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Review: The Mabel Mercer Foundation's 26th Annual Cabaret Convention Comes Home to Town Hall, Night Four, October 16

The final night of this year's estimable Cabaret Convention, What I Did for Love/Taking a Chance on Love, saluted composer/songwriter Vernon Duke in Act I and composer/conductor Marvin Hamlisch during Act II. It was a curious pairing, indeed.

Vernon Duke (1903-1969) began his musical career as a classical composer, a genre in which he maintained solid presence, but also went on to write such iconic songs as "April in Paris" (lyric-E.Y. 'Yip' Harburg), "Taking a Chance on Love" (lyric-Ted Fetter & John Latouche), and "Autumn in New York" (his own music and lyrics). His musicals, all flops, had such short runs due to content and/or bad luck, and the Night Four show host Klea Blackhurst (photo above) made a sympathetic running joke out of the fact.

Marvin Hamlisch (1099-2012), a talent whose work you'd have had to be living under a rock not to have known, was a composer/conductor and winner of the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony, and Pulitzer Prize. At the age of 21, his "Sunshine, Lollipops, and Roses" hit the charts with a bullet. Years later "Memories" was recorded by seemingly everyone in the world. Among his musicals, The Goodbye Girl and The Sweet Smell of Success had limited runs, while Hamlisch's score for the iconic Chorus Line is musical theater history.


Host Klea Blackhurst performed several appealing numbers during the show including Vernon's "Dancing in the Streets," the title song of a musical Mary Martin chose over starring in Oklahoma (Jon Weber-piano) and the Hamlisch/Rupert Holmes number "While I Still Have the Time" from then-in-development The Nutty Professor, in which Blackhurst would have been featured (Michael Rice-piano). She also kept the pace, articulately introducing varied performers and bridging musical sections with amusing, entertaining anecdotes.

"Autumn in New York" was lushly rendered by Tammy McCann, who rolled the lyric around in her mouth as if tasting it, conjuring images, filling the room with nostalgia (Jon Weber-piano). The lovely "Ordinary Miracles" (Hamlisch/Alan & Marilyn Bergman) was given its sincere, well-phrased due by Raissa Katona Bennett (Kenneth Gartman-piano) who seemed to palpably believe.

Eric Michael Gillett sang two numbers from the underrated The Sweet Smell of Success (lyrics-Craig Carnelia), which, we were told this evening, is headed back to Broadway. Gillett was in the original cast. A shimmering "I Cannot Hear the City" showcases the artist's range and vocal control, while a powerful "At The Fountain" reminds us of his acting chops (Alvin Hough, Jr.-piano).

Mothers Eva Kantor and Valerie Lemon (long Hamlisch's dear friend and go-to concert singer) performed a simply lovely duet of "Mother's Voice" (lyric Alan & Marilyn Bergman) dedicated to his mom, Lilly, and the mothers in the audience. Vocal arrangement buoyed the ladies' excellent harmony. Lemon then sang "That's How I Say Goodbye," which was cut from the original production of Success but will be restored in the revival. Meaningful to the performer, who undoubtedly had tears in her eyes, the song became all the more meaningful to us (Phil Hall-piano).

Carol Woods first presented "Too Good To Be Bad" (The Goodbye Girl-lyrics David Zippel) with resonant depth and attitude (Jon Weber-piano, Steve Doyle-bass) and later lead this evening's moving finale "What I Did For Love" (Chorus Line-lyrics Edward Kleban) backed by the Scott Coulter-directed Broadway By the Year Chorus (from Scott Siegel's eminent Town Hall Series).

Other performances:

Pianist Matt Baker offered straight-up jazz and a snippet of strained vocal . . . Alexis Cole, also on piano, delivered a hushed "April in Paris" (Both additionally accompanied by Jim Cammack-bass, Jerome Jennings-drums) . . . Nancy McCall sang an almost monotone "Roundabout" (Jon Weber-piano) . . . Shawn Ryan wearing a cheery, traffic-stopping, flowered suit, presented as much good natured camp as vocal (Kelly Park-piano, Skip Ward-bass, Kenny Soule-drums) . . . Shana Farr's pristine soprano "The Love I Long For" suffered from lack of microphone (Jon Weber-piano) . . . Eric Yves Garcia's (photo left) selections from Ziegfeld Follies of 1933 and 1936 were, first, vocally hip swinging, and second, dense jazz (himself and then Jon Weber-piano) . . . "The Last Time I Felt Like This" as sung by Scott Coulter showed instinct for nuanced, pop inflection (John Boswell-piano) . . . Heather McRae's number from Ice Castles skated gracefully on Jon Weber's tinkling piano . . . Marieann Meringolo, often compared to Barbra Streisand, sang one of the icon's hits, "The Way We Were" (lyric-Alan & Marilyn Bergman), with clear, unembellished skill (Jon Weber-piano) . . . Liam Forde effervesced through an infectious medley from They're Playing Our Song (lyrics-Carole Bayer Sager).

The Mabel Mercer Foundation's 26th Annual Cabaret Convention was on its feet due to the efforts of Artistic Director KT Sullivan, Managing Director, Rick Meadows, Co-Directors Alyce Finell, Bill Lanese, Jason Martin, and its Board of Trustees, as well as everyone from Town Hall connected to the production.

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From This Author - Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of ... (read more about this author)