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BWW Review: The West Bank Cafe Doubles Down on Delightful Duo Shows

Michael Garin and Mardie Millit AND Sean Patrick Murtagh and Micah Young Make Sunday a Couples' Night

BWW Review: The West Bank Cafe Doubles Down on Delightful Duo Shows

Of late, I have asked our other Broadway World Cabaret journalists to cover club acts and concerts at The Green Room 42 and Don't Tell Mama so that I could spend my free nights at The West Bank Cafe catching their dinner music acts. Naturally a fan of a good cabaret or an exciting concert, I have discovered a different kind of satisfaction in the casual experience found in this series that presents the artists in a relaxed and natural environment with less structure than that to be found in a room where people have paid money expressly to see the artist at the mic. At The West Bank, the musicians perform free of charge, only taking home the tips that the dining audience chooses to gift them in gratitude for enhancing their night out. There's a certain amount of freedom in that arrangement because of the more laid-back nature of the shared experience; there is also a little added pressure on the artists because if they don't provide quality entertainment, they might go home empty-handed, and while singing for your supper is an artistic joy, artists are still people, and people will always have bills to pay. It's an interesting quandary upon which to set your meditation the next time you consider the sacrifices that performers make when they choose their career path.

This writer does not expect that the performers from last night's two dinner sets went home without a fair show of appreciation from the audience.

Weeknights at The West Bank feature one band playing for two hours. Weekends, though, there are two acts, the first from 5 pm to 7 pm, the second from 8 pm to 10 pm. Last night, Steve Olsen programmed the entertainment in the cleverest of ways by booking a boy-girl act for the first set, and a boy-boy act for the second. Sure, any time there are two people on a stage it can be some version of the boy-girl/boy-boy/girl-girl act, and with trans and non-binary entertainers rising up into the light where they belong, there will be a new verbiage to describe their shows - this writer hasn't been informed on the language but when I am, I promise to use it with all the respect I have for our trans and non-binary family. Last night, though, this was a boy and a girl, and a boy and a boy.

BWW Review: The West Bank Cafe Doubles Down on Delightful Duo Shows The early set belonged to husband and wife team Michael and Mardie (specifically Michael Garin and Mardie Millit) who have been entertaining crowds at The West Bank since last summer. Waiting until full vaccination deadlines, this writer had to wait it out and (finally!) catch their act, and what was there was something very important in life and in duo shows: a couple who leans into and leans on one another. The beauty of a couple who has been together long enough to be individuals while also being a couple is an important thing to see and note in life. Watching them work together and work off one another shows that Michael and Mardie are the kind of couple who arrives at a party, kisses each other, says "See you in an hour," then goes in opposite directions. Working together, you can see both their independence and their devotion. Mardie still has the bright and beautiful voice she had when she played in the musical "Downtown Dysfunctionals" and Michael is every ounce the lounge pianist, able to meet every curve ball thrown at him in a live setting. Here, Mardie's versatility is showing because she is given the chance to sing everything from standards to country, from jazz to Broadway, and even some utterly fantastic Yiddish (with Michael), not to mention one of the best "Hurry, It's Lovely Up Here"s ever to be heard. Michael plays everything you could expect a lounge pianist to play, even Sondheim, when forced to. He's got a likable voice that sits right up front, it doesn't make you come and get it, it's completely on the spot for you, and sounding great. A special treat for Michael and Mardie and for the audience was having Bob Hipkens join them on the dobro for a few numbers, proving that Michael and Mardie will happily welcome more folks to the party to liven things up with the element of surprise and great music. He's silly, she's sassy, and they're sexy in that way that can only be achieved through relationship longevity. They are modern-day vaudevillians, pink hair and all, and a boon to The West Bank Cafe lineup.

BWW Review: The West Bank Cafe Doubles Down on Delightful Duo Shows

BWW Review: The West Bank Cafe Doubles Down on Delightful Duo Shows Conversely, Murtagh and Micah are not a couple, but they are a couple of swells, sort of a gay bro cabaret show. It was almost a surprise to not see Sean Patrick Murtagh in what has become his signature look, these last several months: hosiery-sheathed legs, high heels, a caftan, and a turban, but that may be reserved exclusively for his social media followers. Whatever his mode of dress, Sean Patrick still possesses the voice of gold, and he gave those pipes the night off from Mario Lanza and jumped into the musical theater sandbox with Mr. Young, an achievement of years of exposure and dedication to the life upon the wicked stage if ever there was one. Murtagh's musical selections weren't exclusively theatrical, but his conversation was. One of the most naturally funny human beings, Murtagh lacks in all pretense and leads with an unapologetic insistence on never dimming his light. With his discussion about Pride Month, the poverty of people pre-and-post pandemic, and, yes, even the caftans, his extemporaneous and clearly unscripted dialogue with the audience would make a great comedy or storytelling set. Indeed, whenever SPM talks about his family, his life, the stories from his life, he lights up a room - he could do an entire night of storytelling if he wanted to. But that would mean not hearing the voice, which would be a crime beyond description. A classically trained opera singer, Sean is heavy on the ballads but nobody minds because whether he's singing show tunes, the theme from "Love Boat" or any of the many songs he can sing in multiple languages, listening to him live is a thrill that doesn't come through the internet waves of the Facebook Machine. Last night was his (and Micah's) first live gig since lockdown but a sold out restaurant of cheering people pretty much guarantees he will be back with Micah.

BWW Review: The West Bank Cafe Doubles Down on Delightful Duo Shows Now, let's talk about Micah Young. At the start of this review I said this was a boy-boy act, and when I began the Murtagh and Micah portion of the article I called theirs a gay bro cabaret show. It's not yet, but it should be. Young, a musical director of note and a musician of achievement, had (like Murtagh) some sizable success with internet shows during the pandemic. Also like Murtagh, he had a signature look (brightly colored Hawaiian shirts) which, like Murtagh, he did not wear last night. Like Murtagh, Micah has looks, charm, personality, wit, and presence, most of which was not on display during their first set last night. Sean clearly adores Micah - the trust he places in him as a musical director is very clear, and he took five (ish) minutes out of the set to praise him and have him say a few things about himself. Their friendship and their collaborative efforts are in the house... but before their next set, they need to put it in the show. These are two funny, attractive, interesting, talented fellows with some things in common. They need to catch the next Michael and Mardie show, then take a page out of their book and talk to each other, play with each other, during their sets - it will make something good into something great. This is not a criticism, it is an observation - there is nothing but praise for the show the boys did last night because it was wonderful. But it could be more wonderful, and who doesn't want that?

Both acts that played The West Bank Cafe last night were worth a trip out of the house; of course, the food, ambience, and service at The West Bank are worth a trip out of the house. So when you take the likes of Michael and Mardie and Murtagh and Micah and throw live entertainment into the mix... well, is there really any reason to stay home?

The West Bank Cafe dinner music series is a free musical entertainment Wednesday through Sunday during which audience members are invited to tip the musicians in cash at the club or digitally via Venmo or Paypal. For a full schedule of artist appearances, visit the West Bank Cafe website HERE.

Learn more about Michael Garin at his website HERE

Visit the Mardie Millit Facebook page HERE

Visit the Sean Patrick Murtagh website HERE

Learn about Micah Young on Facebook HERE

BWW Review: The West Bank Cafe Doubles Down on Delightful Duo Shows

BWW Review: The West Bank Cafe Doubles Down on Delightful Duo Shows

BWW Review: The West Bank Cafe Doubles Down on Delightful Duo Shows

BWW Review: The West Bank Cafe Doubles Down on Delightful Duo Shows

BWW Review: The West Bank Cafe Doubles Down on Delightful Duo Shows

BWW Review: The West Bank Cafe Doubles Down on Delightful Duo Shows

BWW Review: The West Bank Cafe Doubles Down on Delightful Duo Shows

BWW Review: The West Bank Cafe Doubles Down on Delightful Duo Shows

BWW Review: The West Bank Cafe Doubles Down on Delightful Duo Shows

BWW Review: The West Bank Cafe Doubles Down on Delightful Duo Shows

BWW Review: The West Bank Cafe Doubles Down on Delightful Duo Shows

BWW Review: The West Bank Cafe Doubles Down on Delightful Duo Shows

Photos by Stephen Mosher


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