BWW Review: SERVING YOU SONDHEIM Satisfies at The Green Room 42
For a musical theater buff, what could be more enticing than an evening of Sondheim? For a cabaret aficionado, what could be more tempting than an evening of emerging artists? An evening of emerging artists singing Sondheim, that's what could be enticing and tempting, especially when those emerging artists happen to be the waitstaff of one of New York City's most popular cabaret clubs.
Daniel Dunlow, founder of The Green Room 42, has created something truly special inside the Yotel at the corner of 42nd and 10th in midtown Manhattan: a cabaret club with affordable ticket prices, no food/drink minimum and a big stage that can accommodate big acts. The Green Room 42 also has some of the sweetest and most engaging servers a patron is likely to encounter, in any food/drink venue - all of them young people, probably all of them artists, and (as was evidenced this week in a fun performance at their job) all of them game for an adventure.
Serving You Sondheim is performer-director-arranger-conductor Dunlow's tribute to (clearly his favorite) Stephen Sondheim, but it is also a tribute to the talented young actors who work in his club, as they are the performers in the spotlight for the nearly-90 minute orgiastic musical feast. Dressed in their server blacks, including an apron or two, some of them continuing to serve tables throughout the evening, these artists with a dream hop up on the stage and deliver renditions of Sondheim songs (both well-known and obscure), some of them in true Sondheim tradition, others with new arrangements that open-minded guests may love, but that purists may reject. It is a night of Sondheim with tickets starting at around $22. A devoted Sondheimist, this writer was not going to miss it.
With Dunlow emcee' ing and lending his conducting talents to the choral numbers, the August 30th performance featured a wealth of trivia and tidbits, some that even I hadn't heard, as well as Dunlow's rapturous deconstructions and appraisals of songs, shows, and segments of songs. It is always fascinating and exciting to watch, to listen to, someone excitedly discuss a topic about which they have great passion, especially when they have the knowledge to back up their rhetoric, and Dunlow's excitement carried the crowd through some voluble extemporaneous talks about Mr. Sondheim and his canon of work. Offsetting Dunlow's dialogue were performances from the servers that ranged from pleasing to phenomenal, like Mia Melchiorri's sweet soprano singing an unknown, unheard early Sondheim song "Where Do I Belong?" or Kea Chan's fiery "Some People" (performed her way, not as a mimic of one of our famous Broadway divas). Traveling chronologically through Sondheim's career, Mr. Dunlow pointed out the MGM quality of some of the earlier music by having new New Yorker (a week and a half) Cali Newman showcase a Broadway belt with "What More Do I Need" and Lauren Robinson blow the roof off the joint with "Broadway Baby", then turned our attention to a more vulnerable, yet complex, Sondheim with Passion's "Loving You", perfectly performed by Brittany Bennett and "Scene 14" heartachingly delivered by Quentin Garzon. With refreshing and sweet voices Faith Porter entertained with "Moments in the Woods", and Cara Feuer dazzled with an effectively simple "Anyone Can Whistle, while Christopher Reeve lookalike Gavin Crammer delivered a powerful "Being Alive" and Quentin Garzon serenaded with a beautiful and traditional "Finishing the Hat", and always lead beautifully by virtuoso musical director Eugene Gwozdz, cellist Zoe Hassman, bassist Leo Smith, and drummer Sarah Tompkins. Host Dunlow even got in on the action with a lively "Buddy's Blues" and a lovely "Not While I'm Around", proving he truly is the renaissance man of The Green Room 42.
These singing servers, Mr. Dunlow pointed out, donate their time to rehearsals and to the performance: no other payment is awarded them, only the satisfaction of creating, of singing this extraordinary music, of performing for the friends and family who attend the show - and sometimes things go awry. There may be a missed note here or a forgotten lyric there, and audiences need to be reminded that it requires a special fortitude to get up on a stage and open a vein - if a singer has a miss, a little generosity is advisable, and more love in the form of applause is a better choice when it happens.
Of particular note at the August performance of Serving You Sondheim were a "Bernadette Peters Medley" arranged by Dunlow and dueted by powerhouses Brittany Bennett and Lauren Robinson, a haunting "Send in the Clowns" by Monroe George, and a revelation named Thaddeus Cole, whose in the pocket performances of "Something's Coming" and "Company" were simply spectacular. Of the twelve people who stepped on the stage, though, the person who, most, touched the heart of this writer was Zach Fadler, who (with "Good Thing Going") not only let loose a voice that sounded like an echo inside of a cave, but who, during the monumental group finale "Sunday"(as arranged by Michael McElroy), embodied the beatific bliss of music, of singing, and of Sondheim, which is what Serving You Sondheim is all about.
The next installment of Serving You Sondheim is November 22nd at The Green Room 42. For tickets visit The Green Room 42 Website
Photos by Stephen Mosher