The 25th Annual Cabaret Convention -4th Night
Composer/lyricist Irving Berlin (Israel Isidore Beilin) is a sizable part of the fabric of American musical history. With hundreds of hits before the age of 30, all composed on a piano in the later-transposed key of F, Berlin’s career included 19 Broadway shows and 18 Hollywood films. Among his iconic popular songs are “White Christmas,” “Easter Parade,” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” all so embedded in our consciousness their author is often forgotten. The Russian immigrant had a gift for illuminating what people thought, felt, and believed in a way both entertaining and, utilizing a foreign (American) vernacular, completely accessible. Composer Jerome Kern concluded that “Irving Berlin has no place in American music—he is American music.”
Who better to MC an evening celebrating this icon than the Mermanesque Klea Blackhurst? (Really, Encores should stage Call Me Madam with this vocalist.) Somewhat restraining her usually loquacious patter, Blackhurst is fun and informative.
Karen Oberlin’s rendition of “They Say That Falling in Love is Wonderful” glows with the moonlit charm of someone considering the feeling in real time. Lovely ostinato piano/arrangement by Tedd Firth is symbiotic. “Let Yourself Go” and “Pack Up Your Sins” elicit the flirt of a shaken shoulder, hip swing, and slight dip adding saucy visuals to the precision of tongue-twisting verse Oberlin manages to make seem natural.
The beloved Sidney Meyer, ever an exception to rules, ignores Donald Smith’s tenet that male cabaret performers should wear suits and ties by appearing in black silk pajamas. “Someone told me it might be a long evening,” he deadpans. “Bad, Bad Man” with a nod to jangling spurs and Brokeback Mountain, is his wry, rakish tribute to “the late, great Roy Rogers.” Meyer raises spirits as naturally as the rest of us breathe. (Tedd Firth-piano)
Two newcomers grace the stage exhibiting skill and polish: Recent graduate of Columbia University, Rebekah Lowin, offers a pristine interpretation of “What’ll I Do?” which begins with ethereal a capella before wafting on Peter Calo’s delicate guitar music. Lowin is a perfect ingénue- extremely pretty, seemingly innocent, with a light, sweet soprano that must make the angels smile.
This year’s Metropolitan Room Metrostar Winner, the classically trained, musical theater experienced, Kristoffer Lowe, performs a personalized version of “Moonshine Melody.” His pleasing tenor, tonight employing a slight drawl, integrates well written, folksy patter from his own Alabama background; a combination of high craft. Piano/arrangement by Tracy Stark evokes distant wind chimes in a light breeze.
Celia Berk, about to make her cabaret debut at The Metropolitan Room, has developed a scenario featuring “My Yiddish Nightingale” which is impossible to imagine another vocalist tackling, let alone imagining. The artist sings with Lower East Side inflection and cinematic phrasing. Her own authoritative alto bookends a parenthesis of Puccini- in Yiddish! with full operatic luster. Vivid and impressive. (Alex Rybeck- MD; piano)
The crackerjack arrangement and infectious performance of Anita Gillette’s “Blue Skies” fill late evening with afternoon delight. Gillette is the only one of tonight’s performers who actually knew Irving Berlin, having worked with him on Broadway’s Mr. President. His secretary, Hilda, aka “The Berlin Wall,” found Gillette cheered up the author and invited her often. Captivating anecdotes precede “It’s Lonely at the White House” which the thespian enacts conjuring both character and moment. Grade A, unhomogenized talent. (Paul Greenwood-piano/vocal, Ritt Henn-bass/vocal)
This evening’s denouement is a formidable quartet by performers who earlier contributed solo numbers. First Karen Mason and John Tracy Egan sing the counterpoint “You’re Just in Love.” Then Klea Blackhurst and Kristoffer Lowe perform the counterpoint “Old Fashioned Wedding.” After which all four let loose. The couples are splendidly paired. Both men appear disconcerted, the ladies amusingly animated. Voices are well matched. Every vocalist holds his/her own. Ebullient.
A stirring “God Bless America,” performed by Peggy Easton with gospel fervor undoubtedly intended by its patriot author, stills the hall. After heartfelt praise of the honoree, Blackhurst sings“There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Of course. The right singer, the right song. (Michael Rice-piano)
Also featuring: Spider Saloff (Ricky Ritzel-piano), Peggy Easton (Christine Talbot Smith-piano), Stacy Sullivan (Jon Weber-piano), Nicolas King (Tracy Stark Piano), Tammy McCann (Jon Weber-piano)
Photos by Maryann Lopinto (except Irving Berlin)
Opening: John Treacy Egan & Karen Mason; Klea Blackhurst & Kristoffer Lowe
Karen Oberlin; Sidney Meyer
Rebekah Lowin; Kristopher Lowe
Celia Berk; Anita Gillette
The 25th Annual Cabaret Convention -4th Night
Come On And Hear: The Songs of Irving Berlin
Hosted by Klea Blackhurst
Mabel Mercer Foundation
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater
The Time Warner Center/Columbus Circle
October 23, 2014