…Forget your troubles/Come on get happy/You better chase all you cares away… Harold Arlen’s American standard (lyrics – Ted Koehler) introduces an entertaining look at the composer’s oeuvre between 1930 and 1939, from that first hit song through his beloved (and favorite) movie musical, The Wizard of Oz. (lyrics – EY Harburg.)
Discouraged from being a cantor by his parents, Hyman Arluck (1905-1986) was, by 15, forming one band after another. Prominent among these was The Buffalodians on whom intrepid archivists of this show managed to find 1926 film. As we watch the enthusiastic youngsters, onstage, Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks play an infectious “Buffalo Rhythm.” (Arluck with Ivan Beaty, Marvin Smolev.)
The celebrated composer changed his name to Arlen while an accompanist in vaudeville. He had aspired to be a vocalist. (Later, we hear a bit of recorded croon.) From Arlen’s first show, You Said It (lyrics – Jack Yellen), Host Klea Blackhurst sassily sings “Sweet and Hot”: I don’t like highbrows/Who arch their eyebrows… Andy Stein’s terrific violin adds distinctive texture (throughout the evening).
Later, our host performs “Satan’s L’il Lamb” (lyrics – EY Harburg and Johnny Mercer) which was bumped from three films, but successfully recorded. Vocal is expansive without going too far, phrasing right on the money, arrangement sheer striptease. A professional in both theater and cabaret, Blackhurst draws in her audience rather than looking over our heads.
Unexpected success with “Get Happy” propelled Arlen into composing – at first – for revues at The Cotton Club. Catherine Russell delivers an as-if-we-were-there, cheeky, horn-centric rendition of “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.” “Ill Wind” arrives hot and sultry, low key, but insidious, getting under one’s skin, rather than toppling barrels. Russell holds one hand up as if trying to hold off the inevitable. She never stresses vocals. Even the often histrionic “Stormy Weather,” introduced by Ethel Waters, is presented as if rife anticipation, low key and soulful. The song apparently took 30 minutes to write. (All lyrics -Ted Koehler.)
Stephen DeRosa and Klea Blackhurst
Stephen DeRosa, emphatically in the period, offers a jaunty, light-footed “Happy As the Day is Long,” (lyrics – Ted Koehler), a lyrically novel “I Love to Sing-A” (lyrics – EY Harburg), and a cute duet (with ably animated Blackhurst) of “Calabash Pipe.” (lyrics – Lew Brown.) A wonderfully expressive performer, DeRosa wiggles, bounces, dances and gestures in shades of Jolson and Cantor. His vocals, several with decidedly New York accents, are good. The artist is thoroughly engaging. And he looks at us.
Stephen DeRosa and Erin Dilly
“I’ve Got the World on a String” and “Let’s Fall in Love” (lyrics – Ted Koehler) are among those numbers presented by Erin Dilly with solid acting instincts and a pretty voice that tends to get stressed changing octaves. Nathaniel Stampley’s songs include “Down With Love” (lyrics – EY Harburg) which emerges without innate buoyancy, from – wait for it – Hooray For What! with Ed Wynn as a man who invents a gas that ends war, and the effective “Last Night When We Were Young” (lyrics – EY Harburg) during which Stampley looks sympathetically dazed and abandoned.
Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks are given ample showcase for their terrific mostly 1920s arrangements. During the playful, gyrating “Tickeration” (lyrics – Ted Koehler), we even briefly hear the band leader’s own inimitable scat.
A sing-along of “It’s Only a Paper Moon” (lyrics – Billy Rose and EY Harburg) ends the evening on an up note. The well produced tribute is an auspicious beginning to this year’s eminent Lyrics and Lyricists Series.
Klea Blackhurst and Co Artistic Director and author Robert Kimball deliver illuminating, economic narrative about the celebrant. Both do a swell job. The evening is well written. Gary Griffin’s Stage Direction has charm without seeming showy. Pacing is surefooted.
As always, film and stills add dimension.
Photos by Richard Termine
Opening: Nathaniel Stampley, Klea Blackhurst, Erin Dilly, Stephen DeRosa
92Y Lyrics & Lyricists presents
Get Happy: Harold Arlen’s Early Years
Robert Kimball: Co-Artistic Director
Vince Giordano: Co-Artistic Director, Co-Music Director, Arrangements
Klea Blackhurst: Co-Artistic Director, Vocals, Host
Gary Griffin: Stage Director
Peter Yarin: Co-Music Director, Piano
Featuring Vince Giordano And the Nighthawks
92nd Street at Lexington Avenue
January 22, 2017
NEXT: Let’s Misbehave- The Sensational Songs of Cole Porter
February 11, 12 13, 2017
In October 1989, Donald Smith’s four year-old Mabel Mercer Foundation held its first annual New York Cabaret Convention. The New York Times headline read: Cabaret Convention Ponders a Disturbing Future. “Is there a place for cabaret in today’s age of mass entertainment? That is the question being pondered this week on the stage of Town Hall…” Stephen Holden. According to Holden’s 1991 coverage of the event, its debut “…attracted an audience of 6,000, and in its wake, Smith said, he received 900 letters about the problems facing the cabaret industry.”
Let us breathe a deep communal sigh and persevere with a modicum of rosey tint on our glasses. Print media, except for the venerable Cabaret Scenes, may refuse to acknowledge us except for an occasional blurb, but the art form continues to exist and evolve.
Small rooms and piano bars pop up replacing storied nightclubs as venues in which performers showcase talent. 54Below has become (Michael) Feinstein’s/54Below, extending programming and attracting fresh audiences. The 92 St. Y’s robust Lyrics and Lyricists series goes on with the organization’s roster adding Harvey Granat’s delightful midday salutes to iconic composers and lyricists. Fairly new on the scene, Pangea delivers striking alternative cabaret. Gianni Valenti (of Birdland) promises an additional locale in 2017. PBS has taken to the front line presenting cabaret on television. The Mabel Mercer Foundation is in its 31st year.
The 27th Annual New York Cabaret Convention runs from Tuesday, October 18 through Friday, October 21 at Jazz At Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater. Artists this year range from 12 year-old Zoe Gellman and 15 year-old Joie Bianco (who KT Sullivan heard this year at Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook Academy Competition – she didn’t win…this time) to the eternally youthful Marilyn Maye. Sullivan is encouraged by all the young aspiring vocalists she’s met and has faith in the art form. “As long as people gather in small places, sometimes with a drink, they’ll want to sit and listen to musical stories- unlike rock and pop and rap.”
Artistic Director KT Sullivan
Tuesday October 18: Opening Night Gala – Hosted by KT Sullivan
Featuring, in part, Christina Bianco, Allan Harris, Carole J. Buffard, Eric Yves Garcia
“Opening night is always different because I like to spotlight more new talent and more kinds of music and sounds. There are several artists who have never performed at a Convention. We’ll hear American Songbook, Weimar, Jazz, likely Noel Coward, contemporary writers, and Broadway. We’re even hoping to have a trio song from Hamilton. I try to see every performer live, though I chose one this season on the basis of a terrific video, and then advise on material presented in our show.”
Wednesday October 19: Saluting Stephen Sondheim- Hosted by Andrea Marcovicci and Jeff Harnar
Featuring, in part, Karen Akers, Sidney Meyer, Steve Ross, Jennifer Sheehan, Celia Berk
“Since its inception the Cabaret Convention has been a chance for performers to shine, and what better way to feature their talents than with the wit and wisdom of Stephen Sondheim! The repertoire is vast and sparkling with humor and tenderness, more than enough familiar songs to please our audience, yet many lesser known songs have found their way into the evening to keep them on their toes. I particularly look forward to my duets with Jeff Harnar which have been the highlight of my hosting duties, so once again we’ll be “Side By Side.”
“Three years ago I was a performer who felt too intimidated by the Sondheim catalogue to even consider his songs for my performance repertoire. KT Sullivan changed all that when she invited me to do a two-hander Sondheim show with her. As a performer who has always felt most at home in the musical skin of Cole Porter, now in my mid-fifties, I find performing Sondheim’s lyrics gifts me with a similar musical intelligence and wit as Porter’s, but with an unmistakably 21st Century sensibility. For our fifth time out as co-hosts, Andrea Marcovicci and I will present a Sondheim songbook. No hesitation on my part saying yes to that.
Thursday October 20: Saluting Sylvia Syms – Hosted by Rex Reed
Featuring, in part, Joyce Breach, Ann Hampton Callaway, Nicolas King, Billy Stritch
Frank Sinatra, her friend and mentor for five decades, called Sylvia Syms “the world’s greatest saloon singer.” The vocalist was perhaps best known for intimacy, unabashed honesty, and the ability to sing a variety of styles while maintaining her signature voice. “When you perform it’s a one-to-one love affair with the people out there. That’s how it has to be.” Sylvia Syms
“Sylvia Syms was beloved by everyone with sensitivity, taste and even the most basic knowledge of the art of the Great American Songbook, so a tribute to her warmth, savvy, sophisticated understanding of a lyric, and the beauty of her deep, throaty voice is long overdue. In addition to her exalted place in the history of song, she was a close personal friend who taught and informed me, enriched my life, and made me laugh, so I convinced myself I was the right person to lead the parade in celebrating her life and extraordinary career. I hope what we have some up with will best represent the supreme legacy of the artistry of Sylvia Syms.”
Friday October 21: Saluting Sheldon Harnick, Charles Strouse – Hosted by Klea Blackhurst
Featuring, in part, Corrina Sowers Adler, Liam Forde, Shana Farr, Todd Murray, Scott Coulter
Sheldon Harnick, author of such as Fiorello and She Loves Me, is having a banner year of national and local recognition with multiple musical revivals in New York. He received the 2016 Drama League Award for Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theater, as well as the 2016 Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theater. Composer Charles Strouse gave us such musicals as Golden Boy, the eternal Annie, Bye Bye Birdie, and Rags. “I never said to myself, How will I ever top this? …I mean, I like things to be a success, but the main thing is to keep working.” Charles Strouse
“As a little girl of four or five, I’d romp around the house belting out up-tempos from Fiddler On the Roof and Applause, Annie and The Apple Tree, among many others from our household collection. Flash forward to the preparations for the final night of the Mabel Mercer Foundation’s 27th New York Cabaret Convention. The focus is on Sheldon Harnick and Charles Strouse, titans from my ongoing record collection. The joy Sheldon’s words have brought into my life cannot be measured or fully understood. To be hosting the event is a thrill and a huge honor.”
Details and Tickets: Mabel Mercer Foundation Events
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This year, the Convention will be preceded by several special events: Will Friedwald presents Cabaret Clips – rarely seen video and film of iconic performers – where does he find these?! at The Laurie Beechman Theater on October 15, 2016
On October 16th, also at the Laurie Beechman, one can be present at the live DVD recording of a show (at last!) by beloved performer (and booker) Sidney Myer “a lovable madcap singer/comedian with an audacious performing style who can touch your heart at the same time.” Steve Ross. People are already clamoring for tickets as the exquisitely wry Meyer performs so rarely these days.
On Sunday October 23rd following the convention, Urban Stages will reprise a special concert encore of the critically acclaimed Mabel Madness about the life of the Foundation’s legendary namesake written and performed by Tony Award Winner Trazana Beverly.
Coming Up: November 2016 KT Sullivan and Natalie Douglas accompanied by pianist Jon Weber will judge a Mabel Mercer Foundation Cabaret Competition in Durango, Colorado for aspiring young singers.
April 2017 The Cabaret Convention returns to Chicago for its fourth gala run in that city after a hiatus. Watch for details on the Foundation web site.
Opening: Jeff Harnar & Andrea Marcovicci – Photo by Stephen Sorokoff
KT Sullivan and Rick Meadows at Town Hall – Photo by Stephen Sorokoff
KT Sullivan – Photo by Maryann Lopinto
Jeff Harnar & Andrea Marcovicci – Photo by Stephen Sorokoff
Rex Reed – Photo courtesy of Mr. Reed
Klea Blackhurst- Photo by Bill Westmoreland