Billy Stritch & Tom Gamblin

Leading Cabaret Venue Celebrates Its Own

Billy Stritch & Tom Gamblin

Thursday night, December 8, one of the city’s leading, newly spiffed up cabaret venues threw its first annual Artist Appreciation Holiday Party honoring performers and staff. It was a helluva shindig. Hosted by the able, genially wise-cracking Tom Gamblin, the show was anchored by Billy Stritch who first opened the room in May 2006. Stritch’s incomparable piano styling morphed symbiotically from one vocalist to the next, sometimes with sheet music, sometimes seamlessly winging it, as singers rose from the audience to entertain their own. If every professional in the house had done a number, we might still be there. Champagne flowed, spirits were warm and high, people hugged and caught up with one another. (Stritch and Gambling, photo above).

Opening with panache, KT Sullivan sang a gentle, refined, yearning-filled rendition of Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” accompanied by the excellent Bill Zeffiro. There isn’t a stage on which Sullivan doesn’t appear completely at home. Laurie Krauz’s honky-tonk “Honeysuckle Rose” (Fats Waller/Andy Razaf) shimmied up the tone. As the music courses through Krauz, her knees bend, shoulders raise, and one hand circles propelling the lyric. Wah wah horn mute vocals added sass. Yeah, mama! (Sullivan and Krauz, above).

“If Christmas is about a longing for stuff you don’t have, then this is a Christmas song,” Elaine St. George said introducing a curiously rumba influenced version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg). “Wow, it didn’t look like this last night,” quipped Susan Winter gazing out into the crowd. Her infectiously chip and expressive “Cockeyed Optimist” (Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein) was buoyed by strong alto vocals, but suffered beginning as if on speed.

Marissa Mulder, the room’s own 2011 Metrostar Award winner, ran in from acting class, dropped her coat, and swept onto the stage to deliver a breezy 1960s arrangement of “Come Fly With Me” (Jimmy Van Heusen/Sammy Cahn) with Bill Zeffiro on piano.

Baby Jane Dexter’s coarse, bawdy “I Put a Spell on You” (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins) oozed like rich honey. Dexter sings from experience and guts. She packs an entertaining wallop.

Lauren Fox, who had performed her show of Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen songs preceding the party (catch this wherever it goes next!*) favored us with Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel,” a little known song written for Janis Joplin. Fox’s deep, breathy, focused rendition brought the room to silence within minutes. She was accompanied by Ritt Henn’s soulful bass. Paul Bernhardt came next with a swinging, old school “Come Rain or Come Shine” followed by a fairly new member of the cabaret family, the effervescent Emily Bergl, who sang Frank Loesser’s “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” (Dexter and Fox, above).

Lorinda Lisitza brought the house down with her big, brassy “Minnie the Moocher,” (Cab Calloway) eliciting echoes of the song’s choruses Hodey-ho-dee-ho/Hidey-hi-dee-hi from a fully conversant audience who enthusiastically jumped in without pause- full, rich and, stacked with professionals, sounding absolutely terrific. Stacie Perlman’s “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (Bob Merrill/Jule Stein) began unusually as a quiet, hopeful ballad which then opened up to the familiar belting anthem. Clearly a denizen of musical theater, Perlman carries her own bright light and acting abilities.

The evergreen Yvonne Constant sang “Que reste-t-il de nos amours ?” (music by Léo Chauliac) which we translate as “I Wish You Love” (English lyric Albert A. Beach). She explained the changes effected by translation from the originally dark what is left of our love to “American optimism” epitomized by Hallmark evocations of bluebirds and lemonade. Stritch is without the music-slowing him down not at all-but just happens to have the translated lyric in his pocket…from which Constant reads aloud…eliciting laughter. (Lisitza and Constant, above).

Jenna Esposito literally took the stage with her winning pop version of “Where the Boys Are” (Neil Sedaka/Connie Francis). Esposito has a full voice and fresh persona worthy of the era. Unexpected back-up vocals by Stritch, Henn and Sher added to the fun. ‘I’m having flashbacks,” shot Gambling. Marya Zimmet offered a swinging “The Way You Look Tonight” (Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields) followed by Gretchen Reinhagen’s black comedy song about a suicide hot line lost in technological hell. Tracy Stark accompanied. Stark then sang a sweet spirited composition of her own written for a friend who’s adopting a child.

Tanya Holt, tireless booker for The Metropolitan Room, beloved by all and a singer too rarely heard, offered about as velvety smooth, saucy and cool a rendition of “The Frim Fram Sauce” (Redd Evans/Joe Ricardel) as you’re likely to hear. Her jazz phrasing seems effortless, her ability to communicate captivating. And the lady can move. (Esposito and Holt, above).

Bringing the entertainment to a close was a gossamer interpretation of Ray Noble’s “The Very Thought of You” sung invitingly by Karen Oberlin with beautiful guitar accompaniment by Shaun Harkness.

New Managing Partner Bernie Furshpan, who joins brothers Christopher and Steven Mazzilli and Peter Leavy described a series of upgrades and innovations which promise to add to the variety and quality of experience offered by the club, a major Manhattan resource for cabaret. (Furshpan, Harkness, Oberlin, above).

Gratitude was expressed and the crowd went off into the cold night warmer for having shared the evening.

Photos by Maryann Lopinto

*“Love, Lust, Fear, and Freedom: The Songs of Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen”
Billy Stritch, Piano
Ritt Henn, Bass
Bobby Sher, Drums
Bill Zeffiro, Piano
Tracy Stark, Piano
JP Perreaux & Ted Stafford –Lights and Sound)
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street between Fifth & Sixth Avenues

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