The invaluable Singers Forum*, a non-profit center for the vocal arts whose alumni since 1978 have included the likes of Tony Bennett, Mandy Patinkin, and Brooke Shields, showcased fostered talent Thursday night to benefit the Singers Forum/Actors Equity Association Scholarship Program. Three year ago, the worthy program, established by Artistic Director of Singers Forum, Don Rebic, the program’s Director, Eric Michael Gillett, and board member, John Koprowski (with beneficent funding from Koprowski), began with 12 scholarships, it now enables 60.
Host Gillett introduced a succession of performers whose ages ranged from 15 to 80** as if a proud parent. Forum teachers, all of whom are professional artists with their own careers, seem particularly invested in nurturing a next generation, no matter when the vocalist finds a need to share his inner voice. “We’re making the world a better place to listen to, one vocalist at a time,” said Gillett with a smile. Special Guests Carole Demas (photo, top) and Teri Ralston set examples.
Among the nineteen talented vocalists, these are highlights:
Daniel Marconi and Sage Melcher
17 year-old Daniel Marconi offered an irresistibly pure rendition of “Electricity” from the musical Billy Elliot. Marconi has presence and a beautifully modulated voice. When he learns to let his emotions take flight, something this song requires to fully shine, the vocalist will be a force with which to reckon.
15 year-old Sage Melcher, a National Finalist in the 2012 Michael Feinstein Great American Songbook Competition, began with “I Want to Go to Hollywood” from the musical Grand Hotel. I wanna be that girl in the mirror, there!/I wanna be that girl with gorgeous hair up on a silver screen …Melcher sang, not only conjuring the mirror but imbuing the lyric with ambition, hope, and a touch of desperation. It’s a difficult number both musically and dramatically. The young performer was captivating. Melcher’s second choice “Cry Me a River” delivered fine vocals, but lacked the depth of experience to make it truly ache. A career to watch.
Eva Kantor and Valerie Lemon
“Regretting What I Said,” a song of wry, deadpan humor carried off with vocal brio, introduced Eva Kantor, the recipient of the program’s first fully funded one year scholarship. “How Could I Not?” showed the artist’s natural authority with melody and wise restraint where gestures were concerned. “A Summer in Ohio” with which I’m unfamiliar, was very funny. Kantor again exhibited her theatrical skills-one believes and empathizes – while unleashing soaring phrases worthy of much wider audiences.
Seasoned veteran Valerie Lemon’s rich, raw “The Winner Takes All” was an affecting parentheses embodying less is more. With hopes the younger students were watching.
Jodi Beck and Teri Ralston
Former scholarship winner Jodi Beck, played an anxious actress at an audition utilizing the song “When You Come Home to Me.” The skilled thespian wove back and forth from actual (sweet) verse to vocalizing her insecurities with comic deft. “I Miss the Mountains” from the show Next to Normal was quietly stunning. Focus and intelligence drew a convincing character out of the dark lyric. Beck knows precisely when to rein in and when to let’r rip. This was exemplified by her last number “But the World Goes ‘Round,” a clarion call most often overdone, which here was just right.
The premise of the musical I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road, Special Guest Teri Ralston related, was a career actress turning 40 and celebrating the fact- while her horrified manager watched. Ralston’s evocative version of “Old Friend” made me think of the recently deceased Nora Ephron, towards whom a generation looked for coping humor. The singer’s fine performance personified pride, spirit, and resignation. She was one of the few to look in the eyes of her audience.
Special Guest Carole Demas, with accompanist Ian Herman, treated us to a wistful “Try to Remember” from The Fantastiks in which (1960s) she played the girl. Her lovely voice and acting chops channeled the sparkling ingénue. The iconic “Something in the Way She Moves” broke from its familiar lilt to become a love song with soul and teeth (and great arrangement.) Demas’s set ended with a poignant “Meadowlark,” from the undeservedly ill-fated musical The Baker’s Wife, in which she played the lead.
Eric Michael Gillett
“I didn’t know what this meant until someone left me after 10 years on Christmas day – and asked me to move out of the apartment,” Eric Michael Gillett told us prefacing the song “Separate Lives.” It’s an angry, wounded, rock ballad the artist inhabited with every fiber of his perceivable being. Is there no genre Gillett hasn’t mastered?! And oh the sumptuous notes!
Also performing were The Sorrento Sisters, the inimitable Cookie Stark about whom I have written much, Maddy Troy, Joe Restrepo, Charley Stevens, Stephanie Sommerville, Lynn Ross, Tara Carozza, Paul Binotto and his hot rock guitar, Lynly Forrest, and Maxine Stewart.
Jeff Cubeta’s musicianship was reliably supple, adaptable, and first rate.
** 80 year old Cookie Stark has been both profiled and reviewed in these pages.
Photo credit: Maryann Lopinto
Showstoppers: Broadway Rocks!
A Benefit for the Singers Forum/Actors Equity Association Scholarship Program
Hosted by Eric Michael Gillett
Musical Directors Jeff Cubeta and Ian Herman
Special Guests: Carole Demas, Teri Ralston
The Laurie Beechman Theater
407 West 42nd Street
June 28, 2012