The Sunny Side of the Street: Celebrating Dorothy Fields and Great Women Songwriters
It’s baaaaack. The indomitable Mabel Mercer Foundation once again gathers acolytes from near and far to support and enjoy a wide variety of cabaret performances. Old friends catch up, acquaintances are established out of like-minded enthusiasms. Artistic Director KT Sullivan welcomes us; Host Deborah Grace Winer takes the podium.
On the Centennial of Women’s Right to Vote, Winer points out that the accomplishments of tonight’s honorees opened doors for generations to come. We begin with Dorothy Fields “the mothership of women songwriters,” whose most successful show Sweet Charity (with Cy Coleman) emerged late in life. Linda Purl’s clarion jazz version of “I Feel a Song Coming On” (Jimmy McHugh/Dorothy Fields) plays fast and loose with melody.
Darius de Haas begins with iconoclastic interpretations of the first song he learned off a recording as a child – “Sunny Side of The Street” – here, slow, and eazeee, followed by a savored “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” Vocal control is accomplished. (Both Jimmy McHugh/Dorothy Fields.) A later rendition of “Some Other Time” quietly resonates. (Leonard Bernstein/ Betty Comden and Adolph Green.)
“Fields successor, Carolyn Leigh, was Fields dragged through analysis,” Winer quips. Leigh’s first commission produced the successful “Young at Heart” (Johnny Richards/Carolyn Leigh), her debut musical was Peter Pan. (Mark “Moose” Charlap/Jule Styne/Carolyn Leigh.) La Tanya Hall’s “The Best is Yet to Come” (Cy Coleman/ Carolyn Leigh) is juicy and artful, while a molasses rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” curiously exhibits not an ounce of joy.
Tom Wopat casually sings “Look Around” accompanying himself on guitar. (Cy Coleman/ Betty Comden and Adolph Green.) “Comden was a role model to young women writers as Dorothy had been hers,” Winer notes. The lyricists worked together every day for almost sixty years.
Karrin Allyson follows the jazz tradition of pianist/singer/songwriters. “Bye Bye Country Boy” is jaded rumination. (Blossom Dearie.) Allyson slip/slides with tangy clarity. Jay Leonhart’s padded bass adds cool. Winer posits that “Carole King is kind of the bridge between pop and American Songbook.” Margo Seibert’s musically attractive “A Natural Woman” seems unaware of feisty lyric content.
As performed by Nicolas King, a slick 60s version of “Make Someone Happy” (Jule Stein/Betty Comden and Adolph Green) would be at home in Las Vegas. In contrast, his second act ballad is not just tender but personal. Stacy Sullivan performs a savory, swingin’ “I Love Being Here With You” from the splendid Peggy Lee show admired by the singer/songwriter’s family. She’s got the lady’s attitude down. “That’s Peggy Lee at her Peggiest” Winer observes.
This year’s winner of the Donald F. Smith Award (endowed by Adela and Larry Elow) is Christine Andreas. Completely taken by surprise, the performer is nonetheless her articulate, gracious self in accepting. “All the artists on this stage love to make sound. Unlike theater, where you have a character, you’re naked when you do this kind of thing. This is a very personal conversation. I’m grateful to those who allow us to take the stage and have these conversations.”
Andreas sings from inside a lyric. Her vibrato seems to physically touch. One of this evening’s highlights, Michel Legrand/ Marilyn and Alan Bergman’s “The Summer Knows,” wafts. Accompaniment is painterly, vocal beguiling. “Like Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Marilyn writes as one with her husband,” Winer comments. She was also the first woman president of ASCAP.
Jay Leonhart provides another highlight stepping from behind the piano with Ray Marchica. One bass, one drum, one voice. Their presentation of “You Couldn’t Be Cuter” couldn’t be sweller. Hip is something that can’t be taught. It’s as if Marchica were playing for Fred Astaire. Even Leonhart’s scat is smart n’snappy. (Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields.)
The very clever “Westport” (Philip Springer/Carolyn Leigh-think John Updike in song) is performed by a wry James Naughton. Debby Boone phrases “Where Do You Start?” like sighing. The song radiates. (Johnny Mandel/Marilyn and Alan Bergman)
Andreas closes the show with “Flying.” Her first crush was Peter Pan. Despite morphing to a pop/latin feel I find lyrically incompatible, the lady soars.
The Cabaret Convention is to me a showcase opportunity for talent. Giving so few performers a chance for exposure is unfortunate.
Photos by Richard Termine
Mabel Mercer Foundation presents
The 30th New York Cabaret Convention-Opening Night
The Sunny Side of the Street: Celebrating Dorothy Fields & Great Women Songwriters
Written and Hosted by Deborah Grace Winer
Music Director/Piano Mark Hummel
Bass-Jay Leonhart, Drums Ray Marchica
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater Frederick P. Rose Hall
Broadway at 60th Street
The Mabel Mercer Foundation