Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Thirty-four years into musical marriage, Jeff Harnar and Alex Rybeck epitomize fertile affinity. Both artists continue to grow while playing off one another with the kind of secret language of long time couples. This is evident even in the revival of a 2000 Firebird Cafe show which emerges timeless. (The original CD is available.)
Sammy Cahn (1913-1933) né Samuel Cohen (no relation) put more words into the mouth of Frank Sinatra than any other lyricist. In addition to hit parade songs, he wrote films and musicals garnering 26 Academy Award nominations, four Oscars, and an Emmy. Listening to Cahn is like spending time with an old friend.
After a brief overture, Harnar begins with the iconic “All the Way” (music-James Van Heusen), his voice full, rich, unwavering. A 1950s arrangement of “Teach Me Tonight” (music-Gene De Paul), riding on finger snaps and bowed bass, gives the vocalist opportunity to duet with Rybeck using startling falsetto of which he’s apparently fond. Teach me- do-do-ten-do-do-do, he sings hopefully while sax loops around phrasing.
A tender “It’s Magic” (Jule Styne) – eyebrows rise on the second word – emerges with music box piano and skating flute. Harnar seems besotted. “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” (music & lyrics Nicolas Brodsky/Sammy Cahn) showcases mindful bass, ardent piano and the vocalist’s sincerity with ballads. Both were written for Doris Day films. Intermittent patter here is light, informative.
Other engaging serenades include “I Fall in Love Too Easily” (music & lyrics Jule Styne/ Sammy Cahn) and “I’ll Always Miss Her When I Think of Her”…and I’ll think of her all the time… (music-James Van Heusen.) The first, with a 3am-mellow-sax intro, finds Harnar reflective. …I fall in love (pause) too terribly hard…he reminds himself with a sigh, perched on what might be a bar stool. Every sentiment is convincing.
Three Sinatra hits written with James Van Heusen bounce in with infectious feel-good attitude. Snapped fingers, cool bass, and teasing flute like a backstroking Disney bird freshen “Come Fly With Me,” here, a tempting invitation. During “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,” Harnar practically emits bubbles. For “Tender Trap,” he’s a wide-eyed ingénue. Honestly. Adorable. On stage movement and gestures are minimal, easy, appropriate. The performer is at home up there, engaging his audience with warmth and skill.
A World War II medley with Rybeck and Egan joining Harnar’s vocals was, for me, a highlight. The three of them plus whomever should do a show comprised of these and other selections. Though “Saturday Night” …is the loneliest night of the week…(music-Jule Styne) is a bit smiley for its lyrics, the other three selections are pitch-perfect.
A plaintive “I’ll Walk Alone” (music-Jule Styne) would’ve captured the heart of every woman waiting for her fella to come home. “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen…Means That You’re Grand” (Sholem Secunda/Sammy Cahn & Saul Chaplin) with one of the best vocal arrangements I’ve heard of this, is irresistibly spirited. By “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” (music-Jule Styne), the artist has us in the palm of his hand. “Everybody sing!” he encourages, and we do.
Caveat: One might easily do without “Everybody Has a Right To Be Wrong,” a wordy monologue written for that singing fool, Julie Harris.” (music- James Van Heusen for Skyscraper, a show one critic called “Floor Scraper.”)
We close with a rendition of “Time After Time” (music-Jule Styne) –piano creating figure-eights, that embraces the room (another splendid vocal arrangement) and “My Kind of Town (Chicago Is)” (music-Jimmy Van Heusen) in jubilant razzamatazz mode.
This is a real taste of the wonderful Cahn – fastidiously arranged, written, directed, and performed by adroit musicians all of whom appear to be having as good a time as the audience. The urbane Jeff Harnar is in first rate voice.
Show Photos by Maryann Lopinto
Photo of Sammy Cahn- Wikipedia
Jeff Harnar sings Sammy Cahn All The Way
Barry Kleinbort- Director
Alex Rybeck- Music Director
Jered Egan-Bass & back-up vocals, Mark Phaneuf- Sax/Flute
Birdland is peppered with show biz illuminati tonight, performers and songwriters alike. There’s a buzz in the air. The occasion is a coming out party for Karen Mason’s first CD in 8 years. Rather than an evening of eleven o’clock numbers, the beautifully calibrated show, selections from It’s About Time plus a few earlier favorites, showcases an actress who knows how to inhabit intensity without volume.
Ira and George Gershwin’s “Love is Here to Stay” strolls in on Tedd Firth’s nuanced piano. This is when one hears just how good she is. Its sentiment is mature, authentic, the vocal pure. Ba-dump-da-da-da-da “Just in Time” hitches a ride, mid-tempo, but eeeazee. (Jule Styne/Betty Comden/Adolph Green from Bells Are Ringing.) Its title line rides very cool percussion. Mason slowly revolves slowly taking us all in. She doesn’t so much bounce as dance in place as if about to.
Referring to “4000 sent emails,” the artist quips that all those years she was trying to be a nice girl, when it’s the annoying one that fills the room. Comfortable on stage, she’s gracious and wry. A gauzy “Finding Wonderland” (Frank Wildhorn/Jack Murphy from Wonderland) is paired with Alan Menken/Tim Rice’s optimistic “A Whole New World” (from Aladdin). We see her imagine the latter with such focus its as if sheer will might manifest change. Watch the left hand, fingers splayed, rise and reach forward …with you…fading like the curl of a smoke ring.
Chita Rivera, Chicago’s original Velma Kelly, is in tonight’s audience. Mason declares that performing “All That Jazz” in front of one of the women who introduced the number (with Gwen Verdon) is the ballsiest things she’s ever done. “Chita did the singing/dancing version. I’m going to do the singing/personality moving version.” It’s superb. She takes her time, elongating, sizzling, vocal rising like a geyser, spreading before falling. Hips gyrate just a tad, mischievous, restrained. The left foot kicks back. (John Kander/Fred Ebb)
Brian Lasser’s utterly lovely “I Met a New Friend” and the tandem “Lorna”/”I Want to Be With You” (Charles Strouse/Lee Adams from Golden Boy) are deftly understated. The former, a well painted story-song, is tender. The latter, accompanied by dramatic piano, leaves Mason’s fierce vocal to cut to the bone.
Special Guest, songwriter/producer Paul Rolnick (Mason’s husband), also has a CD debuting. Accompanying himself on the soft rock “Strumming My First Guitar” (written with John Nanni) he in fact, utilizes his very first guitar. It has a Superman sticker on one side. As a performer, the artist is comfortable, like a favorite pair of old jeans. His voice (and songs) feel honest and familiar.
Rolnick also offers his CD’s title song, Emmy nominated “Shoot for the Moon” (written with Dennis Scott) in duet with Mason- describing and performed with palpable affection. My favorite of this segment is “Cold Enough to Cross” (written with Henry Cory): Though this river may be frozen/We should try at any cost/Cause now it might be cold enough to cross…a poetic, country-sounding ballad with the plainspeak wisdom of a good haiku and swaying melody.
Four iconic selections by Mason follow. Among these are Harold Arlen/George Gershwin’s “The Man That Got Away” and Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg’s “Over the Rainbow.” Mason tells us Judy Garland, who introduced both these songs, was a huge influence on her. Steal from the best, she tells us, then make it your own. She does.
Fully able to careen off the walls with the skill of an aerialist, Mason instead approaches the Gershwin song in thrall to pain, unlike Garland, unable to unleash till the very end. As to the Harburg, I can’t help but recall Julie Wilson’s admonition that no one should attempt it. “I’ve resisted this song for many years,” Mason tells us. Bearing witness, she delivers affecting hope against hope, perhaps speaking for us all, but also in her own distinct voice.
We close with “It’s About Time.” (Paul Rolnick/Shelly Markham.) Created bespoke for the marriage of gay friends, the song is universal, heartfelt, and gracefully crafted. I recommend its use on loving occasions. I found myself humming its melody on the way home.
Musicianship is impeccable. Direction admirably invisible.
Karen Mason: It’s About Time Guest: Paul Rolnick Directed by Barry Kleinbort Music Supervisor- Christopher Denny Tedd Firth-MD/Piano, Bob Renino-Bass, Rex Benincasa-Drums Birdland Jazz Club 315 West 44 Street
“If music be the food of love, play on…Enough! No more. ‘Tis not so sweet now as it was before…” begins Len Cariou, speaking above the appealing strains of Mark Janas’s piano accompaniment. (Twelfth Night) Beat. The actor turns from interior oration to his audience:
“Love I Hear,” makes you sigh a lot,/Also, love, I hear, makes you weak…he sings. (Stephen Sondheim- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum). This, in a nutshell is the clever concept for Broadway & The Bard, a succession of Shakespearean soliloquies and well chosen Broadway show songs furthering spoken sentiments.
Cariou, a Canadian, honed Shakespeare chops at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. He made his New York dramatic debut in 1969 as Henry V. Six months later, the actor’s New York musical theater debut followed with Applause (Lee Adams/ Charles Strouse.) The performer later originated memorable Broadway leads in A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Stephen Sondheim.) In fact, his most eminent years were spent moving back and forth between these two very different art forms.
A highpoint of this evening is simply listening to Cariou put each of the Bard’s contributions in context. He’s a natural and enthusiastic storyteller.
“Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’” Cariou exclaims as Henry V. What is it that we’re living for?/Applause, Applause./Nothing I know/brings on the glow/like sweet applause…he sings with a twinkle in his eye. Oddly, and this crops up in several numbers, every few lines sound as if they come from a rendition with different intention. Also, while a wink is apt, mugging is unnecessary. The lyric makes its point.
“How can you say to me I am a king?” he demands as Richard II. “If I Ruled the World ev’ry day would be the first day of spring/Every heart would have a new song to sing…(Leslie Bricusse/Cyril Ornadel- Pickwick). The song arrives low key and sincere. Unfortunately, and here again, there’s a pattern, engaging performance is marred by a denouement of volume wherein Cariou pushes his vocal to places it won’t comfortably go.
The “I will not love!” speech from Love’s Labour’s Lost is tenderly illuminated by “Her Face” (Michael Stewart/Bob Merrill- Carnival) while its coda, “Down With Love” (E.Y Harburg/Harold Arlen-Hooray For What?) is too fast, straining delivery. Petruchio’s pronouncements from The Taming of the Shrew are enhanced by “How To Handle a Woman” (Lerner & Loewe-Camelot), but playing both an old man and the questioner, looking up and down, takes away from nuanced reflection.
There are well acted speeches like the savored “All the world’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players…” (As You Like It) and those that appear all surface such as “…and what’s he then that says I play the villain” (Othello). “How Long Has This Been Going On?” (George & Ira Gershwin-Funny Face) is charming while one of the only poorly chosen numbers, a song from Stephen Sondheim’s TheFrogs, would even be difficult for someone with wider range/younger lungs. The production seesaws.
Lately, I’ve seen a great many veteran performers on stage. Those who are successful adjust to altered capabilities presenting shows that spotlight current top form. Mr. Cariou might consider this.
Mark Janas’s Musical Direction also needs to take Cariou’s limitations into account. His Arrangements and Accompaniment, are, otherwise splendid. That which plays beneath soliloquies feels just right. Song attitudes suit each context. Playing is deft.
Barry Kleinbort’s excellent contribution to the shape of this piece is almost visible. As Director, he sets his player in positions around the minimally set stage with obvious forethought. If only a more consistent performance could be achieved.
Josh Iocavelli’s Set Design is pitch perfect. We see backstage coils of rope, unused lights, a bust of the bard and a shelf with hats, crowns, the framed image of a thespian, a skull, a chest plate…Just enough.
Photos by Carol Rosegg Broadway and The Bard
Performed by Len Cariou
Conceived by Len Cariou, Barry Kleinbort, Mark Janus
Music Direction/Piano- Mark Janus
Directed by Barry Kleinbort
The Lion Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
Through March 6, 2016