BWW Reviews: Diversity Reigns in Cabaret Through Sublime Shows From Barbara Malley, Robin Kradles, and Donna Hayes

BWW Reviews: Diversity Reigns in Cabaret Through Sublime Shows From Barbara Malley, Robin Kradles, and Donna Hayes

When Cole Porter wrote, "Anything Goes," he could have easily been referring to New York cabaret circa the 2000-sies. One of the joys of attending and reviewing cabaret shows in the Big Apple these days is that every performing style, show theme, cultural perspective, political point of view, race, gender, and sexual preference is represented on a stage. Some cabaret purists may not agree, but the genre seems to have no boundaries in terms of what is acceptable and what is not. And as long as a show is entertaining, who cares about boundaries and strict definitions of what works in the art form? Here are reviews of three recent shows that reflect the delicious diversity that is cabaret.

BWW Reviews: Diversity Reigns in Cabaret Through Sublime Shows From Barbara Malley, Robin Kradles, and Donna HayesBarbara Malley--Eat! Drink! Be Merry!, Don't Tell Mama, January 25

The Secret of Life is enjoying the passage of time.
Any fool can do it, there's ain't nothing to it.
Nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill,
But since we're on the way down, we might as well enjoy the ride.
--"The Secret of Life" by James Taylor

Barbara Malley, a pint-size-pixie-of-a-woman possessing an outrageous sense of humor, great comic timing, and more energy than a rambunctious toddler, recently celebrated her 80th birthday. With this, her fourth new show, Eat! Drink! Be Merry! (at Don't Tell Mama), Malley throws a hearty party for her audience that's a joyful celebration of life. The granddaughter of a vaudevillian, Malley milks it for all it's worth to the utter delight of the audience that cheer her on throughout the night.

Opening with the show's title song, Malley serves up a declaration of her well-deserved independence, then follows up with the next three songs that comically examine the virtues of being an elder in this day and age--"Who's That Woman" (Sondheim), a terrifically heartwarming duet with her wonderful musical director, Ricky Ritzel, "You're Timeless to Me" (Shaiman/Wittman), and the hilarious "Thank God, I'm Old" (Coleman/Stewart) where Malley shines as she offers up a celebratory proclamation of her octogenarian status with great pride and humor. Malley then pulls out all the stops with "White Girls Don't Sing the Blues" (Matsuki/Toroian), comically changing the reference to "nuns singing the blues." Malley was, in fact, a nun herself. Malley then introduces her special guest, the always-debonair Bob Diamond, who sings two songs in the show, "Do We?" (Kander/Edd) and the powerful "Mary's Bar" (Wallowitch).

Malley's real forte is comedy and she wisely partnered up with two of the best comedy minds in the cabaret business in Ritzel and her director Jay Rogers. The act musically showcases Malley's strengths with tailored comic material; wholesome patter that may be a bit rambling but is smart, funny, and delightfully charming all the same. Two comic gems were "In A Disney Way" (Michael Bruce) a hysterically dirty-ditty where, proclaiming to be a princess and crowning herself with a bejeweled tiara, Malley laments her misfortune in song to have never gotten the Disney prince (who doesn't turn out to be such a prize anyways). You never know what will come out of that outrageous little cupid-bow mouth of hers with lyrics like "Been knocked up by a troll who has no heart or soul, but fell right down my rabbit hole, and NOT in a Disney way!" Another performance standout was "The Elephant Song" (Kander & Ebb), where Malley draws on her previous clinical psychologist roots to humorously ponder the philosophical question "Where does an elephant go--to die?"

Malley finishes up with wonderful Ritzel-arrangement of a life-affirming Jerry Herman medley, including "Before the Parade Passes By," "That's How Young I Feel," "Each Tomorrow Morning," and "The Best of Times," and leaves us laughing with her adorable "Go Visit Your Grandmother" (Kander & Ebb). But it is with her last song, "The Secret of Life" (James Taylor), that Malley humbly brings the true meaning of the evening to light.

Barb Malley will be reprising this show at Don't Tell Mama on March 20 at 7 pm.

BWW Reviews: Diversity Reigns in Cabaret Through Sublime Shows From Barbara Malley, Robin Kradles, and Donna HayesRobin Kradles--The Diva Selections Series: My Leading Men, Don't Tell Mama, February 22

The Diva Selections is a new series of shows at Don't Tell Mama produced by and starring Robin Kradles (aka Richard Becker), drag queen extraordinaire. The concept of each show revolves around a theme as sung by a group of top-notch entertainers pulled from the ranks of New York's best cabaret talent who in turn explore the selected theme of the show through a 70-minute song set with banter/patter. The series is directed by Lennie Watts with musical direction by Rick Jensen.

The first show in the series premiered on February 22 (to coincide with the Oscars) and explored the theme of My Leading Men by using songs from the movies as sung by six of cabaret's finest leading men. Kradles hosted this hilarious afternoon that took the form of a mock awards show. Starting off in Dietrich-like glam drag, Kradles sings a wonderfully fun original tune "The Diva Selects" written for the show by Jensen with lyrics by Richard Becker. True to her smoldering vampy style with voice purring, Kradle's next song "Sooner or Later" (Sondheim, from the movie Dick Tracy) shows us just why she is a past "Empress of The Imperial Court of New York." Let's just say the spotlight loves that face. Kradles finishes off her opening set with a perky rendition of "You and Me" (music by Mancini/Bricusse from Victor Victoria). Her singing voice is solid, her presence magically alluring, but her hilarious side comments made to the house are what gets the audience going as she perches herself on a high stool far stage left to read her mock award categories' and introduce each of her leading men.

Sophisticated Bob Diamond (is he everyone's go-to guest star?), presented by Kradles as "Best Teen Heart Throb, 1955," steps to the stage dressed in formal fun Japanese kimono and bow tie and sings "Almost Like Being In Love" (Lowe/Lerner from Brigadoon), followed by a wonderfully tender "Bill" (Kern/Wodehouse/Hammerstein from Showboat), and finishing up with "With A Song In My Heart" (Rodgers/Hart). Joshua Dixon, who recently won a BroadwayWorld Cabaret Award for "Best Debut," received the mock award for "Best Hair on a Juvenile Actor since Lassie" and offered "The Age of Not Believing" (Sherman from Bedknobs and Broomsticks), "Smile" (Chaplin/Turner/Parsons from Modern Times), a fabulous arrangement of "Money, Money, Money" (Kander/Ebb from Cabaret), and "Go the Distance" (Menken/Zipple from Hercules).

Musical Director Rick Jensen got in on the act, winning "Best Song in a Movie with Ed Harris In It." Jensen is an affable fellow and great storyteller as he relates how he came to write the song "Go Ahead and Dream" that actually ended up in the film That's What I Am starring Ed Harris and Amy Madigan. Kristoffer Lowe, acknowledged as "Best Actor in an All-Adult, All-Male Version of Abe and His Lincoln Log," went all romantic with Cole Porter's "Night and Day," then had some banter fun with Kradles on Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek," before and finishing up with the classic "Over the Rainbow." Don't Tell Mama Manager and veteran cabaret performer Sidney Myer captured the award for "Best Actor in a Movie Not Seen Since 1924" and bounces on stage with his usual panache and elegance before crooning "Sing A Rainbow," then breaks into a glorious "Bella Notte" written by one of his favorite artists, Peggy Lee, from Lady and The Tramp, and finishes with a rousing rendition of "I May Never Go Home Anymore." The final "honoree" was the show's director Lennie Watts, who took "Best Director/Actor/Singer, But Don't Ask Him to Dance." Watts then beautifully delivered three Jensen arrangements of Henri Mancini's "Moon River," "Fame," from the film of the same name, and the poignant "It Goes Like It Goes" (Shire/Gimbel from Norma Rae).

If you want to see a really fun show with lots of laughs and great voices, go see Robin Kradles in her new Diva Selections Series. Future show themes will include "Short Stories and Tall Tales--the Story Song"," Make Way for Broad Way" (an all-drag queen Broadway revue), and "Twisted Tinsel," which one might suspect is a Christmas show. Contact Don't Tell Mama for exact times and future dates TBD.

BWW Reviews: Diversity Reigns in Cabaret Through Sublime Shows From Barbara Malley, Robin Kradles, and Donna HayesDonna Hayes--Ordinary Miracles, Metropolitan Room, March 6

"Live the life you love. Love the life you live." --Bob Marley

She's Jamaican, mon! Jamaican. A hot, sexy mama in a red dress with plenty of stories to tell, let me tell you, mon, a plen-ty! Donna Hayes triumphantly returned to the Metropolitan Room on March 6 with her latest cabaret show, Ordinary Miracles, which debuted at the club in November 2014. Opening with the song "Home," Hayes welcomes her audience in such a island friendly kind of way, you instantly feel you're in good hands as she takes you on this fascinating journey to show you her life's ordinary miracles. Fittingly, her second number is a mash up from reggae royalty--"One Love" by Bob Marley and "Duppy or Gunman" by Ernie Smith. Born and raised on the island of Jamaica, Hayes gives us a Caribbean cultural lesson on the subject matter of a "Duppy." You know what a duppy is, right? Those malevolent ghost/spirits that mostly come out at night and haunt folks from around the islands? Some claim to have actually seen them, like Hayes. See, she was 12 years old, it was dark, she was alone, going to the outhouse, and when she opened the door, she . . . never mind, let her tell you the story. She tells it better. In fact, Hayes is a consummate storyteller.

Pointing out the need for small miracles in our lives, Hayes sings an inspirational mash-up of "Miracle" (I.A. Reid/Babyface) and "When You Believe" (Schwartz/additional lyrics by Babyface), then follows with Sondheim's "Being Alive" which felt a bit out of place and dragged in tempo. But her next story about a fine young man (half her age and not realizing it) hitting on her picked up the pace a bit, and more than compensated with the seductive mash-up of "All of Me" (John Legend/Toby Gadd) into a soulful "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" (King/Goffin). One of her best vocals of the night was Ervin Drake's "Good Morning Heartache," where Hayes emotionally soared. Yet with Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" (which was anything but fast), she was a bit pitchy and seemed unsure of where she was going with the song, but found her way back with her exhilarating "Home" (Charles Smalls from The Wiz).

Things take on a more serious tone as Hayes then relates the story of how a bigoted New York cab driver questioned her sense of direction upon her instructions on getting to her home on the Upper East Side. Although at the time she said nothing to address his racist comments, she was ticked off. As fate would have it she got the exact same cab driver the next night, and decided it was a divine gift, a rare opportunity, and her spiritual duty to "enlighten the jerk." Sharing her life lesson from this experience with the audience, Hayes sings from the heart on "Ordinary Miracles" (McLachlan/Steward/Ballard from Charlotte's Web). The lesson here? Speaking one's mind perhaps strengthens one's character?

Hayes recently appeared on the Dr. Oz television show for a segment on "Beauty secrets that keep you young." Though she's actually 52, the audience clocked her at 34. Having lost 75 pounds and run three New York marathons to date, she considers all her accomplishments ordinary miracles, appropriately closing her show with "Fix You" by Coldplay. But Hayes has saved the best for last. On her stunning encore, she stood stoically silhouetted against a glowing red backdrop and reassured the audience with her mesmerizing "Be Still" by Fray.

This uplifting show is masterfully directed by Gretchen Reinhagen, who seemingly knows the heart of this woman so well she has crafted the act to showcase Hayes at her very best. Fresh, new arrangements by Justin Stoney (who also provided backing vocals) added youth and vitality to the evening, as did Donna Kelly on drums, Matt Scharfglass on bass, and J.P. Perreau's creative lighting. This show is scheduled for three more performance at The Metropolitan Room this year on May 22, July 19, and September 30 all at 7 pm.

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From This Author Billie Roe

Billie Roe returned to the NYC Cabaret scene some 5 years ago after a long hiatus from having played most of the New York clubs (read more...)

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