Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing." It was a reminder of our year of seclusion and how nice it is to experience nature and the outdoors once more.

She then sang several numbers from a show she and Firth put together about Doris Day. It was clear she feels great affection for the band singer/movie star. She sang a droll rendition of Day's "Put 'Em In a Box, Tie 'Em With a Ribbon. And Throw 'Em in the Deep Blue Sea." She then paired Day's big hit, "Secret Love" from Calamity Jane with Irving Berlin's "I Got Lost in His Arms" from Annie Get Your Gun as a tribute to two pistol-packin' mamas. She then sang a very tender arrangement of "Sentimental Journey." She turned to lesser-known Doris Day in "Yes," a pensive love song by André Previn.

Other highlights included a heartfelt medley about isolation including "The Shadow of Your Smile" and Sondheim's "I Remember." She lightened the mood with two songs by Yip Harburg. First, a very jaunty reading of Groucho Marx's signature song, "Lydia, the Tattooed Lady" and a very impassioned "Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe." She wrapped up this very fine set with a medley of "Night and Day" and " The Night We Called It a Day."

It is a pleasure to see a performer bring this kind of passion and truthfulness to her work. Nothing forced, no trying to sell a number, just living in the moment and feeling joyful. The musical interplay between Karen Oberlin and Tedd Firth is so in synch, at times it feels like one being at work, rather than two. Many thanks to the West Bank Cafe for giving these two wonderful artists such a delightful space to create beautiful art.

For more information on Karen Oberlin, go to karenoberlin.com or look her up @KarenOberlin on Twitter. To learn more about Tedd Firth, visit teddfirth.com. To check out more great acts at the West Bank Cafe or to make dinner reservations, visit westbankcafe.com.


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