New York: Big City Songbook

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.

Nicolas King

“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.

LaTanya Hall


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.

Klea Blackhurst

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
Birdland Theater  
315 West 44th Street
REPEATED SHOW November 25, 2018

About Alix Cohen (1686 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.