Barbara Porteus: Up On the Roof

New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits series continued with its 10th presentation at New York’s Metropolitan Room Monday night, a revival of Barbara Porteus 2013 show, Up On the Roof. Spanning 40 years of pop, it also includes one country and a couple of jazz-tinted interpretations.

Like the original version, Porteus is here accompanied by three guitars – no piano: Musical Director/Arranger/Lead Guitar-Jack Cavari, Larry Saltzman, and Zev Katz. Though the musicians are first rate, only a few numbers successfully lend themselves to this choice.

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Barbara Porteus

Were one to select the most defining quality of Porteus’s performance, it might be the artist’s ability to put her whole self into a song without ever straining a vocal, unnecessarily raising volume, or becoming fussy. Nor does delivery wobble. Phrasing is smooth, often honeyed. Octave changes are fluid and subtle.

While the show’s title song (by Carole King) is pretty, to my mind, except for a romantic bossa nova rendition of Melody Gardot’s “If the Stars Were Mine,” the show doesn’t kick in until after a lengthy Beatles medley comprised of song snippets, most of which sound thin.

“Unwell” (Matchbox Twenty/Rob Thomas), “Twisted” (Wardell Gray/Annie Ross), and  “Help Me” (Joni Mitchell) create a kind of contemporary, crazy suite. Though less overt expression would serve, (rolling eyes and draping oneself leads to diminishing returns), jazz undulations are skillfully handled. Vocally difficult material arrives sensitive and pristine.

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Barbara Porteus, Larry Saltzman

“Someone Like You” (Adele/Dan Wilson), a song where a woman tells her ex she can’t let go, is theatrically adept. Here, we empathize with the singer. Whether this has personal meaning or no, the artist makes it seem as if it does.

One of the best musical arrangements emerges with John Mayer/Pino Palladfino’s “Stop This Train.” Buoyed by sweetly percussive country rhythm, Porteus’s gravitas is filled with yearning. One can close one’s eyes, reflect, and ride. Stop this train/I want to get off and go home again/I can’t take the speed it’s moving in/I know I can’t/But, honestly, won’t someone stop this train?…

We finish with a quotation from the film Monkey Business, “You’re only old when you forget to be young.” Though the show’s “recollection of her youth through adulthood,” drops its subject early on, the aphorism aptly bookends. “The Secret of Life” (James Taylor) is simply lovely.

Photos by Stephen Hanks
Opening left to right: Barbara Porteus, Larry Saltzman, Jack Cavari, Zev Katz

Next Up for New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits:
Maureen Taylor: Taylor Made-Bob Merrill- July 13  7:00
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
Metropolitan Room Calendar

About Alix Cohen (1287 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.