Here we are again! Rumors of the death of cabaret being greatly exaggerated, The Mabel Mercer Foundation’s 23rd New York Cabaret Convention opened to a packed house Wednesday night at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall. Dapper Managing Director Rick Meadows welcomed us with the disclaimer that “nobody was funnier than Donald (Smith) because he didn’t breathe the same air that we breathe,” then managed a few anecdotes at which the recently deceased Executive Director would certainly have a hearty chuckle. This year’s event honored Donald Smith, an incalculable loss. (Opening photo, Rick Meadows, KT Sullivan.)
Jeff Harnar, Barry Day – The Noel Coward Award; Shana Farr, Julie Wilson – The Julie Wilson Award
Vocalist, hostess, and newly minted Artistic Director KT Sullivan, began the evening with a medley of songs including “Don’t Let a Good Thing Get Away” and “The Best is Yet to Come,” which summarized thoughts on the art of cabaret and its advocates. The 3rd Annual Noel Coward Award was given to Jeff Harnar by Coward Foundation trustee Barry Day who explained its aim is to encourage more people to develop at least one of the multitude of skills of which Coward was a master. Harnar then recited Coward’s hysterical, brief poem, “The Awakening” and sang the lovely rendition of “Sail Away” he offered at the competition. Later in the evening, the Julie Wilson Award was given by its seemingly eternal namesake to Shana Farr who sang a Noel Coward song as if it were Gilbert and Sullivan and “Crazy World” which showcased burgeoning talent.
Barbara Carroll, Valerie Lemon, Amanda McBroom
The evergreen Barbara Carroll shares her home state of Massachusetts with Donald Smith whom she called “the quintessential New Yorker. One of Carroll’s two numbers was a poignant medley from “On the Town” which married classical to jazz in her signature style. Carroll hears things before the rest of us. Valerie Lemon sang songs including “If You Remember Me,” by her longtime associate and friend, the late Marvin Hamlisch (with Carole Bayer Sager) But wherever you go/ My love goes with you/ ohhh My love goes with you. It was clearly heartfelt. Lemon communicates.
Amanda McBroom “Hello, my darlings,” delighted to leave her 102 degree garden for autumnal New York, delivered an incisively funny original song (written with Joel Silberman) expressing the longing for return of simpler political times: back when we were good guys/back in the days of Monica (Lewinsky) and a polar opposite, the heart wrenching “Dance.” McBroom is as fine an actress as she is writer and performer.
Emily Bergl, Gregory Generet, Amra-Faye Wright
Emily Bergl began with a snippet of “Ragtime Doll” segueing into a wordy, tuneless, cacophony about, as far as I could tell, cell phones and communication. This was followed by a shrill, unforgiving, inaccurate imitation of Elaine Stritch singing “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” which the actress performed in shirttails. The showstopper in Gregory Generet’s set was a rendition of “Love for Sale” conjuring, with sizzle and vigor, the seedy side of our old Times Square. Generet’s punctuating laugh, resonant baritone and uber-cool style perfectly represented the song. ‘Grand arrangement too.
Broadway entertainer Amra-Faye Wright’s more successful contribution was “Good Little Girls Go to Heaven” with a nod to Lisa Kirk’s original Persian Room performance. Fully equipped to be a production number in and of herself, the attractive, statuesque Wright danced, sang, and mugged, yet the number lacked heat. KT Sullivan opened Act II with a wink/wink interpretation of “I Never Do Anything Twice,” sharing her fun from contralto trill to wide eyes and suggestive hum. Sharp enunciation could’ve sliced a tomato.
Tony DeSare, Catherine Russell, Tim Sullivan
Tony DeSare, in his shirtsleeves, played and sang “I Love a Piano” which segued first into a boogie-woogie on speed and then a snippet of “Rhapsody in Blue.” The number would’ve been fine left as it was. The iconic “You Go to My Head” and “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” were performed by a glam Catherine Russell whose poise, articulation, and phrasing ranks with her warm, rich sound. Both songs were imbued with true lyrical intention. Tim Sullivan, who wears a cowboy hat and jeans with the flair of a tux, regaled us with 100 of his musical influences in a patter song, followed by a sing-along of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is My Land.” Sullivan exudes warmth; his voice feels like a friendly hug.
Lauren Fox, Mark Nadler
KT Sullivan took us “on a trip down memory lane” by reading names of participants and heavy-hitter, advisory board members from the program of the very first Cabaret Convention. Too many are no longer with us. Lauren Fox, who found her musical métier performing the sound of the 60s, offered a strong, evocative version of “Woodstock” and an even more powerful “Hallelujah” which sailed out somewhere between prayer and anthem. The actress can make “do yah?” sound lyrical. Arrangements were smoky and terrific.
Ending the evening fell to “entertainer with a capital E,” Mark Nadler. The performer sang “That Old Bilbao Moon” (in English and German), an intensely theatrical Brechtian number to which few could do justice. He did. And a slow, meaningful “Our Love is Here to Stay,” which Nadler suggested describes the way we feel about keeping these songs alive. His own textural piano accompaniment enriched the numbers.
Photography Maryann Lopinto
The 23rd New York Cabaret Convention
Gala Opening Night
Hosted by KT Sullivan
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall
October 17, 2012