For a couple of years Stephen Hanks has been producing a series of New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits; October 7 featured his 14th installment. (Two more of this series will be presented this year at the Metropolitan Room, and eight more are slated for next year.) “Greatest Hits” are not typically for ardent fans – since they will have heard the songs and perhaps the show before – but these are not typical artists or shows. Often the revivals are some months or years gone and, as such, they bring the artist to the fore after a period of further reflection on the material. The result may be better than the original and, at the very least, one can expect the shows will be solid and professional.
Susan Winter had achieved some success as a cabaret performer in the 70’s but took an extended leave to raise a family. She returned to the stage in 2008 after a 30 year hiatus and was promptly gleaning nominations and awards, including the 2009 Bistro Award as outstanding vocalist for her show Love Rolls On (originally launched at the Met Room). And it is Love Rolls On that was reprised on October 7, complete with her original band of Rick Jensen on piano and Tom Hubbard on bass – all of them now more established, mature and mellow.
A review of Winter’s original Love Rolls On included a reference to her “cheerful mezzo.” Whatever the history, now her voice is more of a velvety alto – with a soothing viscosity. Her musicality, vocal placement, articulation and humor (and her joy in performing the show) are all very evident. Winter dispels any cold thoughts her name might conjure with an emotional hug for everyone in the room; yet it is not overly sentimental.
Rick Jensen and Tom Hubbard
Oftentimes a performer is so comfortable in his or her skin, on the stage with the material, that the audience can relax into the show like a comfortable chair. There is no frisson of risk, no sign of nerves. There is a trade off there. The electricity is less, but the ease is greater. Winter has that ease. Even when a key was flubbed, there was a humorous reference and a smooth segue into perfect harmony. And Winter is at an age when one might anticipate some diminution of vocal control; I heard no sign of that. Artists that perform regularly may keep that control for decades more (e.g., Anthony Benedetto); I can hope that Winter will do so. The original material remains fresh, and Winter kept it that way throughout the evening.
Jensen and Hubbard, well known regulars on the cabaret circuit, provided more than background. The accompaniment was musically rich, neither bashful nor overbearing, and a fully significant component of the show – adding as rich a sound as a piano, bass and voice can generate.
The show sprang from Winter’s reflections on the death of her mother and her consequential discovery of a cache of love letters between her parents – the mother she had known and the apparently loquacious father she had only known, to that point, as a man of few words. The show is expressly about relationships (but isn’t all decent literature?); particularly loving relationships, and how they mature in time. Winter’s narrative connected the pieces.
Winter opened with “Moondance” (Van Morrison) in a smooth and mellow arrangement which, upon her introduction by the Met Room, picked up a driving syncopation and a growing dynamic. She moved on to “You’ll See” (Carroll/Coates) in a similar style – after which I wanted a cigarette (if one could still be found.) Winter talked about her home in Florida (under threat from Hurricane Matthew), a small cabin in Pennsylvania and a modest apartment in Manhattan as an intro to “Anyplace I hang My Hat is Home” (Arlen/Mercer). Winter spoke of relationship advice given one of her sons, to “be lucky”, before performing the beautiful “It Amazes Me” (Leigh/Coleman). She next sang “An Older Man is Like an Elegant Wine” (Lee Wing), a very funny song she reported having previously sung at a JCC for the Gesund-ers (men over 60 and capable of enjoying the occasional “lunch”):
. . . And so that’s why the man
with whom I’d like to combine
will be an older man who’s like an elegant wine.
And when I meet him
I’ll enchant him
Hug him, kiss him
Then I’ll decant him
at which every man in the place, she reported, slicked back a cow lick and sat a little taller. Winter can still be a bit of a coquette.
Winter then related the story of having discovered her parents’ letters. Her mother, Lil, the third of nine children, ran off to marry her dad in New Orleans, a few weeks after he had been drafted. They had six weeks together before he shipped out – marking the start of the correspondence. She followed that with “I Can’t be New” (Werner/Paul), a smart and somewhat wistful song about what we can offer as we age, and what we can’t. Winter assured us the she, at least, had never been unfaithful; but, she explained, her memory isn’t what it was.
“I’ve Still Got My Health” (Cole Porter) was upbeat, smart and sassy. With reference once again to her parents’ post elopement correspondence, Winter sang “After Hours” (Parrish/Bruce/Feyne) about longing for an absent lover; and, for the father she only got to know through his letters after her mother’s death, “Isn’t It a Pity” (Gershwin/Gershwin), a poignant reminder of late-discovered opportunity.
Winter performed a more haimish number “I Love the Way You’re Breaking My Heart” (Drake/Alter) with Jeff Stoner, a member of Winter’s wide cabaret family (accompanying on the ukulele).
Winter and Jensen performed a lovely duet/medley of “Old Friend” (Cryer, Ford) and “In Passing Years” (Jensen) – which I would not have thought could be dovetailed, but was. The oddly paired voices were nicely and surprisingly warm toward each other. Additional songs, ending with” Our Love Rolls On” (Frishberg), nicely filled out the evening.
The audience was warm, responsive and enthusiastic. I have no basis to expect this show to be reprised again but you might well benefit by keeping an eye on the Metropolitan Room calendar for later performances by Winter and subsequent editions of the Greatest Hits series.