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.
After 21 shows in 12 days (whew!) to benefit a worthy outreach program, Urban Stages traditionally ends its annual Winter Rhythms Festival with a show called From All of Us to All of You: Seasonal Songs and Disney Too. One might think holiday songs would be presented with Disney numbers centered on love, brotherhood and friendship. Instead, subject matter is unnecessarily all over the map. Piano, unless noted, Daryl Kojak.
Stephen Hanks opens the evening with its Jiminy Cricket title song and a bit of lighthearted, ersatz dance. (Piano Mathew Martin Ward.) Later, he presents a spirited “Have Nagilia.” In a more original vein, Karen Gross delivers Tom Toce’s wry, crossover “Shalom Santa” as the daughter of “a lapsed Catholic and a cultural Jew.” Gross imbues the lyric with vexation and irony, but vocally pushes a bit too hard.
Stephen Hanks, Sandra Bargman, Billie Roe
Stephen Sondheim’s beautiful “I Remember” (Evening Primrose) is ably rendered by Sandra Bargman who wraps herself in melancholic longing, palpably excavating each vision. The vocalist seems to have slipped the word Christmas into her lyric. Billie Roe performs a version of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” with impeccably wicked characterization. Attributable to the witch in Little Mermaid, the song couldn’t be further from anything seasonal. (Piano Mathew Martin Ward.)
Sarah Rice introduces a lovely, lilting medley from Bedknobs and Boomsticks and Snow White quoting songwriter Robert Sherman’s* modus operandi: “to help children be good, productive people and to have hope,” establishing something of a reason for inclusion. Rice’s familiar timbre and skilled soprano do the songs justice. (Piano and effectively echoing backup vocal Matthew Martin Ward.)
Sarah Rice, Joshua Lance Dixon, Gabrielle Stravelli
Charlotte Patton imbues “He’s A Tramp” (Lady and The Tramp) with easy swing and low key flirt. Carly Ozard’s “Perfect Isn’t Easy” (Oliver and Company) displays a big warm voice and contralto bark. Gabrielle Stravelli’s “If I Were a Bell”/ “Jingle Bells” mash-up is a musical stretch, but adroitly rendered by the excellent performer.
Also featuring: Renn Woods’ laudably controlled gospel/R & B (deft piano Michael Raye), Joshua Lance Dixon’s sympathetic “Proud of Your Boy” (Aladdin), Jeff Macauley who still needs to take it down, enthusiastic, Hechter Ubarry, over expressive tenor Blake Zolfo, Marieann Meringolo’s reverent “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, Daryl Kojak’s jazz instrumental of “Silent Night”, Rosemary Loar straddling American Songbook and Jazz, Rob Davis with a classic medley that should’ve ended the evening.
Mary Sue Daniel’s’ “I’m Flying,” from television’s 1960 Peter Pan rather than the Disney version (!?) destroys every bit of soaring exuberance with an inexplicable interpretation oblivious to lyrics or context.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
*Most classic Disney songs were written by brothers Robert Sherman and Richard Sherman
2017 Urban Stages Winter Rhythms Festival presents From All of Us to All of You: Seasonal Songs and Disney Too Producer/Host- Stephen Hanks Musical Director- Daryl Kojak December 23, 2017 Urban Stages 259 West 30th Street
The Mabel Mercer Foundation’s annual summer concert celebrated composer Howard Dietz (1896-1983) and lyricist Arthur Schwartz (1900-1984), while including an unrelated roster of other writers. Relative newcomers and established artists presented jazz, cabaret, and musical theater interpretations out of what we call The American Songbook, which, despite suggestions to the contrary, continues to endure and evolve.
Arthur Schwartz was pressured into law by his family and admitted to the bar in 1924. By 1928, having moonlighted for years, he’d closed his office in favor of songwriting. Howard Dietz moved from advertising to MGM’s Vice President in Charge of Publicity, originating their iconic, roaring lion as well as the slogan “More Stars than there are in Heaven.” The composer wrote continuously throughout his alternate career. Collaboration began with The Little Show, a revue starring Libby Holman, Clifton Webb, and Fred Allen. The rest is history.
Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz (Wikipedia)
In her best, wide-eyed, faux innocent persona, the Foundation’s Artistic Director, KT Sullivan, opened with “Confession” from The Band Wagon.
Frank Dain’s version of “Penny” was utterly enchanting. (Songwriter/musical director/musician/board member and lifetime card-carrying, cabaret supporter Larry Elow.) Dain shimmered with ardor. The unfussy ballad goes straight to the heart with timeless appeal. Kathleen Landis – lovely arrangement, graceful piano.
“Make the Man Love Me” (Arthur Schwartz/Dorothy Fields) emerged genuinely sweet as rendered by Lauren Stanford. During an instrumental, the vocalist seemed to continue internal dialogue holding us captive. Piano-Jon Weber.
Frank Dain; Lauren Stanford
The Inimitable Sidney Meyer, who has the most articulate shoulders in the business, sang “Rainy Night in Rio” (Arthur Schwartz/Leo Robin) with iconoclastic, deadpan phrasing, impish facial expression, and the rousing help of the band’s “Ai Yi Yi!” chorus. A photographic finish. Piano-Jon Weber.
Danny Bacher and Alexis Cole, usually solo performers, symbiotically joined for three numbers with Cole at the piano and Bacher on soprano sax as well as duet vocals. “I’ll Buy You a Star” (Arthur Schwartz/Dorothy Fields) swung in with the ease of a languid hammock. “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan” was insouciant rather than wistful. “You and The Night and The Music” showcased the artists’ extraordinary ability with scat. Someone find these people a supper club!
Alexis Cole; Danny Bacher
In his first appearance with The Mabel Mercer Foundation, Darius de Haas displayed well honed acting skill with the theatrical prose/poem “Trotsky in Mexico” (Renee Rosnes/David Hajdu). An original “Shine On Your Shoes” arrived like a slow-motion Fred Astaire turn, every word savored as if preaching gospel. Todd Firth-splendid, textural piano and arrangements.
John Wallowich’s “I Live Alone Again” was performed with rare restraint by Mark Nadler as stipulated by its author – first verse a lament, second in gleeful relief. The artist sold both with credibility. “By Myself,” adroitly including Jack Buchanan’s original spoken word, was a crie de coeur rather than familiar resignation. And, oh, the piano!
Mark Nadler; Marta Sanders
To my mind, this evening’s highlight was veteran Marta Sanders whose inhabiting lyrics, flexible timbre, and arch humor created a show unto itself. The gypsy “Come A-Wandering With Me”(Mark Nadler-emphatic piano), cue atmospheric stage smoke, was followed with equal fervor by John Wallowich’s amusing “Warsaw,” (John McMahon-piano), an impeccably timed in-one, deftly utilizing a babushka.
Sullivan then closed with “Lovely,” for which she played matchmaker to a forgotten composition by Howard Dietz and Bart Howard’s lyrics, and, perhaps the best known Dietz and Schwartz song, “Dancing in The Dark” materializing a chanteusey, soprano waltz. Jon Weber-piano.
Also featuring: exuberant Seth Sikes; Celia Berk’s poignant “Something to Remember You By” rife with implicit “please”; an underwhelming Margi Gianquinto; the polished Sue Matsuki with a clever, if seemingly out of place number on which she collaborated; a bright, sweetheart rendition of “Rhode Island is Famous for You” from Karen Oberlin; Laurie Krauz and Daryl Kojak’s extremely original interpretation of “Alone Together” with massaged vocal, wordless singing, and Valkyrie delivery; the sincere Gary Crawford; and Mauricio Bustamante’s rendition of John Wallowich’s “Bruce.”
Musicianship was uniformly superb.
Performance Photos by Seth Cashman
Opening: Jon Weber; KT Sullivan
Songs by other than Dietz and Schwartz are noted.
Recommended Reading: Dancing in The Dark by Howard Dietz (published in 1974)
That’s Entertainment: Dietz & Schwartz and Friends Music Director: Jon Weber Saadi Zain-bass, Sean Harkness-guitar, David Silliman-drums. Weill Hall June 20, 2017 The Mabel Mercer Foundation
The 9th show in Stephen Hanks estimable New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits series celebrates Laurie Krauz and Daryl Kojak’s 25 years of musical collaboration. “We’ve been working together since the world wide web went public,” she quips. It’s also a where-have-I-been-all-these-years revelation. Formidably talented, the duo, (with Sean Conly on bass and Gene Lewin, drums), represent a fortuitous coming together the universe doesn’t often facilitate.
Laurie Krauz channels her music from somewhere to which most of us will never have access. It courses through her body like electricity, shaped by palpable, tingling control; like a mesmerizing snake dance. By her side, Daryl Kojak taps into that same frequency, antennae up, responding.
A unique rendition of “Never Neverland” (Betty Comden/ Adolph Green/Jule Styne) emerges as gentle jazz with no loss of sentimental intention. In my experience, jazz interpretations of ballads mostly sacrifice meaning. Here, the duo manages to maintain this with grace. Piano sweeps of stardust, a bowed bass and circling brushes float a vocal which, deferring to the song’s purity, delivers barely an extra syllable.
Oscar Hammerstein II/Richard Rodgers’s iconic “Some Enchanted Evening” can here also be classified as jazz, yet emotionally communicates without getting sidetracked. Kojak’s piano keys sound like wind chimes. A drum is patted. It’s a black and white 40s film with curtains blown against an open French door. Dark, serious, evocative. Open-throated (open-hearted) singing is paired with tiptoeing accompaniment. The number exists like a snuffed candle, leaving whirls of smoke.
Even the chestnut “I Will Wait For You” (Norman Gimbel/English Lyric Michel Legrand) is given iconoclastic treatment. An exuberantly windy arrangement with sensuous, rhythmic drums feels like sirocco. Krauz sails up to oooing contralto and down to alto. I find myself dovening (rocking back and forth.)
The tandem “A House is Not a Home” (Burt Bachrach/Hal David) and “Since You Stayed Here” (Peter Larson/Josh Rubins), begins thoughtfully. Piano caresses. Krauz reaches deeply. I can feel her chest constrict, then fill with a sigh as she seems to recall. The second song, from the musical Brownstone, is an apt continuance…You’d never recognize the room/The pictures all have different frames now/All the chairs are rearranged now…it’s enacted without a flicker of artificiality. Bass acts as ballast.
“Send Me a Man,” (also YouTube Alberta Hunter’s 1935 recording) is saucy, playful Krauz in full Mae West mode. Symbiosis is never more apparent. Kojak plays a superb piano solo to which Krauz, hanging over the keyboard, reacts as if they’re having sex. “Oh yeah!.. that’s nice…YES!” No kidding. Not a word or moan is extraneous. This is a helluva thing to watch/hear. The vocalist moves as if compelled. Kojak breaks into burlesque honky-tonk, precise, but insinuating. FUN!
Several predominantly scat tunes show off Krauz’s skill and individuality with this kind of musicality. The best is Kokak’s own composition. “Ducksoup” which sounds a bit like a cool, Pink Panther theme. Krauz peppers and punctuates, progressing to an uncanny, mute-horn-like wah-wah. Closing her eyes, she bends, gestures, and squeezes out the vocal. We see a smoky back room, tilted fedoras, finessed hip movement. “Everybody sing!” And curiously we do-come in on a scat line, higgledy-piggeldy but grinning. Start/stops are like winks.
A warm, funny woman, Krauz tells us about her “first gig,” being paid a quarter by her father not to sing (she endlessly extemporized songs on family car trips) and shares her personal take on a Monica Lewinsky sighting back in the day that would have made a fine Saturday Night Live skit. My single caveat of this performance is that patter, though mostly entertaining, goes on too long.
“When you work closely with someone for 25 years, you become really good friends…” introduces a muscular version of “Here’s To Life” (Phyllis Molinary/Artie Butler) which is viscerally textured by experience and sincerity. The packed room erupts.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
The Metropolitan Room May 14, 2016 Venue Calendar Next in the monthly series, New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits Barbara Porteus- June 13, 7 p.m.