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. My article in Cabaret Scenes
Hanks decided to put his expertise where his principles are and produce four pre-midterm shows with talent donating their share of profit to individually chosen candidates.
I have to say, I‘m impressed. Talent participating in this inaugural show is passionate, articulate and savvy. Each vocalist has chosen an incumbent who will receive a portion of tonight’s profits. The candidates are well researched in terms of voting record and platform. (My quotes are excerpts) Aptly selected songs often take on an entirely new light.
“The first show had to focus on incumbent Democratic Senators running for re-election because we needed to wait for primary results in May or June to pick from a larger pool. And in general we wanted to focus on races that might be tight in November. Two, the Senate isn’t a sure thing to flip the way the House may be so we wanted to put an emphasis on the Senate out of the gate. The June show should be more about Congressional candidates.” Stephen Hanks
Producer Stephen Hanks welcomed us, sang the series theme song (see below) and explained motivation and method.
Remy Block: “I chose Tammy Baldwin because she is from Wisconsin where my dad’s side of the family has a lake house. I was distraught when I saw Wisconsin go for Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Et tu, Wisconsin??!! Baldwin holds the progressive values that the independent, spirited people of Wisconsin deserve.”
Block sings Lennon McCartney’s “The Fool On the Hill.” Read the lyrics again with politics in mind. Tonight it sounds like a song on the barricades. The vocalist emanates power. “Wise Up” (Aimee Mann) follows…It’s not going to stop/till you wise up…Terrific phrasing emerges with emphasis, circles and returns undaunted. It’s a WAKE UP performance.
Kathleen France: “I chose Bill Nelson because I was born in Florida and still have family down there including nieces & cousins that go to school. Bill has received an “F” rating from the NRA for his lack in supporting them, received a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood & NARAL, and is a huge supporter of science.”
The artist has a gritty, muscular voice with umph and superb breath control…It’s not about the money money money…Ain’t about the uh cha-ching cha-ching/ Ain’t about the yeah b-bling b-bling… (“Price Tag”- Jessie J.). France sings from the gut vocally and emotionally. “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken” (Pink) arrives with moving, evangelical fervor. Musical Director/Pianist Tracy Stark contributes back-up harmony on this and many songs tonight adding zing and texture.
Dawn Derow: “Senator Claire McCaskill has been, since 2011, active on on human sex trafficking, foreign adoption reform, gun safety measures, and efforts to avoid government shutdowns. She isn’t afraid to go after Big Pharma companies to crack down on regulations in the opioid addiction in her state of Missouri and cares where tax dollars go.”
Derow opens with “Chained to the Rhythm” (Katy Perry with Max Martin, Sia Furler, Ali Payami, Skip Marley) … So comfortable, we’re livin’ in a bubble, bubble/ So comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, trouble… Sound appropriate? The singer manages to be intense without growing harsh. Shoulders shift, hips gyrate, right hand punctuates, eyes close. “In the spirit of Martin Luther King…” she then offers “If We Only Have Love” (Jacques Brel) It’s steady, determined.
Next we would’ve heard Lisa Viggiano who’s unfortunately ill.
“Senator Tina Smith, otherwise known as “The Velvet Hammer,” is a no-nonsense, experienced candidate with the utmost strength and grace. She can deliver a powerful message with a gentle firmness, getting the job done efficiently with a smile; supporting laborers, families, Native Americans, and the environment. Smith replaced the ousted Al Franken in Minnesota.”
Kathleen France and Dawn Derow
Stepping in for their peer are Dawn Derow and Kathleen France with a duet from their MAC award winning show, Revolution. “I Need to Wake Up” (Melissa Etheridge) is seriously soulful. Voices sound great together, harmony’s swell, rhythm’s infectious. Sorry I missed the original.
Tracy Stark practically spits Bob Dylan’s “With God On Our Side.” Lyrics circle like wagons making a rut in the road. She rocks on the piano bench immersed, carried. Nope, nothing’s changed. Most MD’s and musicians get paid to do benefits even when vocalists do not. In this series, every penny goes to the candidates. Stark is donating her time and skill.
“It seems that every generation goes through a trauma,” Hanks muses, taking the microphone. The story he tells is one of political awareness that for him began in third grade with John Kennedy’s assassination. “For the next four days I just watched television news.” Then Martin Luther King fell, and two months after, Bobby Kennedy. In 1966, Hanks was right next to a flatbed truck where Bobby was giving a speech. When it was over, he cheered. Kennedy shook his hand. “When you lose three of your heroes before your 13th birthday, it sticks with you the rest of your life.”
It’s all Hanks can do not to break down recalling history and during a stirring version of “Abraham, Martin, and John” (Dick Holler) You can hear a pin drop.
Sandra Bargman: “I chose incumbent Senator Bob Casey because I’m from Pennsylvania and I watched PA flip in 2016 from blue to red, having been Democratic in every election since Clinton in 1992. Since Casey’s a popular incumbent, the conventional wisdom would suggest he’s more than safe…but, all bets are off in the age of Trumpism. This is a moderate Democrat who’s pro-life but voted for Planned Parenthood and pro-gun until Sandy Hook when he did a complete reversal.”
“They Don’t Call It Spirits For Nothing” (Sandra Bargman/Ian Herman) is, Bargman says, a song about coping. There’s no doubt liquor, drugs, and analysis are more frequently employed during this administration. Shoulders rise, head rolls back, eyes close. A howling blues. The vocalist’s “American Anthem” is elegant, proud, unabashedly direct. She literally takes a stand. (Gene Scheer-written in 1998 and sung by Norah Jones in Ken Burns’ 2007 documentary series “The War”) The perfect finish.
Bargman, it should be noted, is actively committed. She recently returned from taking The Climate Reality Seminar with Al Gore and is available to speak.
The cause is just, the talent excellent, the evening inspiring and money goes where it should. How can you lose?
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: Tracy Stark, Remy Block, Kathleen France, Sandra Bargman, Dawn Derow and, in front, Stephen Hanks
Stephen Hanks presents
Cabaret Campaigns: Ride the Blue Wave
April 4, 2018
Musical Director Tracy Stark
Don’t Tell Mama
343 West 46th Street
Calendar: Don’t Tell Mama
Cabaret Campaigns (All at Don’t Tell Mama)
Meg Flather, Laurie Krauz, Rosemary Loar, Karen Oberlin, Sue Matsuki
MD: Tracy Stark
Julie Reyburn, Sarah Rice, Janice Hall, Billie Roe, Annie Hughes
MD: Matthew Martin Ward
Kim Grogg, Kim Sutton, Lynda D’Amour, and 2018 Bistro Award winners Mary Sue Daniels and Katie Dunne McGrath
MD: Michael Roberts