CABARET REVIEW: JOANNE TATHAM-- SONGS THAT LED ME ASTRAY
I doubt that many people go to cabarets for social enlightenment. If more cabaret performers were like Joanne Tatham, perhaps they would. Her show Songs that Led Me Astray, which just ended its run at the Duplex, presented classic songs written from the 1930's to the early 1970's as time capsules of social mentalities, and Ms. Tatham fused the two arts of music and education into one.
It makes perfect sense. "Music was how we learned who we are," Ms. Tatham explained in her opening remarks, and these songs specifically reflected the roles of women in society. A little girl listening to Rodgers and Hart's "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" or Livingston and Evan's "Femininity" would get very mixed signals of her eventual worth as a woman: she could grow up to be a devoted wife, or a tramp. If she happened to hear Burt Bacharach's "Wives and Lovers," she would learn that it's a wife's responsibility to keep her husband's eye from wandering, and the Mercer and Arlen classic "Blues in the Night" would serve as a warning about the dangers of trusting men. (Tatham's rendition of this song was especially effective, and the final line- "Mama was right"- was a flawless verbal dagger.)
All but three of the songs Ms. Tatham performed showed not only the many conflicting ways in which popular music paints women, but more specifically, how male composers and lyricists have created songs to teach both sexes what to expect from females. The three exceptions (Dory Previn's "Come Saturday Morning," Laura Nyro's "Stoned Soul Picnic," and Phoebe Snow's "Poetry Man") painted a much more fair picture, with songs of love and regret, yes, but also of strength and friendship, qualities noticeably absent from the other songs.
The audience at the final performance of Songs That Led Me Astray seemed a little confused at how to react to the songs. Ms. Tatham's analyses of these classics opened up new windows in the music, letting us understand them in a new (and not always flattering) light. Perhaps for the first time, we understood the emotional damage these old standards might cause. On the other hand, the songs were all written by masters of the craft, beautifully played by Ross Patterson on piano and Don Falsone on bass, and sung with wonderful skill and care by Ms. Tatham. How could we cheer such a chauvinistic song like "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," now that Joanne Tatham had opened our eyes to its darker side? But how could we not enjoy a sweet Rodgers and Hart melody, or Ms. Tatham's lovely delivery of it? The emotions in the room seemed quite conflicted as many young girls must have felt when these songs first taught them how to be women.