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.

Fred R. Cohen

Queen Califia’s Magic Circle Garden


Escondido, California:  Queen Califia is generally conceded to be the creation of Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo in his novel Las Sergas de Esplandian penned around 1500.  In the novel, Califia – assumed to come from the Spanish “Califa” (Khalifa in Arabic or Caliph in English) – was the leader of a tribe of black Amazonians inhabiting the mythical Island of California. Califia raised an army of women and trained griffins and sailed off to assist in the defense of Constantinople.


Niki de Saint Phalle (sculptor, painter, film maker) was born in 1930 in Neuilly-sur-Seine. The family soon moved to the U.S. where de Saint Phalle later attended New York’s Brearley School – from which she was expelled, in one version of the tale, after indulging her penchant for bright colors by painting all of the fig leaves on the school’s statuary red.


She subsequently attended Maryland’s Oldfields School, graduating at 17 years of age. At 18 she became a fashion model appearing on the cover of, among others, Life Magazine and Vogue; and she married – for the first time.  She later lived in Majorca and became familiar with the work of Gaudi whose influ­ence on her later work is apparent. She was never formally trained as an artist. Reportedly inspired by the pregnancy of her friend Clarice Price, wife of Larry Rivers, she became fascinated with the position of women in society and heroic women archetypes. Later in her life she was directed, for health reasons, to the dry climate of Southern California.


Now the pieces fall together. About 22 years ago Niki de Saint Phalle was commissioned to create the Magic Garden at Escondido’s Kit Carson Park – taking her inspiration from California’s natural and cultural history.

The garden is roughly circular, about 120’ across. It is enclosed by massive undulating serpents and is entered through a simple, low-walled, black, white and mirrored “maze.” Parents (and many children) can easily see over the walls; no one can get lost in its few turns.  The sculptures, including the surrounding serpents, are covered with mosaics of glass and semi-precious stones in brilliant colors.  The Garden incorporates indigenous desert foliage in planters on the serpents’ backs and enclosures adjoined to the walls.


Unfor­tunately repeated vandalism challenged Escondido’s ability to maintain the installation.  A few years ago the park was largely restored but now its open hours and days are restricted – so if you intend to visit, check the current schedule.  For lack of funding, its permanence is in no way assured – so if you are in the region and have an interest, do not delay a visit.

When I first encountered the Garden, apparently looking stunned, I was approached by Marty Tiedeman. Tiedeman is a docent who has been involved in the regional art scene for many years. (Along with rich information on the Queen Califia installation, Tiedeman related a version of the red fig leaf story that was still more off-color.) While talking with Tiedeman over perhaps a half hour, families came and went – and adults and children alike were fascinated and delighted with the phantasmagoria and brilliant colors.


The central piece of the installation is ostensibly an “eagle” mounted atop by Queen Califia (together, about 20’ tall). At one time the eagle had a tail that extended to the ground and incorporated a stairway – to a platform overlooking the entire Garden. Its belly is tiled in a brilliant blue/purple flecked with stars and cultural symbols, and arches over a large, iridescent, golden egg which, when duly plumbed, was a fountain. Nonetheless, this “eagle” stands on five stout legs which, when juxtaposed with the original Califia story, has me convinced that this creature is a griffin – perhaps earlier named an eagle only in deference to the now-absent tail.


Other statues are in the forms of totem poles bedecked with spiders, snakes, birds, wings, beaks, and faces in various forms that seem universally to evoke laughter and delight.  It is difficult to suppress a smile at the inventiveness and playfulness of the pieces here, and at the joy they engender in the children who clamber on its pieces.

Photos by Fred R. Cohen. Go to his website.

Niki de Saunt Phalle’s Queen Califia’s Magical Circle
Located in the Iris Sankey Arboretum
Kit Carson Park
3333 Bear Valley Parkway
Escondido, CA 92025

Poveromo – a Young Dynamo Recalling the 50’s


Charlie Poveromo and the Barry Levitt Quartet (CP&BLQ) played the Metropolitan Room on August 10 to a packed house and a rousing response. Poveromo is a “discovery” of Bernie Furshpan who owns and manages the Met Room. The two of them filled the room with friends; still, the audience response was unforced and wildly enthusiastic.

IMG_8513 PoveromoThe CP&BLQ confounds expectations in a number of ways. First the mix of musicians is uncommon – even in New York. Barry Levitt, musical director and accompanist, has been in the business for over four decades and has worked with such notables as Eartha Kitt and Judy Collins; Jeff Carney, on bass, worked with Streisand; Jack Cavari, on guitar, worked with Frank Sinatra; Ronnie Zito, on percussion, with Bobby Darin. These are particularly strong sidemen to be gathered in a bunch – each with assurance, experi­ence and “chops”; each capable of drawing focus. Together they produce a spectacular sound – loud, driving, pulsating, often scintillating.  And the quartet, with all of their experience and pedigree, were of a mind and discipline to serve this singer – taking no extended solo flights but skillfully and subtly embellishing the accompaniment when and where suitable – producing frequently unacknowledged but real rewards.

IMG_8415 PoveromoAnd at the microphone stands Charlie Poveromo, a 20 year old from Staten Island, slight, slim, suitably Italianate, looking like a strong breeze would carry him off; yet confident, brassy, and big in every other way. Poveromo is as assured off stage as on and, during the sound check, introduced himself while I am snapping pictures. I don’t know if it is his heritage, or the streets of Brooklyn and Staten Island, or his family, or his talent or the constant reassurance of his community – but some­thing in his upbringing gave this “kid” an outlook we would all like to imbue in our children.

Vocally he projects an impression, but yet not an imitation, of the men on whom he models his style (Darin, Martin, Bennett, Sinatra – you get the idea). Yet in one-to-one conversation Poveromo is notably present, affable and unassuming. He has a voice and a talent; neither are yet fully matured or disciplined but the promise is evident. And with Levitt and Furshpan to guide him, he has significant prospects of major success – as the music and style of the era is refreshed and revived.

IMG_8425 PoveromoPoveromo is an avowed fan of Bobby Darin (who, if memory serves, he resembles): “Bobby Darin left behind a legacy which will not be forgotten – as long as I’m singing.” Poveromo opened with a Bobby Darin classic, “As Long as I’m Singing” – and had the audience clapping along within 8 bars. A performance of “Ace in the Hole” (Panico, Schoebel) ala Dean Martin (also a Bobby Darin number) followed with some of the original’s glissandos and melismas. Next “That’s All” (Tharpe, Rosetta), “Rags to Riches” (Adler, Ross), “Ain’t that a Kick in the Head” (Van Heusen, Cahn) – were performed as if for the Palladium – snapping, bopping, winking, and voiced for the rafters. There is a fragrance of Las Vegas about the CP&BLQ production, perhaps a conscious souvenir of the Rat Pack. And the patter aims for the smart-alec snap of the Rat Pack as well: “You can snap your fingers, clap your hands, kick the waiters. That’s okay as long as you do it in tempo.” Songs we rarely hear today but which filled the airwaves decades ago were reinvigorated, and brashly performed: “Goody, Goody” (Mercer, Malneck), “Splish Splash” (Darin, Murray), “That’s Life” (Duke, harburg), “Mack the Knife” (Brecht, Brecht, Weill, Blitzstein).

IMG_8475 PoveromoIf I had a problem with the show as a whole it was for a lack of emotional range, but Poveromo may grow into that. (At one point in the evening, Poveromo described having recently suffered his “first big heart break” – at which a number of my generation in the audience chuckled with sympathy but knowledge of what greater depths he has yet to plumb.) Levitt, with his broad experience, might well point the direction here. Even a performance of “Let Me Try Again” (Cahn, Anka), a tender and gentler song than most on the program, was sung with the same firm, powerful exposition, and with as little concern for nuance, as any other number. And Poveromo also has to learn to be still at appropriate times; that less is often more. Nonetheless one has to admire the current talent and significant potential. The encore number, “Lazy River” (Carmichael, Arodin), was begun a capella, and on key; the patter was constant and had an edge; the voice is powerful and solid, the pace was crisp and the energy was high.

Poveromo grew up in a community and family (many in attendance) with strong character which has reinforced in him a style that has served him well in that context. However it may be time for him to find his own if he will expand his audience. This young man is a natural entertainer – by personality and practice; now he has a little work to do discovering himself and finding his emotional footing in the music he so admires. This show may not be eveyone’s cup of tea, but Poveromo can hardly be said to be less than engaging and, in some way, energizing. It will be interesting to see how he grows as a performer. Poveromo is next appearing at the Metropolitan Room on September 14 and November 13; check the calendar for times.

Photos by Fred R. Cohen Photography. 

Donald Corren – A Consummate Pro Generating Smiles


Donald Corren performed at the Metropolitan Room on Thursday, August 4, accompanied and music directed by the four time-Emmy winning Glen Roven. Bottom line: go see him, go hear him, go laugh with him. Corren is appearing again at the Metropolitan Room on September 26 at 7 p.m.

An entertainer, actor, singer, pianist, Corren brings an engaging intensity to everything he does on stage – but it is an intensity that wears well, and easily. He is a Julliard-trained performer, and like a practiced dancer, his actions have meaning; they are crisp and unambiguous. His expressions are purposeful, and subversive. His eyes are open and accessible. He does not perform so much for you, but with you, connecting with his audience with an easy and wry patter. Corren is funny and energetic, sly and seductive.

B-IMG_8041 Corren Glen RovenThe musical material Corren presented is not a slice of the American Songbook; it incorporated less well known pieces with their own charm and novelty. This enabled him to make them his own rather than recalling more famous renditions.The show lacked any pretense or superficial glitz (which, in this political season is refreshing in itself); it was, instead, satisfyingly substantial and constantly entertaining.

Corren is an experienced “pro”, looking and sounding younger than his years (which are apparent only from his history), still with a powerful and resonant baritone, all the while making it look spontaneous and easy – like Bill Robinson doing soft shoe.

He opened by priming the tip jar on the piano (slightly arch), then sitting to play a gentle rag time rendition of “Happy Feet” (Yellen, Ager). He related how he had, in his youth, wanted to be the next Bobby Short. Only one thing stood in his way – noted in a very funny song about, despite having all other requisite skills and knowledge, he could only play piano In C.

C-IMG_7923 Corren - MyWalkingStickAt this point Glen Roven took over the piano and Corren was Free! Corren then sang a charming rendition of “My Walking Stick” (Berlin) suggesting but never carrying out the implied threat of actually dancing; and “Louisa” (Coward); and “Horizon” (from a Musical titled Steeplechase, wholly unknown to me but one of Corren’s favorites.)

Corren explained how he can now, with a straight face, call Irving Berlin his uncle – then did some wonderful and unique Berlin duet work – the core of which is sufficiently surprising that I will only reveal here that it is a bit of musical and memory legerdemain that cannot help but make you laugh.

D-IMG_8018 Corren with KuklaCorren talked about his early and contemporary career, now with a recurring role as Dr. Kurian on Z Nation on Syfy, but previously working on and off Broadway, regional theater, recording, writing, etc.  Most engagingly he spoke of his early role on one of America’s most beloved 50’s television shows, Kukla, Fran, and Ollie.  

Next Corren performed a song by Glen Roven from the second of his avowed favorite musicals: Small (the protagonist being a ten year-old boy with a uniquely clear-sighted understanding that the political figure at the center of the tale was all surface, a too familiar premise).  Additional numbers were interspersed; go hear them – it is well worth your time.

Corren was heretofore unknown to me but is clearly an actor’s actor, favored by musical insiders: his audience included Peter Mintun, renown café pianist; John Glines, winner of Tony and Drama Desk awards as producer of Torch Song Trilogy (in which Corren performed); Tony Sheldon, a theater mainstay down under (Sydney); Dennis Deal of Nite Club Confidential and others, each called out by Corren in his gracious “thanks.” I have to believe that one would have to work actively to resist the appeal of this show and this performer – although it may have an extra appeal to baby boomers.

Photos by Fred R. Cohen Photography.

Phenomenal Women – Ami Brabson at the Met Room


Ami Brabson brought a solid and occasionally glimmering soprano instrument, a broad smile and easy confidence to her celebration of phenomenal woman in her life to the Metropolitan Room on June 4, 2016. Brabson may be known to you on sight; by her name, less so. She is an accomplished dramatic theater and television actress, and her stage presence, poise, grace, memory and communi­cation skills testify to the utility of that training. All of those abilities were put to good effect during Brabson’s performance; the hands were in frequent motion, and most parts of the face.

Brabson came late to song having taken it up on a whim only about a dozen years ago to pursue classical training with Dita Delman, now director of the New Jersey State Repertory Opera. About three years ago, for a birthday treat for herself, she sought out local vocal instruction for cabaret-focused work and came upon her current teacher Corinna Sowers Adler, the director of this show. Brabson pursues music with joy, and fills the time between acting roles honing her new craft and researching, writing, and organizing performance material (as well as ministering to a family that includes three musical sons).

A serious momentPhenomenal Women celebrates very specific women inspirational to Brabson – not only performers but poets, politicians, pedants and parents. Bits of musical numbers were interspersed with snippets of relevant stories or poems – some read, some portrayed. This was not an evening to indulge in the American Songbook; this was a more cerebral undertaking and suggested an academic and political sensibility underlying the material not commonly called on in this setting (as contrasted with emotional intelligence – which one hopes always to find.)

The first “phenomenal woman” to be recognized was Brabson’s mother. Emerging from a Cleveland high school, Brabson attended a north eastern college, a fish out of water; she called home expecting a reassuring consent to her withdrawal – but mom staunchly refused to acquiesce before Brabson had given the school a chance. Brabson found that to be the hard and wise choice that has paid dividends all of her life. She sang Welcome the Rain (Goldrich & Heisler), written from the perspective of a child afraid of a storm who matures to understand that the tumult of the storm brings both good and bad, experience and wonder. (Keep an ear out generally for Goldrich and Heisler material; they have flown under the radar for too long and deserve broader play for their wry wit and unique sensibilities.) That was followed by Thank You (Boyz II Men).

Singing I'm a Woman

Singing “I’m a Woman”

Dita Delman (see above) next got the nod, a quote from Marianne Williamson (about our deepest fear being not inadequacy but power beyond measure, of meeting the standard that god set for each of us) and a musical piece intercutting Joe Reposo’s Sing (pop) with Stephano Donaudy’s Spirate (classical).

Phoebe Snow was recognized for the courage, joy, wonder and transcendence with which she left show business to dedicate her life to raising Valerie, a brain damaged daughter, until Valerie’s early demise at 31. For Snow, Brabson sang Love Makes a Woman (C. Davis, G. Sims, E. Record & W. Sanders), formerly sung by Snow.

Brabson recognized Barbara Lee, a California congress-person who, on September 14, 2001, cast the sole vote against a bill authorizing a military response to the attack on the World Trade Center (and related events), arguing instead for more time to assess and understand the event: “As we act, let us not become the evil we deplore…”.

In the process of honoring Lee, Brabson cracked up the audience contrasting her home town cheerleading exposure with that of her college experience – at the opening of a Cleveland Bluehawks basketball game: “you bad!  Jump up ‘n’ get it; you bad!  Jump up ‘n’ get it!”.   She sang I Am a Woman (Lieber & Stoller), taking on various persona (and props) with each verse, and again educed laughter, in the guise of a woman with sass but less obvious class, as she hiked her breasts.

Channeling Clarissa Davis

Channeling Clarissa Davis

She celebrated Ruby Dee (“Thanks to Ruby Dee for allowing me to dream a little bit bigger”); Clarissa Davis, a slave woman who recorded the experience of her treacherous escape, and Dorcas Johnson, a poetess.

The source material was varied – e.g., Alicia Keys, Boyz II Men, Lennon & McCartney, Ruby Dee, Dorcas Johnson, Clarissa Davis, Maya Angelou – but the connection between each piece and the woman being celebrated was made clear; Brabson’s sincerity was apparent. But a strong, well modulated voice, a self-aware sense of humor and good intentions do not make a typical evening of cabaret. Although musical, this was an intellectual rather than a sensual event, as much theater as song. Do not go to this show expecting to sit idle; to squeeze the juice from this show, you have to meet Brabson half way. It is however worth the journey.

The performance was ably supported by James Horan on piano, Christian Fabian on bass and eldest son Michael Braugher on the DJembe drum, all of whom contributed some vocal back up (and Braugher, some vocal beat box). The show was directed by Corinna Sowers Adler.  Dita Delman was in attendance, as were Corinna Sowers Adler, Brabson’s mother, husband Andre and sons Isaiah and John Wesley. The sense of family, and pride in family, were evident and charming. The show closed to hoots, whistles, cheers and a broad ovation. Yes, the audience included some friends and family, but the love was real and enthusiastic.

Photos by Fred R. Cohen. See his website.

Spring in Bloem


Franz Bloem is a Dutchman with curiosity and without pretense. He came to cabaret relatively late in his life. As a young man he drove in a rattletrap car from Holland to India and Nepal where he found an interest in Buddhism. Speaking English, French, Dutch, German and Yiddish enabled him to earn his living as a tour leader for travelers – first in New York and later in dozens of other countries. His travelers encouraged him to serenade them in venues where they stayed – often in fine hotels where he would be supported by an orchestra.  His singing brought him unanticipated joy and, as best I can tell, he has abandoned the tourism trade for the performing life. Bloem performs with some frequency in Holland and New York and has built something of a following in Southeast Asia; indeed he boasts among his home towns, ChiangMai, Thailand, as well as New York, New York.

IMG_4730 BloemBloem is a fan and proponent of Charles Aznavour, and sings in a style reminiscent of Aznavour and Brel – with an apparent tremolo and all emotions worn on his sleeve. I started a skeptic, given the overt sentimentality of some of the material – “You Never Walk Alone” (O. Hammerstein II and R. Rodgers), “Help is on the Way” (D. Friedman), “Non Rien de Rien” (C. Dumont, M. Vauclaire), “What’ll I Do” (I. Berlin)) – but half way through the show I was won over.  Despite a history spotted with life’s occasional setbacks, Bloem voices appreciation for all that he has lived through and for all the people he has encountered along the way.  Indeed, on this warm, Memorial Day eve, he invited the entire audience to return with him to his West Village apartment for cocktails in the garden following the show,  repeating his address to be sure all who wished to do so would attend. The cabaret community at least will understand that ‘he is who he is, and he makes no excuses.’  And for this occasionally jaded New Yorker, he was both exotic and charming.

IMG_4834 BloemIn addition to a sonorous voice and emotional sincerity, Bloem brought to the stage his persona of Maxime in an elegant black gown with a blood red, feather boa. Maxime sang “Falling in Love Again” (F. Hollander and S. Lerner) and “What Makes a Man a Man” (C. Aznavour). There was no uncomfortable excess about Maxime and, while there was some laughter upon her initial appearance, for the most part the laughter was with her rather than at her.

Bloem also displayed a sense of humor and, while eschewing political commentary, appropriately invoked our current state of confusion and disarray when singing “Galaxy” (E. Idle and J. Du Prez, but known, if at all, as originating with Monty Python).  For those less familiar with the lyric, it concludes with:

So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure
How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space
‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth.

IMG_4911 BloemBloem greeted most patrons before the show, chatted with those stage-side during the show and displayed a general concern that all patrons should be enjoying themselves. It was perhaps a bit too much fussing for some but sat comfortably on Bloem’s shoulders, wholly consistent with the tenor of the evening. The show was rewarding musically, emotionally and philosophically; I found it wholly engaging.

Photos by Fred R. Cohen. To see more of Fred’s photos, go to his website.

Franz Bloem
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
May 27, 2016

Melba Moore – I Got Love!


Melba Moore stepped back into my life on May 28. In her sixth performance at the Metropolitan Room, Tony Award winner and four-time Grammy nominee, Moore proved it’s her time again by seducing and wowing a packed house with a multigenerational audience.

As those of us who grew up with her remember, Moore burst onto the Broadway stage in 1967, a petite body with a huge voice in the original production of Hair (in which she first played a supporting role and then took the lead away from Diane Keaton) and Purlie (the original Lutiebelle). When she belted “I Got Love” from Purlie, the intensity of her youthful version was augmented by her gratitude about the love she’s had in her life.

IMG_4955 Moore+Old standards were delivered fresh (“Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “Misty,” and “Lean on Me”). After sustaining that looong note in “Lean on Me,” Moore shimmied as she laughed and said she still has the notes; that’s an understatement, she’s got the vocal range for all the notes and the moves that bring out her passion for her repertoire.

In between songs, Moore artfully revealed some of the joyful and difficult parts of her journey. After winning a Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical in 1970, Moore went on to shine as an R&B and rock artist and continued in musical theater (in 1995, she played Fantine in Les Misérables, the only African-American to have done so) as well as acting in film and television. For many years, she performed a one-woman show, I’m Still Standing.

IMG_4959 Moore+Moore presented her repertoire with her able band – pianist and music director, Levi Barcourt; upright bassist, Leon Dorsey; drummer, Rodney Harrison Jr; and back-up singers – Clayton Bryant, Andrea Renee, and Irene Blackmon. In one number, Moore provided a live vocal to the instrumental track of one of the songs on her new album, Forever Moore (produced by George Pettus). The slight awkwardness of seeing her band idle during “It’s My Time Again” was dispelled as she conveyed a determination and joy about performing at this time in her life. Moore has great examples to follow; for one, her stepfather, jazz pianist Clement Leroy Moorman, is 100 years old and although they sometimes perform together, this time he was booked elsewhere.

IMG_5119 Moore2+Still beautiful and fit at 70 (look at her midriff!), Moore has an intense connection with the material that made every song sound new.  It was no surprise that Moore got a well-deserved standing ovation.  Go see her when you get a chance.

Anne Larocca is a professional writer based in California, a long time music enthusiast and occasional vocalist.

Photos by Fred R. Cohen. To see more of Fred’s photos, go to his website. 

Melba Moore
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street

10th Annual Dance Parade


The 10th Annual Dance Parade (and the ensuing Dance Fest) convened Saturday, May 21 at 21st Street and Broadway, wended its way south to 8th Street and took a left to Tompkins Square Park.

IMG_0569 Dance Parade 2016There, multiple stages were raised to host the more than 150 dance and cultural groups, dance classes were offered and dancing was actively encouraged. The mission of the Dance Parade is to “inspire dance through the celebration of diversity.”

IMG_0491 Dance Parade 2016A lengthy lead time to the parade includes community engagement programs in schools, recreation facilities and senior centers throughout New York City.

IMG_0530 Dance Parade 2016It was delightfully apparent that the participants reflected the ethnic, cultural and demographic diversity targeted by the Dance Parade organization.

IMG_0502 Dance Parade 2016Despite a cool overcast and (at least initially, a light sprinkle), spectators lined the parade route. Many seemed to have been caught unawares and captivated by the color and exoticism of the scene. The lack of expectations is a license to simply smile, without judgment, and for many, to dance along.

IMG_0695 Dance Parade 2016Alphabet City and St. Marks Place provide a suitably diverse backdrop to such an event and made up part of the visual richness of the event. The Dance Parade is an open call to “get your freak on.”

IMG_0450 Dance Parade 2016Unlike most parades, there were no bands, no majorettes; most often music blared from the rear of each vehicle leading a dance group or organization. Many performing groups were attired in colorful folkloric or thematic costumes.

IMG_0452 Dance Parade 2016-EditAs for other relatively eccentric parades in New York City, there seemed an inclusive ethos that encouraged a degree of abandon and play and, often, an effort to surprise.

IMG_0579 Dance Parade 2016Despite a phalanx of supporting and participating arts councils and political offices, the Dance Parade still retains a bit of small town feel to it – but it won’t forever. Try to catch this event in the next few years to get the best from it before it morphs into one of those commercialized, plasticized cultural obligations that include more work and stress than fun.  For the moment it is simply fun.

Photos by Fred R. Cohen. For more information, go to his website.

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