Thursday night, seven daughters of Athena (Goddess of Wisdom and War) took to the stage at Don’t Tell Mama for the second in Stephen Hanks’ estimable series Cabaret Campaigns: Ride the Blue Wave. It was a stunning evening. Impassioned vocalists accustomed to employing other’s words expressed themselves with awareness, intelligence, and determination rallying against the increasingly frightening reign of a deeply dysfunctional government. Songwriters among them conveyed high wattage objection with both gravitas and rapier humor. And oh the talent!
“Is everybody angry?! Motivated?!” producer/host Stephen Hanks begins rousing the packed room with his series theme song (see below.) “I thought I’d probably have to say something to talk you off the ledge at this point, but since I’m about to jump out a window…things were pretty bad at the time of the first show…I thought it couldn’t get worse…” The club emits a collective sigh.
Tradition continues with each artist donating their share of profit to individually chosen candidates about whom they briefly tell the audience. Each then performs two songs. (Hanks adds personally donated or raised matching funds.)
First up is Lisa Viggiano, self declared artist, educator, friend, wife, mother. “Randy Bryce is vying for Paul Ryan’s seat in Wisconsin. He is a veteran of the U.S. Army, a cancer survivor, and a union iron-worker. Bryce supports healthcare for all and an economy which serves working families, equality, education, immigration, unions, and the environment. He represents my people: the working class of America.”
Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” represents Viggiano’s (much of America’s) roots. The vocalist testifies with a fraught heart. She persuasively knows when to open her throat and when to draw back. Selected notes break as if subjugating sobs. “We Can Be Kind” (David Friedman) follows with great tenderness. Every now and then a stage whisper emerges. With one hand on her chest and the other on her stomach, Viggiano plumbs emotion from her core. The song ends plaiting in “This Land is Your Land” (Pete Seeger). Terrific arrangement.
Sue Matsuki: “”I’m throwing my support to Robert “Beto” O’Rourke because he is a Texan who supports gun control and an Irish-Catholic who supports women’s rights. He’s been in public service for 14 of his 46 years, supported marriage equity opposed the decision to end DACA, pledges not to take any PAC contributions AND, most importantly, he’s running against Ted Cruz! ”
I’ll love you when YOU are respected/…I’ll love you when the NRA’s dejected…I’ll love you when Global Warming’s fake news/When GMO’s aren’t in our foods/I’ll love you when our immigrants are protected… (“I’ll Love You When…”Sue Matsuki/ Gregory Toroian). The clever country western song arrives with a slight twang and a whole lotta built-in, deadpan sarcasm. Matsuki’s timing is spot on. Like Viggiano, her second number is gentle, flushed with hope (against hope). “You Must Believe in Spring” (Alan & Marilyn Bergman/Jacques Demy/Michel Legrand) is womanly warm/maternal, sung as much to herself as to us.
“I’m supporting Maria Elaine Cantwell, the junior United States Senator from Washington, elected in 2000. A Democrat,she previously served in the Washington House of Representatives and the United States House of Representatives, after which she worked as an executive for RealNetworks. She’s Washington’s second female senator, after Patty Murray, a strong environmentalist who brings feminine passion to the cause,” declares Rosemary Loar.
Also a songwriter, Loar offers two of her own compositions with Meg Flather/ MD/Pianist Tracy Stark acting as back-up on the first and Meg Flather/Laurie Krauz/Tracy Stark back-up on the second. We step on your land mines/We step around your egos/Instead of stepping up to the mic (microphone)…the feminist proclaims in the punk rock, shoulders back “Higher Standard.” “What Is A Tree?” represents her conservationist side. Acknowledge, support and protect that which supports and protects us. The spiritual ode sounds ceremonial. “Anger is not a place to live in, it’s a place to come from,” she wisely reminds us.
Elton John/Bernie Taupin’s “Whitewash County” is zealously performed by Hanks replete with dropped gs, and a bit of southern accent. The 1992 song, he notes, is disturbingly apt today: Tall tales down the river/Say we aim to bury the truth/But the right hand just delivered/ The devil in a suit…Too true.
Karen Oberlin: “Andrew Janz, a Democratic prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney, is running against Devin Nunes in the 22nd District of California. Janz was inspired to run because of the actions of the congressman, including his lack of ethical actions, fake memos, corrupt association with Trump, and other perceived violations. Personally, I see Nunes as monstrous, while Janz has fought tirelessly and with care for the rights of people in his district as a prosecutor and Deputy DA.”
“Silent Spring” (Harold Arlen/EY Yip Harburg) was written the year Bobby Kennedy and Medgar Evers were assassinated. Oberlin is grave, cautionary. It’s a prayer and a plea for unity.The vocalist prefaces Randy Newman’s “Political Science” with a remark that the song “can be funny, but in this climate also terrifying.” She then achieves perfect tone walking the line between, melding sass and suggestion, stirring in a growl. It’s wickedly dark with a wink. Stark’s splendid honky-tonk piano adds immeasurably.
“When we did the first show in April, it was before many primaries, so we only had incumbents represented. It would be great to get the Congress, but we can’t leave anything to chance,” Hanks comments. Case in point:
“Sherrod Brown is the two term Democratic Senator, blue collar, “real” populist who is winning Ohioan Independents and Republicans who voted for Trump. They’re willing to disagree with him on issues in order to benefit from his authentic voice and actions. He has the emotional and intellectual makeup to build bridges, work across the aisle, which is essential as we find ourselves stuck in such divisive, political gridlock. He’s everyone’s Senator.” Meg Flather
“I was so jazzed up on election night 2016, but by 8:30, all of us saw what was happening. I hid for a long time and then wrote this to wake myself up: We are as strong as our weakest link…I’m drowning in the noise/Staring at a screen/Pounding on a desk/Not saying what I mean…(“We Are As Strong”). At the back of the room, the cast (a multitude) acts as chorus. The number is emphatic; an admission and exemplary warning. Vigorous arrangement of Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run” starts as a ripple and surges to a river/anthem. Vocal soars. Pauses are as powerful as verse. Stark plays in tandem with every heartbeat.
Did you ever stop to notice/All the blood we’ve shed before/Did you ever stop to notice/This crying Earth, these weeping shores…Where did we go wrong…Laurie Krauz keens, wrenching the song from her wounded soul. (“Earth Song”- Michael Jackson). What about the refugees/ Can’t we set them free?! …she exhorts. “What about us, what about us…” Stark intones. We hold our breath in the dark. An extraordinary rendition. “That song was released in 1995…and it’s so freaking relevant now.”
“I chose civil rights advocate Mark Phariss in part, because I want to highlight the importance of local elections. In the fight for marriage equality, Mark and his husband were one of the two couples who successfully sued the State of Texas. If elected, he would be the first openly gay state senator there. He faces a tough fight and, I believe, is a great candidate who deserves our support. (State Senate in Texas District 8)
Texas State Senate Candidate Mark Phariss and his husband, Victor Holmes
Krauz then introduces Mark Phariss and his husband present at the concert. Thanking the assembled, he quotes Harvey Milk, “When a gay person runs for office, he gives people hope. We’re all a little different and we’re all told we can’t do something. So he or she gives not just gay people but everyone hope.”
“Being here tonight – you give me hope. That encourages me,” the candidate adds to raucous applause.
Krauz closes the evening with Mac Davis’ “I Believe in Music (I Believe in Love).” The company returns to the stage as we all clap and sing its chorus. For just a few minutes it feels as if we might, just might regain stewardship of our country.
The remarkable Tracy Stark has helmed two shows giving of her valuable time, talent and energy. Thanks are due. And to Sidney Myer of Don’t Tell Mama for continued support.
Feeling impotent? Check out www.postvcardstovoters.org and come support these shows!
Stephen Hanks, who for almost eight years has been involved in practically every aspect of cabaret, was a political science major in college and accepted into the National Political Science Honor Society. Politically passionate since childhood and a frequent activist, his depression and disgust with what’s happening in this country began, he tells me, as early as the announcement of Donald Trump’s candidacy. Hanks feared most the rise of white supremacism, second only to the undermining of voting rights. From my article about the series in Cabaret Scenes
Hanks decided to put his expertise where his principles are and produce this series of shows. The cause is just, the talent excellent, the evening inspiring and money goes where it should.
The Theme Song of the Series written especially for it
Music & Lyrics by Michael Roberts: “The Great Blue Wave”
Come and join/ The great Blue wave,/ Something less bitter,/ Less often on Twitter,/ Something that’s based on facts/It sweeps you up,/ This great blue wave,/ More civilizing,/ Less womanizing,/ Someone who knows how to act./A simple reminder, We used to be kinder,/ And not so easily afraid…
Photos by Steve Friedman
Opening: Sue Matsuki, Laurie Krauz,Stphen Hanks, Meg Flather,Rosemary Loar, Tracy Stark; in front: Lisa Viggiano, Karen Oberlin
Musical Director Tracy Stark
Don’t Tell Mama
343 West 46th Street
Cabaret Campaigns (All at Don’t Tell Mama)
Julie Reyburn, Sarah Rice, Janice Hall, 2018 Bistro Award winners Mary Sue Daniels,
and Katie Dunne McGrath, Sierra Rein
MD: Matthew Martin Ward
Mark Nadler, Adam Shapiro, Jeff McCauley, Brian Charles Rooney, Rob Davis, Bruce Clough
MD Ian Herman
Kim Grogg, Kim Sutton, Bliie Roe, Annie Hughes, Lane Bradbury, Blair Alexis Brown
MD: Michael Roberts