Thirty-four years into musical marriage, Jeff Harnar and Alex Rybeck epitomize fertile affinity. Both artists continue to grow while playing off one another with the kind of secret language of long time couples. This is evident even in the revival of a 2000 Firebird Cafe show which emerges timeless. (The original CD is available.)
Sammy Cahn (1913-1933) né Samuel Cohen (no relation) put more words into the mouth of Frank Sinatra than any other lyricist. In addition to hit parade songs, he wrote films and musicals garnering 26 Academy Award nominations, four Oscars, and an Emmy. Listening to Cahn is like spending time with an old friend.
After a brief overture, Harnar begins with the iconic “All the Way” (music-James Van Heusen), his voice full, rich, unwavering. A 1950s arrangement of “Teach Me Tonight” (music-Gene De Paul), riding on finger snaps and bowed bass, gives the vocalist opportunity to duet with Rybeck using startling falsetto of which he’s apparently fond. Teach me- do-do-ten-do-do-do, he sings hopefully while sax loops around phrasing.
A tender “It’s Magic” (Jule Styne) – eyebrows rise on the second word – emerges with music box piano and skating flute. Harnar seems besotted. “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” (music & lyrics Nicolas Brodsky/Sammy Cahn) showcases mindful bass, ardent piano and the vocalist’s sincerity with ballads. Both were written for Doris Day films. Intermittent patter here is light, informative.
Other engaging serenades include “I Fall in Love Too Easily” (music & lyrics Jule Styne/ Sammy Cahn) and “I’ll Always Miss Her When I Think of Her”…and I’ll think of her all the time… (music-James Van Heusen.) The first, with a 3am-mellow-sax intro, finds Harnar reflective. …I fall in love (pause) too terribly hard…he reminds himself with a sigh, perched on what might be a bar stool. Every sentiment is convincing.
Three Sinatra hits written with James Van Heusen bounce in with infectious feel-good attitude. Snapped fingers, cool bass, and teasing flute like a backstroking Disney bird freshen “Come Fly With Me,” here, a tempting invitation. During “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,” Harnar practically emits bubbles. For “Tender Trap,” he’s a wide-eyed ingénue. Honestly. Adorable. On stage movement and gestures are minimal, easy, appropriate. The performer is at home up there, engaging his audience with warmth and skill.
A World War II medley with Rybeck and Egan joining Harnar’s vocals was, for me, a highlight. The three of them plus whomever should do a show comprised of these and other selections. Though “Saturday Night” …is the loneliest night of the week…(music-Jule Styne) is a bit smiley for its lyrics, the other three selections are pitch-perfect.
A plaintive “I’ll Walk Alone” (music-Jule Styne) would’ve captured the heart of every woman waiting for her fella to come home. “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen…Means That You’re Grand” (Sholem Secunda/Sammy Cahn & Saul Chaplin) with one of the best vocal arrangements I’ve heard of this, is irresistibly spirited. By “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” (music-Jule Styne), the artist has us in the palm of his hand. “Everybody sing!” he encourages, and we do.
Caveat: One might easily do without “Everybody Has a Right To Be Wrong,” a wordy monologue written for that singing fool, Julie Harris.” (music- James Van Heusen for Skyscraper, a show one critic called “Floor Scraper.”)
We close with a rendition of “Time After Time” (music-Jule Styne) –piano creating figure-eights, that embraces the room (another splendid vocal arrangement) and “My Kind of Town (Chicago Is)” (music-Jimmy Van Heusen) in jubilant razzamatazz mode.
This is a real taste of the wonderful Cahn – fastidiously arranged, written, directed, and performed by adroit musicians all of whom appear to be having as good a time as the audience. The urbane Jeff Harnar is in first rate voice.
Show Photos by Maryann Lopinto
Photo of Sammy Cahn- Wikipedia
Jeff Harnar sings Sammy Cahn All The Way
Barry Kleinbort- Director
Alex Rybeck- Music Director
Jered Egan-Bass & back-up vocals, Mark Phaneuf- Sax/Flute
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street