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.

Ethel Merman

The Illusionists – Turn of the Century – Entertaining


From 1913-1929, New York’s Palace Theatre was arguably the Valhalla of Vaudeville. Among notable headliners Fanny Brice, Will Rogers, and Ethel Merman was world famous magician/escape artist, Harry Houdini. This holiday season, the Palace hosts a third iteration of the Illusionists, bringing magic in its many forms back to a grand old house where the atmosphere eminently suits.


Original Announcement

The show is artfully packaged. Angela Aaron’s attractive Costumes are those of successful nineteenth century entertainers. There’s no doubt mustaches look better below top hats or boaters and above frock coats. Women sparkle. (There are no equal time female magicians) Paul Smith’s evocative lighting and Evan Jolly’s buoyant, dramatic music add pizzazz. The band wears white tie. Sparklers add a celebratory aura. A large, framed video screen allows the audience to observe everything up close. (NICE Studios-Graphic & Video Design) Much of what one sees is familiar to magic aficionados (most of you are likely not)  but performed with flair. The show is fun.


Thommy Ten and Amelie Van Tass (The Clairvoyants)

Thommy Ten and Amelie Van Tass (The Clairvoyants), 2016 runners up on America’s Got Talent, begin theatrically, by asking the audience to rise, watch a deck of cards shuffled on the screen, and secretly select one. 98% of us chose one of two cards they identify. Later in the show, presenting an iconic formula, Ten goes into the audience borrowing various objects his blindfolded collaborator must identify. Not only does Van Tass intuit a lipstick but the Dior brand, not only that paper money is a five dollar bill, but its serial number and the birthday of its owner. In Act II, she gleans the number of scooped jelly beans.


Rick Thomas (The Immortal)

Rick Thomas (The Immortal), who declares himself “not bound by the laws of nature”, presents the chestnut illusion of open boxes in which objects and people disappear. With little personal spin, this is less effective than it might be. He’s more fun with the classic fluency of endless doves emerging from handkerchiefs (and thin air) and hosts Act II’s “The Parlor” with brio. This segment employs volunteers gathered at intermission who are called upon to participate in short bits. Hapless human guinea pigs are humorously handled. Say that five times fast.


Audience Volunteer and Jonathan Goodwin (The Daredevil)

Self avowed “Daredevil” Jonathan Goodwin is interested in pain tolerance and escapes, not tricks. He convinces a volunteer to lay on a bed of nails-not as tough as it looks. Then he replaces 1000 with a single nail on which he lays (as hard as it looks), asking her (with aid from an assistant) to break a cinder block on his chest with a sledgehammer. This is likely more of an accomplishment than getting out of a pair of regulation police handcuffs (with a pick) while hanging by your teeth from a burning rope above a bed of spikes. Theatricality reigns.


Audience Volunteer, Dana Daniels (The Charlatan), and Luigi

The funniest artist in the group is Dana Daniels (The Charlatan) and his (live) psychic parrot Luigi. Impeccable comic timing and artfully botched effects delight his child volunteer and audience alike. Expectations of the feathered collaborator are repeatedly dashed- save that he removes a card from the deck with his beak- but then, as Daniels keeps reminding us, “He’s a bird!” (What can one expect?!) In Act II, it’s not so much that The Charlatan cuts a volunteer’s initialed dollar bill out of an orange (if you’ve never seen this, it’s a wow), but all that leads up to the reveal. A stylish, entertaining performance at every turn.

Justo Thaus presents an unexpected take on his new found craft with a marionette called The Grand Carlini. On stage, we see him manipulate the doll, while the screen shows only a diminutive conjurer. Though its movement is not nuanced, the charming Carlini does, in fact perform magic.


Charlie Frye (The Eccentric); Rick Thomas (The Immortal)

Decorative Jinger Leigh (The Conjuress) commands a floating sphere and acts as an assistant. “One of the oldest tricks in the book is cutting an object in half, then putting it back together.” In 1921, British magician P. T. Selbit was the first to publicly saw a woman in half. Creative Director Mark Kalin (The Showman) executes the illusion with panache. Charlie Frye (The Eccentric) is a fine juggler but in no way the clown he’s dressed to represent.

Director Neil Dorward offers a menu of acts and effects selected for successive variation. Pace clips along with only one parentheses, juggling by Frye, clocking long. Transitions are smooth. Audience volunteers are well chosen= game, and given time to respond= well handled. The big stage is used with aesthetic skill.Patter is engaging, especially that referring to the framing period (Writer, Historical Magic Consultant- Mike Caveney)

My only caveat is the last effect. The Clairvoyants end the show with an oft used crowd pleasing premise they fail to set up. The couple lower and open a box suspended above the stage which holds a letter ostensibly written by Van Tass entr’acte. It describes half a dozen things that happened after it was written. Alas, the audience is unaware of the importance of the box until it comes down. Many have, in fact, not noticed it. We’re deprived of the usual curious anticipation.


The Company

Photos Courtesy of The Illusionists
Opening: Jinger Leigh and Mark Kalin

The Illusionists-Turn of the Century
Director/Creative Producer- Neil Dorward
Palace Theatre  47th at 7th Avenue
Through January 1, 2017

Songs & Stories With Harvey Granat: On Jule Styne


Jule Styne (Julius Kerwin Stein 1905-1994) was a British American songwriter who contributed to over 1500 published songs (“All of which we’re going to do for you today,” Harvey Granat quips) and 25 Broadway shows. He earned 10 Academy Award nominations, winning one. Styne was a 10 year-old prodigy, a favorite pianist at Chicago mob clubs, played in a band, and acted as vocal coach at Twentieth Century Fox. Sammy Cahn was his first writing partner.

Granat sings their first hit, 1944’s “I Walk Alone” in prime, lilting balladeer mode. “They ask me why” he says, and I tell them I’d rather/There are dreams I must gather…he croons, making the song intimate. Success kept coming for the duo. “Good songs historically rise out of bleak times,” Reed comments referring to The Depression and WWII.“Because people have to have a way to express hope…I have a feeling that in the next four years, we might get some nice songs.”

We hear “Time After Time” (from It Happened in Brooklyn) with mid-tempo, jazz colored piano and then sing along with 1945’s “Let It Snow,” written during a Los Angeles heat wave. An inordinate number of the large audience know every word.

Reed shares the story of Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff’s discovery: Just divorced, the young woman was in Los Angeles crying her eyes out, living in a trailer park with her son, trying unsuccessfully to break into radio. She had borrowed money to take a bus back East when her agent invited her to a party at Jule Styne’s suggesting “free food.” Resistant, she accompanied him. The host had seen her sing at a little club in New York and coaxed Doris to perform. A rendition of “Embraceable You” earned her an audition at Warner Brothers.

Unaware that Jack Warner had rejected the aspirant as being “sexless,” she was hired by Director Michael Curtiz to star in Romance on the High Seas with a score by Cahn and Styne. Doris Day became the biggest star in Hollywood. Granat offers her signature number from the film, “It’s Magic.” All I can say is that if he sang it to you, you’d follow him home.

Cahn and Styne were commissioned to write “Three Coins in the Fountain” as a title song for another film. The studio returned their composition demanding a bridge. “I was determined to write the worst bridge ever conceived,” Cahn told Granat many years later. He wrote: Which one will the fountain bless? /Which one will the fountain bless? The song won 1954’s Academy Award. Granat sings like a storyteller. Come to think of it, he kind of tells stories lyrically, like a vocalist.

From the show Hazel Flagg, written with Bob Hilliard, there’s “How Do You Speak to An Angel?”/I’m completely in the dark/When you know you’ve just met an angel/Is there a proper remark?…Lovely.  Out of Bells Are Ringing, written with Betty Comden and Adolph Green, we all sing “Just in Time” and “The Party’s Over.” “You’re lucky if you get one hit song in a show, he’d get four or five,” Reed remarks appreciatively. “Long Before I Knew You” arrives with yearning salved by love.


When Stephen Sondheim was brought onto the team developing Gypsy, he had just written the lyrics for West Side Story and made it clear that this time he wanted to author both music and lyrics. Ethel Merman, however, demanded the bankable Styne. Sondheim would’ve backed out had not his mentor Oscar Hammerstein II recommended he do the musical. “June Havoc (Baby June) always said, she was not my mother,” Reed asserts. “There was a lot of backstage tension and resentment. When Merman was on stage, she played a completely different show.” Both men agree it’s an extraordinary piece. Two numbers from the classic come next.

In the course of this afternoon’s entertainment, Reed himself performs two songs. “The trick is to choose ones nobody knows so they have nothing with which to compare.” His version of “Blame My Absent Minded Heart” (from It’s a Great Feeling) is gentle and cottony with the word “heart” palpably exhaled. “You Love Me” (from West Point Story) is sincere, if less memorable. The writer tells a great story, remembers endless facts and seems to have known everybody worth knowing. He recalls Styne as always cheerful and unusually ready to play at his own terrific dinner parties.

Though Do, Re, Me, (also with Comden & Green) had little staying power, it gave birth to the iconic “Make Someone Happy” which today emerges with music in which you want to walk barefoot. “Ain’t that true?” whispers Granat. We learn that the title role in Funny Girl (written with Bob Hilliard) was offered to and turned down by both Mary Martin and Carol Burnett, who felt Fannie Brice should be played by a Jewish woman. It was, of course by the young Barbra Streisand whose stardom was cemented. The room sings “People.” Granat is low key, but insistent, his hand balling into a fist on needing other children.

At the top of the event, in light of the election, Harvey Grant promised a stress-free hour plus. And so it was. We all left smiling.

Other notable Styne shows include: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Sugar (based on the film Some Like it Hot), and Hallelujah Baby!

Granat co-produced four-time Academy Award winning songwriter, Sammy Cahn, on Broadway in Words And Music, which had a successful run and toured throughout the US and abroad.

All Photos Courtesy of Harvey Granat

Songs & Stories With Harvey Granat: On Frank Loesser
Special Guest, Journalist/Author/Critic/Host/Actor/Vocalist/Raconteur- Rex Reed
David Lahm-Piano
92 Street Y 92nd Street at Lexington Avenue
NEXT: On Burt Bacharach with Special Guest Will Friedwald – December 8