New York Cabaret Convention – Through the Years: Celebrating Timeless American Standards

Hosted by The Mabel Mercer Foundation Artistic Director KT Sullivan.

KT Sullivan begins tonight’s festivities at the piano with a plaintive “Sail Away” (Noel Coward), perhaps a farewell to former chairman and creator of the board of the Mabel Mercer Foundation, Charles Bullock, to whom this evening is dedicated. The inimitable Sandy Stewart follows with Cole Porter’s “It Was Just One of Those Things” as if a eulogy (Bill Charlap – piano). Highlights:

Tim Connell, aptly described by Sullivan as an “all ‘round” entertainer shares a droll story about show business DNA (via vaudeville), then performs a high spirited medley of George M. Cohan songs replete with bonafide Irish accent. Connell is utterly charming and has a splendid, makes-it-look easy tenor. Tonight, he would make Cohan himself applaud (Jim Followell – piano).

Tim Connell; Carole J. Bufford

Flirty in flapper regalia, Carole J. Bufford performs “Let’s Misbehave” (Cole Porter) with the grace of a dancer and the sass of a 1920s chorine. Bufford owns the stage as her terrific MD/pianist Ian Herman owns the piano. The beloved Sidney Myer’s “I’m Perfect” (Phillip Namanworth) is just that – risible and engaging; panache. Myer is in good voice and as usual elicits a venue-wide grin (Tracy Stark –piano).

Sidney Myer

A poised Jillian Mustillo, this year’s winner of the Adela and Larry Elow High School American Songbook Competition, gives us Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II’s “Bill” in a rendition during which I believed every word. One can only imagine with what richness the young vocalist will imbue this song when she has more life experience under her belt. “I love him,” she shrugs,” because he’s wonderful…” A talent to watch.

David LaMarr; Kim David Smith

David LaMarr, arrayed in a fuchsia sequined gown, feather boa, and great heels, is so new to cabaret, he admits to Googling Julie Wilson when he won her namesake award. The performer deploys 1936’s “If I Can’t Sell It, I’ll Sit On It” (Alex Hill/Andy Razaf) with industrial strength insinuation, photo-worthy poses, and a playful southern accent. Consciously exaggerated fun (Ben Covello – piano). Attired in top hat, tails and  black gloves, Kim David Smith, notable purveyor of the Weimar oeuvre, sings “Marlene Dietrich’s least favorite song,” “Falling in Love Again” (Friedrich Hollaender/Sammy Lerner) in English and German with as deadpan a countenance as the icon (Tracy Stark – piano).

Ben Jones (Steve Doyle in the background)

Discovered at a Susie Mosher event, Ben Jones offers a punched up pop version of “I Wanna Be Around” (Johnny Mercer/Sadie Vimmerstedt). Jones has a Broadway leading man voice which here, is palpably, unusually hostile (Ron Abel – piano). Preternaturally musically mature, Anais Reno who began gracing these stages as an adolescent, performs “Autumn Leaves” (Joseph Kosma/Johnny Mercer; Jacques Prevert) in (good) French and English. The song evolves to mid-tempo swing including vibrant scat. Jazz skills are impressive, but this kind of rhythm depletes moody lyrics. (Admittedly my peccadillo.)

Also featuring: Spider Saloff’s gleeful “The Tale of An Oyster” written by Cole Porter not for a Broadway show but rather his society friends; Phillip Officer with “Anyone Can Whistle” (Stephen Sondheim), a gorgeously uncomplicated song that arrives musically over involved belying intention; Rob Russell, “Mr. Palm Beach,” brandishing an expansive, lounge worthy “September Morn” (Neil Diamond); Celia Berk’s performance of  “April Showers” (B.G. De Sylva/Louis Silvers) which seems to rise from the back of her throat with tremolo showing a decided difference in music direction (Tedd Firth – piano).

KT Sullivan’s stipulation to Hannah Jane was that she be “fast and funny.” An effervescent, tongue-in-cheek medley about how “men suck” is just that. Jane is one of a very few who nimbly moves around the stage, connecting with audience. Vincent Youmans/Edward Eliscu’s “Through the Years” bursts with heart as performed by the elegant Haley Swindal (Mark Hummel – piano).

Hannah Jane; Haley Swindel

The redoubtable Karen Mason presents “Our Love is Here to Stay” (George and Ira Gershwin). Vocal is warm, grateful, and understated, arrangement by Christopher Denny – at the piano – captivating. Lennie Watts and Kim Grogg unleash a rousing “Blow Gabriel, Blow!” (Cole Porter.) Vocal mix is thoroughly pleasing. If only they were a bit more animated. Meg Flather’s “Lonely Room” (Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein II) emerges dark and emotionally operatic. An odd choice for this evening, the artist nonetheless imbues it with strength and focus (Tracy Stark – piano).

Amra-Faye Wright’s showgirl “Hard Hearted Hannah” (Milton Ager/Jack Yellin) sashays in all dips, hips, and attitude. Clearly a Broadway Baby (Mark Hummel – piano). “Someone to Watch Over Me” (George and Ira Gershwin) arrives suffused with longing but also too many gestures by way of Emma Pittman (Mark Hummel – piano). Shana Farr’s lilting “I Could’ve Danced All Night” (Alan J. Lerner/Frederick Loewe) is beautifully and decoratively rendered in parlando and song. Country club Latin arrangement, however, dilutes its effect.

“Fifty Percent,” a heady Marilyn and Alan Bergman song, is excavated by Marieann Meringolo who updates her version using the pronoun “she” for its love interest. It’s time (Doyle Newmeyer – piano). At the piano, Mark Nadler downshifts into a rueful interpretation of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” first recorded the day he was born. The song morphs from country to burlesque under Nadler’s authoritative hand (s).

Moipei

The trio Moipei – Mary, Maggie and Marta Moipei – are given The Julie Wilson Award endowed by Linda and Peter Hanson in part because they “repeatedly, easily, and assuredly confirm that cabaret can wondrously embrace virtually any type of melody and lyric-if performed with honesty, good taste, and great heart(s)” Alas, they’re not on stage to receive the plaque. The sisters then close tonight’s show and, in fact, this year’s convention, with an adroitly arranged “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” by Duke Ellington. Scat is superb, the number buoyant.

Artistic Director KT Sullivan

Another year of wide diversity anchored in communal love of the art. See you in October!

John Fricke’s contribution of the Foundation’s awards text is one of articulate excellence and commendable devotion.

Photos by Richard Termine

Opening: The new guard – Jillian Mustillo & Anais Reno

New York Cabaret Convention: Through the Years: Celebrating Timeless American Standards
Hosted by The Mabel Mercer Foundation Artistic Director KT Sullivan
MD/Piano – Jon Weber, Bass – Steve Doyle, Drums – Ray Marchica

Rose Theater at Frederick P. Rose Hall
October 26, 2022

The Mabel Mercer Foundation

About Alix Cohen (1400 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.