The last night of 2020’s VIRTUAL Cabaret Convention comes to us from Gianni Valente’s Birdland where performers played to an ostensibly empty room in fact filled by fans from all over the country. There were no duets except from the married Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano and a distanced KT Sullivan with Steve Ross.
After amiable dressing room conversation between Birdland’s Booker/ Producer Jim Caruso (who offered the club) and Mabel Mercer Foundation’s Artistic Director KT Sullivan, Sullivan welcomed us with “Tonight you’ll hear nine of what we at the Mabel Mercer Foundation think of as Cabaret Classics.”
First up was Karen Mason lightly bearing the load of 13 MACS and A Mabel Mercer Award. Attired in all pink, sporting white sneakers with BIG bows, Mason offered a very subdued rendition of “Just in Time” (Jule Styne/ Betty Comden and Adolph Green) Moves were minimal, but deft. (Christopher Denny, piano; Steve Doyle, bass) Mason streams from home Thursday nights.
Billy Stritch followed with a medley of “That Old Feeling” (Sammy Fain/ Lew Brown) and “I Thought About You.” (Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Mercer). Here’s a man that works with some of the best vocalists on a stage often crowded with musicians, but get him alone at a piano and the real American Songbook fan shines. And swings like he breaths. (Steve Doyle, bass) Stritch also performs from home Thursday nights.
“Hello cabaret lovers. Oh boy, have we missed you!” Karen Akers began. “During the time away, I’ve been something of a hermit” lead us to Stephen Sondheim’s “Live Alone and Like It.” Playful and adroitly phrased, slip-sliding between musical changes, Akers the actress emerges. A tremulous, poignant “Whistling Away the Dark” (Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer) captivated. Superb arrangements. (Alex Rybeck, piano; Steve Doyle, bass)
Recipient of The Donald F. Smith Award, Jeff Harnar offers the song he and Alex Rybeck performed at 1989’s very first Cabaret Convention. “I’m so grateful we’ve had this time together,” he says. “This Time” (Charles Aznavour) materializes like a scene-in-one. The vocalist plumbs every variation of swelling emotions without ever going over the top. You could tie his last note in a bow. (Alex Rybeck, piano; Steve Doyle, bass)
Recipient of both The Mabel Mercer and Donald Smith Awards, ever refined Christine Andreas perched on a stool to perform interwoven renditions of of “What a Wonderful World” (Bob Thiele/George David Weiss)/”If I Ruled the World” (Leslie Bricusse/Cyril Ornadel) that landed not only honest, but true – a miracle during these times. Andreas has gorgeous control. “God Bless, be well.” (Marty Silvestri, piano)
Having just completed their 26th at-home video (Hashtag 72andsong), Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano gave us two city songs. “New York, as we know,” Comstock quipped, “is a riddle wrapped in a conundrum, wrapped in a knish.” The haunting “I Cannot Hear the City” (Marvin Hamlisch/Craig Carnelia) is dueted from the piano bench, enviably complicitous. Bridged by lines from a Walt Whitman poem, “Broadway” (Teddy McRae/Bill Bird/ Henri Wood) swings in with sophistication, bounce, and counterpoint.
“This is a cabaret classic originally recorded by the brilliant Shirley Bassey,” Natalie Douglas tells us introducing two songs from Lionel Bart’s show, Oliver. “He Lives in a World” and “As Long As He Needs Me” arrive with palpable longing. (Brian Nash, piano)
“When Steve Ross sings, New York is New York again,” (Michael Feingold) “years ago, he was dubbed the Crown Prince of New York Cabaret, today it’s not just New York,” KT Sullivan adds introducing Steve Ross. “Once in a Lifetime” (Leslie Bricusse) and “Shine On Your Shoes” (Arthur Schwartz/ Howard Dietz) are both jaunty and elegant in the maestro’s hands.
Presented the Donald F. Smith Award endowed by Adela and Larry Elow, Ross thanks the Foundation, amplifying with “I’m particularly grateful to those two wonderful supporters.” He and KT Sullivan then duet Noel Coward’s bittersweet “I’ll See You Again,”a song for our times. Ross plays us out with a Coward medley. It feels as if each piano key is directly tied to our heartstrings. ‘Just beautiful.
Tech, by the way, was first class.
See you next year, hopefully in person!
Opening photo courtesy of The Mabel Mercer Foundation
Director/Producer- Ryan Paternite
Producer- Alaina Gonzalez-White
Sound- Taylor Ryan
Lighting- Rob Polanco
Production Manager – Natasha Nemergut