BWW Review: Lynn Henderson and A SKITCH IN TIME Inspire Smiles at Don't Tell Mama
An hour with a non-stop smile on your face doesn't happen every day, but it happened for this writer while attending a show at midtown Manhattan's famed cabaret club Don't Tell Mama. The artist was Lynn Henderson and when, first, I saw the name of her show I thought: "Wow that is a mouthful." A Skitch In Time: My Friendship With Maestro Skitch Henderson. A mouthful. But it tells the potential audience what they need to know, so a person simply has to accept it because Skitch Henderson was a great man and he deserves to be tributed. And while Ms. Henderson and the great Maestro share a last name, all the other things they shared were completely non-familial. No relation were these two Hendersons.
Family, though, is not only people with whom we share DNA.
Seated on a high cabaret stool as the lights come up, Ms. Henderson was a charmer, right out of the gate. With hypnotic blue eyes and shining silver hair, her facial expression was a mixture of mischief and mirth, excitement and elation. If the mere sight of Lynn Henderson were not enough to make a person smile, her opening words were.
"The very thought of you.." she whispered right into the microphone.
Boom. She had us.
For a little more than an hour, Lynn Henderson captivated an audience that leaned into her, longingly, waiting for the next word she would speak or sing in what is a supremely crafted bit of cabaret writing. Henderson and director Klea Blackhurst created a script for this tribute show that let the audience into the relationship, rather than just the legend. Ms. Henderson certainly has many stories about the Maestro and she tells them with appropriate brevity, so as to get back to the music, but when the focus is the sharing of stories, the sentences are structured for maximum output with minimum time consumed, not to mention having these bits of conversation situated in precise places that keep the flow of the show, one of the main reasons it came in at just over an hour. All of the music used to create A Skitch In Time is apropos to the production, even if the music had absolutely nothing to do with Skitch Henderson, like the usage of Sondheim's "Old Friend" to introduce the subject of the two Henderson's friendship. Consider the sweet and endearing mash-up of Kander and Ebb's "Married" with the famous "Heart and Soul" - perfect musical material to pair with stories about Mr. Henderson's long-lasting and devoted marriage. Indeed, Lynn Henderson and her marvel of a musical director, Douglas J. Cohen, create several medleys and mash-ups that rank from clever (A medley about bands) to brilliant (a Judy Garland medley) - medleys that, at times, used no more than a sentence, a strain, a snippet of a song, but that got the message across and kept the show moving. Mr. Cohen, though, is more than just a musical partner for Ms. Henderson; throughout the show he had her back, helping her when she lost her way in the text and assisting her with the singing by dueting with her or even taking over an entire song, as he did with Billy Joel's "Baby Grand" and it was certainly a treat to hear his voice, whether singing alone or dueting with Lynn.
Ms. Henderson belongs to a group of men and women who are born performers and who, in spite of the passing of years, don't wish to retire. And there is no reason for them to retire. If they can get to the stage and still tell a story, there should be a place for them. Ms. Henderson, as a member of the club, has some of the vocal limitations that come with being in that club. It doesn't matter because she and Mr. Cohen have worked meticulously with those limitations to decide which notes get sung, which get spoken, and which get whispered... and it has elevated the quality of Ms. Henderson's performance. True art requires limitation. With these few small limitations placed on her, Ms. Henderson has found new ways in which to tell her stories, and they - the stories and the new ways of telling them - are beautiful.
Throughout this afternoon of smiling as Lynn Henderson brought her own unique magic to her memories of Maestro Henderson, the musical highlights included splendid performances of "Because I Can" and "Welcome Home" but a real treat for the crowd was a surprise visit from violinist extraordinaire Sara Caswell, who performed a spellbinding "But Beautiful." How magnanimous of Ms. Henderson to share her stage and her Skitch tribute with so magnificent a musical artist, but the truth is the entire stage was filled with great musicians, from Ms. Caswell to Henderson and Cohen, and including Robert Sabin on bass. It was music fit for an hour plus of remembering Skitch Henderson, and one can only surmise that it would have pleased him to have so loving a tribute created by a friend with such high regard for him. It's an elegant way to show your appreciation for a friend whom you loved and admired. I hope that one day there is a tribute this enjoyable created for me.
And when it happens, I hope Lynn Henderson is leading the way, and still making people smile.
A Skitch In Time: My Friendship with Maestro Skitch Henderson has completed its shows for 2019. If more are announced Broadwayworld will bring the news to our readers.
Photos by Stephen Mosher