We’re eased into the traffic, noise, dirt and romance of our city by Oscar Brown Jr.’s “Call of the City.” Tonight’s cast has all become New Yorkers. Host Deborah Winer was born here, but suggests that if you arrive and stay, your DNA changes. Did you know we were actually voted the friendliest city in the U.S.?!
Constant proximity, Winer continues, creates two great sources of storytelling, eavesdropping and conflict. The host appears on stage intermittently between songs with anecdotes or set-ups. We learn the NY Times named Stuart Little our mascot (representing tolerance, ingenuity, and adventurous spirit) and hear “The city for the first time in its long history is destructible,” a quote not about 9/11, but rather from E.B. White in 1945.
Nicolas King performs Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart’s “Manhattan.” You remember, We’ll have Manhattan,/The Bronx and Staten/Island too…Swing is so casual and easy it seems second nature. Jay Leonhart’s superb bass seems to scallop melody. The swell vocal is smooth and earnest.
“Way Out West (On West End Avenue)” arrives by way of Klea Blackhurst’s Annie Get Your Gun inflection making the sophisticated song more amusing. Genial bounce and an understated “Yipee” add color. There’s not much buffalo, but lots of bull, she sings. Blackhurst is an actress. It’s appealing to observe that up close rather than in a big hall.
What would a New York concert this time of year be without Vernon Duke’s “Autumn in New York?” LaTanya Hall’s dusky alto shows pristine control. Phrases begin eyes closed as if each were recalling a memory. Instrumental is lovely.
As rendered by Hall, a cozy “Sunday in New York” (Peter Nero/Carroll Coates) emerges smiling; Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Grand Central Station” about a 2011 first- responder, grave. Each in its own way is creamy. Winer introduces the latter with a prescient 1949 quote from E.B. White: “…The city for the first time in its long history is destructible.”
Blackhurst’s “Rose of Washington Square” (James F. Hanley/Ballard McDonald) replete with ukulele and whistle and her “Waiting for The B Train” (Christine Lavin), a Metropolitan Diary-like story-song the vocalist deftly manifests as scene in one, are both utterly charming.
King’s “New York State of Mind” (Billy Joel) finds him-tie off, collar open, sitting on a stool. A swinger to his socks, the expansive performer never stops moving. During this still number, lyrics become more important. We feel as if he’s confiding. The song has impact.
Billy Strayhorn/Joya Sherrill’s “Take the A Train” showcases Hall and King as a couple of cool cats in scat-punctuated vocals. The back and forth is delicious. Styles are different, but winning together. (Leonhart contributes some of his inimitable scat.) Hall, Blackhurst and King offer an infectiously happy, doo-wop “Boy From New York City,” harmony and spirits in sync.(George Davis/John T. Taylor.)
Jay Leonhart gives us his own, wry John Wallowich-like “Double Parking”: As the garbage must be schlepped/So the streets must be swept… The musician writes like a New Yorker cartoon.
Photos by Bruce Cohen
Opening: LaTanya Hall, Nicolas King, Klea Blackhurst
Deborah Grace Winer presents
New York: Big City Songbook
Deborah Winer- Writer/Host
John Oddo- MD/Piano; Jay Leonhart-Vass/Vocals
Directed by Mark Waldrop
315 West 44th Street
REPEATED SHOW November 25, 2018