Who better to open The Mabel Mercer Foundation’s annual New York Cabaret Convention than the woman Artistic Director KT Sullivan can justifiably introduce with a mere three words: “Marvelous Marilyn Maye.” Epitomizing all that’s skilled and gracious in a business whose challenges are daunting and characters constantly tested, Maye remains in reassuring orbit like The Little Prince’s planet. We applaud the artist not only for her indefatigable joie de vie, but for sustained level of excellence and delivery of infectious entertainment exemplary to younger generations.
There’s a moment in Maye’s exuberant medley, somewhere between “You Must’ve Been a Beautiful Baby” and “Jeepers Creepers” where she stands feet spread, hands curled, as if a defiant James Cagney declaring bring it on! A seamless rendition of “Come Rain or Come Shine” ranging from whisper to river-force whomp follows, unneeded proof positive of the Shakespeare quote: Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale Her infinite variety. (Tedd Firth-piano, Steve Doyle-bass, Daniel Glass-drums)
As always, the show includes Broadway babies and jazz singers as well as veteran and aspiring cabaret performers. Breadth here grows wider each year pushing at the envelope.
KT Sullivan by Maryann Lopinto
Out from behind the podium, Host KT Sullivan offers a medley from Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate showcasing iconoclastic range. Her rendition of “Always True to You in My Fashion” arrives 2/3 kwepie doll, 1/3 Merman, “So in Love” is sheer chanteuse, “Wunderbar,” delicate, vibrato-filled operetta. (Jon Weber-piano, Steve Doyle-bass, Daniel Glass-drums)
Alan Harris and Shirazette Tinnin by Seth Cashman
Alan Harris sings a thoughtful, low key “It Was a Very Good Year” as if he remembers, and the lively, title song from “Cross That River,” the musical he’s bringing to 59E59 Theaters at the end of November. A man and his guitar. Less is more. (Shirazette Tinnin- immensely eloquent drums)
Danny Bacher by Maryann Lopinto; Tanya Moberly by Seth Cashman
Danny Bacher, all understated charm and relaxed swing, performs the wry, signature “If It’s Love You Want, Baby, It’s Me” and a lilting version of “Lucky To Be Me” that would make its authors smile. (Danny Bacher-clarinet, Tedd Firth-piano). Nifty at the other end of the spectrum, Tanya Moberly sings “Chuck E’s In Love” (Rickie Lee Jones), an odd choice for the Convention, but hip, clip, and deadpan in its skilled delivery. (Ritt Henn-ever cool bass)
Joshua Lance Dixon by Seth Cashman
An overdone New York medley seems to get away from the talented Joshua Lance Dixon, but his interpretation of “Everybody Loves Somebody” stands sweetly in its own right (a rarity), apart from Dean Martin associations. (Jon Weber-piano.) New to me, Tommy J. Dose croons “Once Upon a Time” with warm, rich, lullaby sincerity. (Gerry Diefinbach- piano, Tara Martinez & Paul Scott Plicz – singers)
Tara Martinez, Tommy J. Dose, Paul Scott Plicz by Seth Cashman
This year’s winner of the Donald F. Smith Award, graciously donated by Adela and Larry Elow, is Carole J. Bufford. I’ve followed the artist’s career since she burst onto the scene a full-fledged, riveting professional. Though presence and instrument is still exceptional, the artist seems all surface and mannerism tonight. Carole come back! (Ian Herman-piano)
Vivian Reed, recipient of 2017’s Mabel Mercer Award, commandeers the stage for tonight’s finale, a loose-limbed, strut n’ gyrate, teetering on raunchy segment of R & B, Funk, Jazz. Reed has much in her repertoire that would’ve better fit the occasion. One felt, briefly, as if in the wrong theater. (William McDaniel-piano, Gary Foote-bass, Damian Duewhite-drums, Ray Naccari-keyboard)
Also featuring: Greg Cropper and Lyric Peterson, youngsters who in this critic’s opinion, are not quite ready for this stage; Adam Shapiro, Luba Mason, Jacob Storms, Karen Oberlin whose “Hamlet” was a hot hoot, Corinna Sowers Adler, educator/performer whose “Children Will Listen”/ “Imagine” had purity and tenderness (Julius Rodgriquez-piano), but whose student back-up singers seemed, alas, superfluous: Elizabeth Nucci, Grace Carlin, Alex DiFilippo, Luke Surretsky
The concert, ostensibly like all four this week, runs 2 ¾ hours, astonishing after the hue and cry that occurred two years ago when an evening ran that long unplanned. With median age of this audience probably 65, and many of its staunchest supporters well over that, this is astonishing.
Opening Photo: Marilyn Maye by Seth Cashman
The 28th New York Cabaret Convention
Opening Night- October 16, 2017
Host- Artistic Director/The Mabel Mercer Foundation-KT Sullivan
Rose Hall at Time Warner Center
Though October 19, 2017
Tickets: Mabel Mercer Foundation Events