“I truly believe that fighting voter suppression in America is the fundamental political struggle of our time. Every other issue that Democrats and Progressives are passionate about is dependent on securing the right to vote for all Americans… I’ve been incredibly thankful and proud that so many extremely talented New York Cabaret performers have been so committed to this effort. ” Stephen Hanks
If women across America were as aware, actively committed, and compassionate as these sixteen talented performers, we might have a shot at overturning the untenable situation in which we find ourselves. At a time when fatalism comes as easily as breathing, they’re inspiring.
Producer Stephen Hanks welcomes us, states this evening’s “platform,” then performs the theme song of Blue Wave written by Michael Roberts. Each artist is introduced with selected accomplishments.
First up, Sierra Rein renders Stephen Sondheim’s “The Flag Song,” cut from Assassins: You can gripe/All you like,/You can sneer,/“Where are the heroes?”/You can shout about/How everything’s a lie…Then that flag goes by…The vocalist navigates difficult octave changes with skill and energy. A soaring alto calls one to the barricades/ballot box.
Rembert (Remy) Block follows with “Birmingham Sunday” (Richard Farina) …and the choir kept singing of freedom…the sound of ‘60s folk tradition. Block seems to sing above soft-edged notes imbued with gravity (not weight). Lovely waltzing piano accompanies. Lisa Viggiano offers Bob Dylan’s 1963 “The Times They Are A’ Changin,” observing its sentiment as relevant today as when written. Her expansive voice arrives with slight sob at the edge. This waltz is Jaques-Brel-decisive.
MD/Pianist Ian Herman, who, like the ladies donated his prowess, again shows immense versatility, taste, and symbiotic attention to each artist.
Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On?” is presented by vocalist April Armstrong accompanied by her own conga drum and the evocative guitar of Tomas Cataldo. Both musicians evidence great finesse. The arrangement is soulful, original, and uncluttered. Eyes closed, Armstrong gets to the heart of the song which includes some very cool scat. Heads bob, feet tap. Blair Alexis Brown (also on piano) offers a thoughtful version of Paul Simon’s “An American Tune,” deftly lingering, then moving on.
An earthy “Abraham, Martin, and John” (Dick Holler) arrives by way of Mary Sue Daniels whose shoulder shrug and slight raising of palms are like a palpable sigh. (Piano-Rick Jensen) Adapted by Katie McGrath, performed by her and Rick Jensen, Shawn Mullins’ “Lullaby” is wrenching. The artist dramatically speaks lyrics with Jensen contributing mournful chorus. A five year-old girl torn from her mother at the border sings herself to sleep. Time passes. Have we made her an orphan? Song choices for this show exhibit intelligence, vehemence, and sensitivity.
From her current solo show, Julie Reyburn embodies visceral, if wry distress with Noel Coward’s “Twenty-First Century Blues.” (Actually “Twentieth Century Blues”) Left hand inclusively reaching out, long-lined phrases almost wail. In my review of that piece, I noted the parenthetic reading of current headlines is too long and often off-target, though tonight’s reference to MeToo is apt. (Mark Janas piano)
A duet of Sara Bareilles/John Legend’s “Safe Place to Land” by Dawn Derow and Jason Reiff pays witness to the border tragedy…When holding your breath is safer than breathing… Surely someone will reach out a hand/and show you a safe place to land…The two powerful voices blend well in an effective arrangement. Focused and sober, they’re formidable together. “2020 has to be a year of compassion,” Derow insists.
“I chose this song because in 2020 we’ve got some ladies out there who’re gonna do it for us!” exclaims Brenda Braxton. The vocalist’s take on “I’m a Woman”…W-O-M-A-N… is about as infectiously gutsy as it gets and boy, can she mooove! Piano is terrific, let-loose-honkey-tonk. (Jerry Lieber/ Mike Stoller)
Janice Hall’s bewigged interpretation of “Barbara’s Song” as sung by Hilary Clinton is theatrical and gritty. Hall spits lyrics with frustration and disdain- a familiar emotion these days. (Kurt Weill/Marc Blitzstein and Janice Hall) Sandra Bargman introduces “They Don’t Call Them Spirits for Nothing,” (co-written with Ian Herman) alluding to meditation practice “gone out the window” due, one presumes, to the state of things. It’s an alcoholic lament.
Another stretch towards theme, Sarah Rice’s “Feeling Good” showcases the soprano’s investment and finesse. (Anthony Newly/Leslie Bricusse) Meg Flather sings an artfully partnered “A Cockeyed Optimist” and “A Million Dreams,” true to her own core spirit. Every word emerges directly from the heart; slow, emphatic, and filled with grace. The club warms as if embraced. “I decided the greatest weapon is hope.” (Richard Rodgers/ Oscar Hammerstein; Benj Pesek/Justin Paul)
Laurie Krauz should be a Democratic organizer. An articulate and convincing advocate for participation in a grassroots postcard program targeting key races, she prefaces Barry Manilow’s “One Voice” with the kind of encouragement that hits home- then lifts off. I stood strong through right or wrong/I fought pain with time and hate…All it takes is one voice in the darkness/Singing what’s on your mind… Postcards To Voters
The show closes with N’Kenge’s intoxicating “America the Beautiful.” (Samuel A. Ward) Recalling her mother’s Georgia childhood and time working tobacco fields, she stirringly conjures three generations celebrating their right to vote. “…that special power each and every one of us has in this country…” The artist’s affecting, gospel-like vibrato gets under one’s skin. She dips, bends and reaches as music sweeps through the club like a wake-up call.
A memorable evening.
Stephen Hanks has thus far produced five Blue Wave shows to raise money for Democratic Senate, Congress and State Legislature candidates, two Election Victory shows on successive nights to raise money for the Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight Action group to battle voter suppression, and a Best of The Blue Wave Shows. If he doesn’t secure a job with the Democratic nominee, we’ll hopefully see more of these.
Tonight’s fundraising will go to Stacy Abrams’ Fair Fight Action fighting voter suppression across the country.
From Ms. Abrams:
Dear Stephen, Blue Wave 2020 Performers, and Fellow Americans in the Audience tonight,
Behind every vote is a voice, but across our country too many voices are being silenced. We must take action…the promise of Democracy in America depends on free and fair elections–elections where every eligible voter can register, cast their ballot, and have their ballot counted. But the scourge of modern voter suppression and broken electoral processes threaten that promise.
Heading into the 2020 election cycle we cannot be successful as Democrats if we allow our country to lie in disrepair. We must proactively protect every vote starting right now. Whether you plan to vote for expanded economic opportunity, access to health care or high-quality public education—the policies you want to see passed in our country require a Fair Fight in 2020…C’mon Democrats, let’s get it done!
Sincerely, Stacey Abrams
Opening Photo: Stephen Hanks
All photos courtesy of the producer
Stephen Hanks’ venerable New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits series, originally staged at The Metropolitan Room, will begin again here, March 2, with Mark Nadler’s highly lauded Runnin’ Wild: Songs and Scandals of the Roaring ’20s