“I’m a born entertainer. When I open the frig and the light comes on, I burst into song.”
Robbie Williams, British Pop Star
Craig Pomranz was a shy child…except when singing. “Mary (the housekeeper) used to sit me on the countertop and ask me to sing to her while she cleaned.” At four and five years old, Craig “performed” not only songs from Disney’s Pinocchio and the Mary Martin Peter Pan, but sophisticated material like Summertime. Take a moment to imagine the difficult, resonant, pithy Gershwin coming out of a five year old boy. After watching movie musicals or variety specials with his mother (we had variety specials then), little Craig would parrot Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Sammy Davis Jr., or Barbra Streisand. In third grade, he went public as the soloist for a concert version of Hans Christian Andersen “hiding my shyness with a loud voice.” Musical theater classes were held in the basement of The Tropicana Bowling Alley, necessitating projection.
Coming by it naturally –both his father and grandfather (a Cantor) have strong pipes, Craig never took a voice lesson. His parents encouraged singing because it engendered confidence. At age eleven he pressed to be allowed to audition – for commercials, voice-overs, and musicals. Craig had already done quite a bit of children’s theater, when he secured his first Equity job, playing Tom of Warwick (to whom the tale is told) in The St. Louis Municipal Opera Company’s production of Camelot. John Cullum was Arthur, Sally Ann Howes, Guinevere. Craig bowed so low at curtain call, all the arrows fell out of his quiver scattering across the stage. Cullum picked them up. The child was mortified, but not discouraged. Next Summer, he stood by for Artful Dodger in Oliver, starring Sid Caesar and Karen Morrow.
“An element of me wishes my parents had been stage parents, but doing it at a young age and not in a big way gave me perspective.” Craig knew he wanted to be an actor. Briefly at Carnegie Mellon, he transferred to the Theater Department of The Goodman Theater at the Art Institute of Chicago acting in both school and summer stock. He was admittedly too naïve to make the political connections often established during highly coveted seasonal jobs.
At eighteen, Craig auditioned and received a scholarship to go to New York to join The Jose Limon Dance Company, based in Manhattan. His parents are terrific dancers (non-professional,) another handy “gene” to inherit. He’d danced all his (young) life. It was a means to an end. He checked into the YMHA and checked out piano bars. Still, he needed to make a living.
Almost immediately cast as The Boy in a touring company of The Fantastiks, Craig ironically found himself on the road far away from the city for which he’d longed. He returned to New York and signed with a manager focused on film and television commercials.
Because he was able to earn money elsewhere, Craig could afford to sing for “fun and practice” when remuneration wasn’t offered. His venues read like a comprehensive list of every notable piano bar and club in Manhattan at the time. One of his first paid gigs was at Sweetwater’s (R&B Club) where the house band had toured with Aretha Franklin. Here, audience members actually called out encouragement, something Craig had never experienced before. “It’s incredible…a young singer could perform with some of the greatest musicians of the day for the price of a drink!” Greg Dawson at The Ballroom and Danny Appolinar at Danny’s Skylight Garden were particular champions.
Ted Hook discovered Craig singing after hours at Hook’s own piano bar, Backstage, which featured Steve Ross and Charles de Forest at the time. He was accompanied by the great Buddy Barnes, formerly with Mabel Mercer. When Hook had a cancellation for his night club, On Stage, a classy, old-fashioned place with tables on horseshoe-shaped tiers, fronting a white grand piano, he asked whether Craig did an act. “I was always taught to say yes to everything.” Ron Cohen, the director with whom Craig worked in St. Louis, had just moved to New York. (Ron is married to Craig’s acting mentor and teacher Lynn Cohen, most recognizable as Magda in Sex and the City). They scrambled. The show was a word-of-mouth sell out.
One night an “impossibly chic woman in a turban and more jewels than I had ever seen at one time,” approached Craig with the request he develop a music room in a little café off the main, infamous Delmonico disco, Regine’s. Salmon-colored Café Reginette was born.
For awhile, Craig found a home base, but nineteen nightclubs worldwide were too much for the woman who at sixty-nine still played hostess from her corner banquette until 4 a.m. The establishment shuttered several months later. Regine’s lasted another few years. Other hotels and restaurants solicited Craig’s help in setting up music rooms.
Craig also returned to varied performance bookings. During one month in which he played three different clubs each week, he realized he felt “off track” and stopped singing professionally to concentrate on acting. His agent secured commercials. Engaged to do a disco-themed spot featuring Joe Namath, he was told the dancers would wear spiffy white suits a la John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. Cool, he thought, this will look great on my reel. When the hoofers appeared, they were told to take off their clothes and step into huge fiber glass deodorant cans out of which only their legs protruded. Everything had changed. “If there was a product in a dancing can I was likely in that can dancing my tuchas off,” he recalls wryly, “There were four more. I got residuals.”
Then Wayman Wong (Critic of The Daily News) called out of the blue: I have friends over and we were saying we wish we could go hear Craig Pomranz tonight. Craig was flattered. He began to think about singing again. At the same time, he heard some amateur recordings fans had made of the act and resolved to make a CD. When it was finished, he started performing again to let people know about it…and hasn’t stopped. Craig does a show three or more times a year in Los Angeles, twice in Chicago, Palm Springs, London and is talking to people in St. Louis. All this happens through friends and fans. He is only now talking with managers and agents.
When you see his act, it’s difficult to imagine he was shy. Craig has the kind of ease with an audience attributed to those headlining during the heyday of Las Vegas. In fact, in many ways, his stage persona seems from that era. He doesn’t name his shows, kids with the pianist, talks to the audience – not a dark faceless room, and rolls with reactions. The performance has a modest bravado. One imagines him in a blue tux, holding a cigarette or a drink. Craig Pomranz is an entertainer. He sincerely wants to please. And succeeds.
“The year is winding down, but it’s never too late for love…”
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22 Street
$20 cover, 2 drink minimum
9:30 shows on October 13, 20, and 27