Thanks for The Memory: Celebrating 30 Years of Cabaret Conventions

The 30th New York Cabaret Convention-Fourth Night

Opening with a bang, veteran artist Sandy Stewart is presented with The Mabel Mercer Award by Foundation Artistic Director KT Sullivan. It’s a love fest. Stewart sings “It Had to Be You” (Isham Jones/Gus Kahn) and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” (Jerome Kern/Otto Harbach) in her own inimitable fashion, mining the essence of each song, speaking directly to us         (Bill Charlap – piano). 

Sandy Stewart

Highlights of the evening follow.

Making his Convention debut, Tim Connell offers a finely gauged “I Am What I Am” (Jerry Herman) with each verse incrementally building – no histrionics. The interpretation is more personal than its usual anthemic treatment. Vulnerability is affecting.

“That’s All” (Alan Brandt/Bob Haymes), vocalist Todd Murray tells us, was introduced by Nat King Cole in 1953, but didn’t become popular until Bobby Darin’s 1959 recording. “I’m going to do an arrangement somewhere between those two.” A mid-tempo swing version carries the crooner’s pearly tones and appealing, easy manner. Sigh. (Sean Harkness- guest guitar.)

Todd Murray

Gretchen Reinhagen’s “Maybe This Time” (John Kander/Fred Ebb) begins tremulous, whispered, then segues in and out of parlando. It’s completely believable. One woman, one vivid experience.

Style comes back to cabaret with Christian Holder’s tandem “The Continental” (Con Conrad/ Herb Magdison)/”Wrap Tap On Wood” (Cole Porter). A dancer who found us late in life, Holder also moves like a dream. The number bears shades of a lower key Bobby Short.

Wearing bespoke tails, Holder then welcomes Amra Faye Wright (in impeccable white tails) for a classy dancing/singing, counterpoint duet of “Me and My Shadow” accompanied by the quietest chords. Oh, to have more of this! (Consider a double act?)

Sean Harkness, Marcus Simeone, Lina Koutrakos

Sean Harkness’ completely original arrangement (and pristine guitar) accompanies Lina Koutrakos, Marcus Simeone, and himself in a jazz tinted “With A Little Help From My Friends” (John Lennon/Paul McCartney). Vocal blends appealingly. Also buoyed by original arrangements, Josephine Sanges’ gossamer “Not While I’m Around” (Stephen Sondheim) is, this Halloween night, cleverly followed by a hip rendition of “Ding Dong The Witch is Dead” (Harold Arlen/ EY Harburg). Terrific! Piano-John M.Cook

Josephine Sanges

Chicago-based duo Beckie Menzie and Tom Michael were nudged towards one another by Donald Smith at a Cabaret Convention twenty years ago. Their “Thanks For the Memory” eschews Bob Hope corn for a sincere, thoughtful rendition. “Shout it from the roof/Here’s living proof/there’s future in the past” might be said of cabaret per se.

“Still Dream” (from Rise of The Guardians) is not a typical cabaret standard, though it was actually recorded by Renee Fleming. It’s for those who have forgotten their dreams,” Shana Faar notes. The vocalist treats us not only to her intoxicating soprano, but also a convincing message (Alexandre Desplat/David Lindsay-Abaire).

Anais Reno; Susie Mosher

Anais Reno, this year’s winner of the Adela and Larry Elow High School Competition, is at 15, a preternaturally mature performer. “I’m Just a Lucky So and So,” replete with seriously polished, swing-born scat, emerges fully flowered. 15?! (Duke Ellington/Billy Eckstine and Quincy Jones). Comedienne Susie Mosher is sympathetically regaling us with the throes of romantic betrayal, when vocalist Susie Mosher suddenly breaks into a fulsome “Cry Me a River!”  Surprise palpably sweeps the audience. A unique talent.

KT Sullivan

On her birthday, having delighted us earlier with the wit of “Wait Till You’re 65,” host KT Sullivan sings “One Halloween” and “But Alive” with all the presence and force she personifies. Many relate. A scene-in-one (Lee Adams/Charles Strouse). Managing Director of The Foundation, Rick Meadows, then honors those lost to the community this year: John Oddo, Tex Arnold, and Baby Jane Dexter.

We close with Lumiri Tubo’s “Do You Know What I Mean?” (Carol Hall) – back-up singers, KT Sullivan, Tim Sullivan, Aaron Lee Battle. Tubo’s tensile, gospel performance is simply gorgeous. Hallelujah!

Aaron Lee Battle, KT Sullivan, Tim Sullivan, Jon Weber, Steve Doyle, Lumiri Tubo, Dave Silliman

Also featured tonight: Spencer Day; Avery Sommers; Eric Yves Garcia with an excellent, if overstuffed Nat King Cole medley; Margo Brown; young, Brat-pack-styled Mark William; “Just in Time” (Jule Styne/Betty Comden and Adolph Green) by way of showman Aaron Lee Battle; and Tim Sullivan’s “I’ve Been Everywhere” (Geoff Mack), a song necessarily sung at auctioneer speed that wastes his otherwise charming voice and delivery. Accompanied by his own guitar.

That’s all folks. Tune in next October for another celebration of the art we hold dear. Till then – get out there and go to clubs!

Photos by Richard Termine
Opening: Jon Weber, Amra Faye Wright, Christian Holder

Mabel Mercer Foundation presents
The 30th New York Cabaret Convention-Fourth Night
Thank You for The Memory: Celebrating 30 Years of Cabaret Conventions
Host Artistic Director KT Sullivan
Jon Weber- Piano/MD; Bass- Steve Doyle, Drums- Dave Silliman
Guest Pianists/MDs:
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater Frederick P. Rose Hall
Broadway at 60th Street
The Mabel Mercer Foundation

About Alix Cohen (1751 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.