Familial—An adjective describing extended family based on affinity, economy, culture, tradition, honor, respect and friendship.
On Friday night, the (deeply familial) cabaret community turned out in force to support one of their own. World War II Bond campaigns couldn’t have had anything on the evangelistic feeling buoying the evening. There were literally too many volunteer performers to squeeze into the three plus hours of incredible entertainment. Singers, musicians, writers, and devotees showed up just to be BE there. Getting into and out of the room was like wading through a rippling river of love. Hosts, Joseph Macchia and Jay Rogers, commented that if a bomb fell on the room, Stephen Holden (the chief music critic of the New York Times) would be out of work. It was, they declared, a celebration of community, not an evening of mourning.
Tanya Holt, a jazz singer in her own rite, and the booker at The Metropolitan Room, was making fried chicken in the Queens house she shared with her mother and daughter, when a grease fire flared. Her first instinct was to pour water on the flames, but eleven-year-old Christina, having just taken a safety course, had the presence of mind to stop her mom. They fled the house…losing everything—but safe and sound. The cabaret community rallied on her behalf. And will again, I’m told. Stay alert. This is not not NOT to be missed. (Photo of Tanya and Christina at top).
Eric Michael Gillett (photo, above) opened the evening in high spirits. You must lu…uh…uh…uh…v…me, he mugged, parodying the NEED for an audience’s affirmation. Which he received. Deservedly. In spades.
Just as the laughter was dying down the legendary Julie Wilson (photo, above) snaked her way through the overflowing crowd to take the stage; take, being the operative word here. Endlessly supportive of her brethren in the field, Wilson, who has seen it all/done it all, gowned-up, pinned on the ever familiar gardenia and turned out on a rainy night for Tanya. She performed her number with the heart of a lioness. “This is only gonna make you stronger. That’s the kind of girl you are,” she told the young woman. Cheers, whistles and stomping followed.
Julie Rayburn offered a rip roaring version of Frankie and Johnnie with the vocal sass of a slide trombone. Her accompanist interjected lines from other songs, whose careful placement made them satiric comments. Clever. Lennie Watts, President of MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs), who could easily turn stand-up, had us laughing into our drinks. “I saw the list of who’s performing and I thought who the hell’s gonna COME?!..The day after the fire, Tanya was walking through the rubble when she heard a voice!.. In a charred pile, she discovered her daughter’s Justin Bieber doll…still singing! He looked a little like Cosette from Les Miz, but…” Watts then switched gears sweetly performing Tomorrow from Annie.
When I grow up, I got my plans-see/They may not be just as fan-cy/As some people might wish…Gee, but I wanna be a G-Man…” Sydney Meyer followed with a song from Pins and Needles which brought the house down. His eyebrows coming to a point, the seemingly awkward, uber-sincere, apparently six-year-old Meyer elicited hoots, guffaws, ha has and hollers making our cheeks hurt. This man is seriously funny! “I get to follow Sidney Meyer because The Baby Jesus hates me,” quipped Natalie Douglas (photo, above). Not that she need fear following anyone. A perfectly beautiful version of Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush, with Julie Rayburn’s lilting harmony, started in a controlled stage whisper and ended with soaring gospel whomp. Talk about range!
Metro Star Contest Winner, T. Oliver Reid (photo, above), offered an unvarnished, emotionally potent version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow completely quieting the room—not an easy feat. His unhurried composure and smooth baritone-to-tenor vocals brought tears to a few eyes.
Who to better dispel a somber moment than the fabulous KT Sullivan (photo, above), replete with a red-hot-and- black outfit topped by feathered chapeau?! Sullivan sang a rapid-fire medley of twenty-nine-that’s right, twenty-nine songs from 1929! OK, most of them were “snippets,” but each and every one was recognizable, distinctively delivered and bled into the next with panache: You’ve got that thing/That thing that makes birds forget to—Singing in the rain…
Equally charismatic, ever candid, and sometimes paired with Sullivan, is the exuberant, expansive Mark Nadler (photo, above), whose joie de vivre could raise the dead. His thigh-slappin’, foot stompin’ honky tonk rendition of A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight was such that I fully expected the piano to burst into flames. Yowza! Teresa Genecco who often delivers just such ebullient music with her absent Little Big Band sang I need you in my house cause you’re my home. “It’s not the things that create a home it’s the people.” Genecco’s smooth, full, rich voice sailed steadfastly on the waves of her own pure piano accompaniment.
Bistro Award Winner, Debbie Berman related her having wandered into The Metropolitan Room one day when she first got to the city. When asked what she’d like to order, Berman had no idea. Tanya, her waitress at the time, sagely delivered a chocolate martini, forever endearing herself to Berman. Accompanied by the evergreen, everywhere, multi-faceted Billy Stritch, her jazzy I’m in love with a lover who loves me the way I am was real, old fashioned night-club material with her pianist’s arrangement signature all over it. Berman has an easy way with a lyric. Steve ‘n Edie would’ve loved her. Stritch himself, apparently the very first performer AT The Metropolitan Room, jauntily sang and played Give Me the Simple Life/Tea for Two. I swear that man must’ve been born in a trunk. He simply belongs on a stage. (Stritch stayed at the piano through to the end).
Tired yet? Having too much fun. Annie Ross, a staple at The Met Room, talk/sang a tender The Very Thought of You followed by an artfully laid back duet of Dizzy Gillespie’s Ooh Shoo Be Doop “What the hell does that mean?” with trumpet player Warren Vache (above, with Ross). The musician looked up at the heavens and apologized to Dizzy before playing. Apologized—Warren Vache?! I mean really!!! Gabriel was probably smiling. After which, Vache offered the old bonbon, I Never See Christina Alone to Tanya’s daughter. His deep, gentle, gravelly voice was completely charming. A case of less is more.
The glamorous Marilyn Maye (photo, above) closed the evening with style and heart. This lady can sing and scat like the dickens, still kicks (literally), and clearly has a portrait in an attic disintegrating somewhere. But for her complete artistry, which requires experience, she’s ageless. In Ray Charles’ Just For a Thrill, Maye slides insinuatingly from one looong note to another with masterful finesse. A bit of I don’t want to set the world on fire was countered with a few bars of My Old Flame (from Stritch). “You really need to approach this with a large sense of humor… wonder why—and look, look around you…,” Maye advised. She called Tanya and Christina up on stage. Time After Time, she sang to them, pressing the mike on a crying Tanya. Barely composing herself, Tanya Holt sang a verse of the song. (She has a lovely voice, should you wonder). “I’ve grown up in this community watching and admiring,” she said, adding her heartfelt thanks.
Marilyn Maye concluded with the anthem (Light the candles), It’s Today! Tanya stood center stage with her daughter’s arms wrapped around her; both ladies proud and loved. Very very loved. ‘A memorable evening…and a half.
Other performers (really, the piece is too long as it is) included:
Tom Gamblin, singing When You’re Good to Tommy-Mama from Chicago—‘about time a man interpreted that song
Sue Matsuki delivering a rhythmic, Dakota Staton piece, Marla Green crooning While We Were Young, and Mark McCombs, winner of a 2011 Nightlife Award for his 92-year-old hee-haw-randy-codger number—all three members of The Met Room’s staff-family.
Steven Ray Watkins whose plaintive Singin’ This Song for You couldn’t have been more appropriate.
Lorinda Lisitza and her powerful pipes.
Tracy Stark who played and sang her own soft rock composition.
With apologies to all the excellent accompanists whose names I didn’t catch.
Baby Jane Dexter sent a lovely note (suggesting Tanya take comfort in her friends) as did Karen Oberlin, whose familiar refinement was suffused with articulate warmth.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto