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.
Adela and Larry Elow, long banner-carrying supporters of American Songbook in the put-your-money-where-your-heart-is vein *, have generously endowed The Mabel Mercer Foundation with a $50,000 fund created specifically to encourage teenagers to learn and perform The Great American Songbook over the next decade. The Foundation calls these young people “Mabel’s Babies”- in reference to namesake, the iconic (childless) Mabel Mercer.
As defined by Larry, this means “material composed between the years 1900-1970 – songs that formed the essence of America’s three great interrelated musical gifts to the world: Jazz, Popular Song, and the Modern Musical Theater.” When the couple were respectively coming of age, Adela recalls, “…These songs expressed the ethos, character and values of what came to be known as The Greatest Generation: the romance, grace, sensitivity, idealism and all those other life attitudes that we took for granted.”
Larry tells me he had to be convinced of the enterprise by his more optimistic soul mate. Imagine what it must be like for those who have lived through (and loved ) eras when the milkman and debutantes were familiar with the same songs, when fans bought sheet music, families gathered around radios, couples went dancing, nightclubs and movie musicals proliferated.
Adela and Larry Elow
Put yourselves in the shoes of a man who became a songwriter and musician in order to immerse himself and contribute to the genre as he watched venues close, popularity/ awareness diminish… Imagine the frustration of talking to young people – especially performers – unfamiliar with Berlin, Gershwin, Porter, Kern…who might never have heard the Songbook were it not for Paul McCartney or Rod Stewart. Fortunately, Larry Elow has the determined Adela to sway his counter intuitive reserve. One couldn’t imagine a more symbiotic team.
The first part of the Elow’s heat-seeking “Teenager Endowment Fund,” titled Songs Were Made to Sing While We’re Young, were tapped on February 3, 2018 at the supportive Laurie Beechman Theatre. Adolescents chosen from Fiorello H. LaGuardia School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, Talent Unlimited High School, and the Professional Performing Arts School (with a program run by Rosie’s Kids), will compete before an audience for a first, second and third prize of $2500, $1500, and $1000 meant to further study. Origin schools are not identified in order to maintain lack of prejudice.
The winner will also be given the opportunity to perform October 2018 during the foundation’s annual New York Cabaret Convention.
David Finkle, La Tanya Hall, Jim Morgan, Jeff Harnar, Deborah Grace Winer
I asked each of the judges (beforehand) to describe the qualities of a good cabaret performer. Here’s what they’re respectively hoping to find.
Village Voice/Huffington Post commentator David Finkle: A good cabaret performer should have: 1. A personality 2. Respect for lyrics 3. A reason for singing the songs he/she has chosen 4. Impressing the audience with your voice is not as important as entertaining them
Cabaret Entertainer/ Director- Jeff Harnar: The last thing a good cabaret artist needs to have is a good singing voice. Everything else is essential: a point of view, specificity, intimacy, humor, wisdom, creativity, vulnerability, the gift of storytelling in song and a compelling enough personality to hold an audience for an hour. If you have all that and a good singing voice, that’s cabaret heaven for me.
Cabaret/Jazz Vocalist La Tanya Hall: The most impactful singers are ones who sing to EXPRESS, not IMPRESS. In all music, we must be storytellers and not be so concerned with sound production. Take me on an honest journey, and you have a fan for life.
Producing Director of The York Theater Jim Morgan: My idea of a good cabaret performer is someone whose confident knowledge of the song being performed is evident from their presentation, who is able to connect with an audience through a unique point of view. Ideally, a cabaret artist takes the song in a new direction while honoring the original intent of its creator(s).
Author/Historian/Artistic Director Deborah Grace Winer: What I look for in any cabaret performer is someone who can communicate to an audience a personal point of view on a song, telling a story filtered through his or her own perspective and life experience–with musicality, talent, taste and craft. And always, allowing the song itself to be paramount.
KT Sullivan, Artistic Director of The Mabel Mercer Foundation and Vocalist sums it up with: It’s all about telling stories.
On the 118th anniversary of Mabel Mercer’s passing, the competition featured 16 teenagers ranging from 15 to a venerable 19. Each was given a single opportunity with which to show the judges what he/she had to offer. A wide variety of songs from musical theater and traditional songbook were offered.
“It’s through the performances of young people that these songs will live for the next hundred years.” Adela Elow. Hope springs eternal.
*Adela and Larry Elow additionally founded and helm, to date, 26 years of concerts at the Caramoor estate in Katonah, New York and annually underwrite the Donald F. Smith Award presented at The New York Cabaret Convention.
First Prize Winner Christina Jimenez chooses to share Kander & Ebb’s “Sing Happy” (Flora the Red Menace). The vocalist starts low key which gives her time to slowly build emotion. Surety and skill keep lyrics surging without going over the top. Like immutable waves in a smooth surf, she holds balance=focus and brightness, even as keys shift. Chills run up my spine.
The very personable Jimenez tells me she discovered American Songbook at PPAS (Professional Performing Arts School) on a musical theater trajectory at 15.“I knew it was there, I just never sang it myself.” She particularly enjoys telling stories. Cabaret, the young woman wisely observes, allows one to personalize a song instead of bending to its context. Cristina is enthusiastic about this new fount of material. “There were songs I heard today that I want to take a look at.” I found her particularly well grounded, a quality that will serve. Her check will go towards college.
Second Prize Winner Hannah-Jane Peterson delivers a fully (self) staged version of “The Joint Is Really Jumpin’ at Carnegie Hall” (Blaine/Martin/Edens) sung by Judy Garland in Thousands Cheer. Beginning atop the piano, ostensibly bored with accompanist Jon Weber, Peterson is clearly a multifaceted talent. Movement during the boogie woogie chorus is fluid and appealing. Vocal not only sounds swell, but is infused with period attributes; brief scat is a bullseye.
Peterson, also from PPS, tells me she and her now single mother relocated from West Virginia two years ago to facilitate pursuing Hannah’s aspirations. Against all odds, she secured an agent who sends her out for voice-over work, but knows that at 17, she might have to wait on “legitimate” theater. (She’s made other appearances.) The young woman grew up with musicals and standards. She’s always been a Golden Age fan “it’s so relatable…” A junior looking at Pace, Marymount, and Circle in The Square, her determination, impatience and zeal make me think of the character Molly Brown (as in unsinkable). Part of Hannah’s check will go to new dance shoes, the rest towards college.
Naomi Autumn Steele
Third Prize Winner Naomi Autumn Steele (Talented Unlimited High School) applies her fetching voice to “Gorgeous” (Bock & Harnick- The Apple Tree). Without knowledge of the song’s context – Ella’s pleasure and surprise at having been transformed by her fairy godmother, this unique interpretation portrays a woman’s expressing an “obnoxious” (Steele) opinion of herself. The vocalist is a little stiff onstage.
Steele is an opera student who took a flier with this competition. Both knowledge and ambitions lie in that sector. “I chose this song because it had kind of the same color and range that I have…I like to sing lyrics that make me feel good. It’s a confidence booster to sing I’m gorgeous.” The young woman says she concentrates so much on her classical music, she forgets there are other genres she can explore. A window was opened here. (Eileen Farrell interpreted standards after a career in opera. Songbook stylists Sylvia McNair and Tammy McCann were also operatically trained.) A senior who aspires to Ithaca College, her check is going into a bank account.
James Steinman Gordon; Isiah Feil-Sharp
In my opinion the best male performers are 15 year-old James Steinman-Gordon and Isiah Feil-Sharp. Gordon offered Lerner & Lowe’s “On the Street Where You Live” (My Fair Lady) with besotted expression appropriate to young Freddy Eynsford-Hill. His ballad is melodious, emphasis well placed, swell admirably restrained. Unfortunately, the young man never looks at his audience. Feil-Sharp has us from the moment he insouciantly leans against the wall. “Luck Be A Lady” (Frank Loesser- Guys and Dolls) arrives with spit, polish, and theatricality. The vocalist is street cool/credible. He connects as if coolly challenging dispute. Gestures are spot-on.
Annie Ross and Angelina Hairston
Of the women, Annie Ross and Angelina Hairston are striking. Ross renders Rodgers & Hart’s “Falling in Love with Love” (The Boys From Syracuse), immediately assuming character, immediately connecting with the audience. Gestures are meaningful for being minimal. Phrasing makes theatrical sense. Ross stresses a bit on high notes, but that’s just practice…and octave choice. Hairston’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” (Waller/Razaf) emerges like slow hip rotation. “What do I care?” issues plaintive. With “I’m home about eight” she charmingly taps her watch. Octaves slip slide with skill and comprehension of the period. Open your eyes please.
Juliette Papadopoulos’ “If I Loved You” (Rodgers & Hammerstein – Carousel) showcases a lovely, legit voice and fine control. The song is perhaps beyond real life experience, however, which diminishes impact. Kerlin Pyun’s cute “I Can Cook” (Comden & Green/ Bernstein – On the Town) evidences great feeling for and ability with swing. The performer needs to moooove however, to sell the otherwise infectious song. She doesn’t have enough fun. Neither of these contestants look at the audience.
In general, the biggest issues after musicality are relating to people out front and choosing material that’s viscerally understood/and or appropriate to experience.
Somewhat of an exception to the last caveat is Joie Bianco, the youngest winner of Mabel Mercer Foundation’s Julie Wilson Award (at 16) and still a student at Talent Unlimited High School. The artist is preternaturally mature on stage managing not just graciousness/warmth and all important connection, but a knack for believably finding herself in songs for which one might otherwise require more maturity.
Bianco is aware of what she’s singing, not just how. She has a captivating voice and fine control. From the apt “I’m Just Too Young to Sing the Blues” (Charles Nater Jones/ /Chuck Meyer) – the last “blues” is, I think, sung in ten syllables, to Styne/Merrill’s iconic “People,” Bianco sets an example to other young performers. (Jon Weber-piano)
KT Sullivan, Artistic Director of The Mabel Mercer Foundation, offers diverse thanks, in particular to the teachers behind the aspiring artists: Heidi Best, Carl Johnson, Jeff Statile, and Bret Kristofferson. Her pristine a cappella verse of “While We’re Young” (Wilder/Engvick) follows…Songs are meant to sing while we’re young… Adela and Larry quietly sing along.
The program’s benefactors are pleased and, I think, moved. Adela Elow comments she’s glad she’s not a judge and advises the young people to learn, study, perform, and follow their dreams. Larry Elow says he’s sorry he gave Adela such a hard time and now has hope.
The crowd is buoyant. Tune in next year. Meanwhile support American Songbook.
Pianist Jason Andrews accompanied students from Frank Sinatra School of the Arts. Pianist John Pristiani accompanied students from Fiorello H. LaGuardia School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. Jon Weber accompanied students from Professional Performing Arts School
Photos by Maryann Lopinto Opening: Naomi Steele, Hannah Peterson, Cristina Jiminez, KT Sullivan, Adela Elow, Larry Elow
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
And so they gather once again like migrated birds instinctively drawn to the annual Cabaret Convention, the smorgasbord of an art still beloved. From all over the country, hotels are booked, other shows ticketed. Some out of town attendees meet only once a year on this occasion, while local denizens take the opportunity to greet favorite artists and compare opinions. The 27th edition of the celebratory event boasts a 15 year-old newcomer as well as performers from London and Australia. Buzz is palpable.
KT Sullivan by Maryann Lopinto
Artistic Director of the Mabel Mercer Foundation/Host, KT Sullivan, opens the show with a high, light version of Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top.” Tonight, she might be singing about the audience or the extraordinary fascinator perched on her chignon. (Piano-Jon Weber, Bass- Steve Doyle, Drums- Rob Garcia)
Next we’re treated to Robert Creighton who must run to the theater where he’s starring in his own co-written musical Cagney. “No matter what your political leanings, sometimes it’s hard to see how great this country is.” Creighton performs George M. Cohan’s “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” unfathomably without dancing. Renditions are easy, slightly nasal, with apt Cagney inflection. (MD/piano- Matt Perri)
Highlights of the evening follow.
Josephine Bianco; Kelly McDonald by Maryann Lopinto
A finalist at both the Metrostar and Michael Feinstein’s Great American Songbook Academy competitions, 15 year-old Josephine Bianco offers Jule Styne/Bob Merrill’s “People” displaying all the right instincts. The performer takes her time, looks into audience faces, and imbues the number with both personal expression and subtle modulations. Someone to watch.
Burgeoning artist, Kelly McDonald, introduces one of the evening’s few contemporary numbers, “Latte Boy” (Marcy Heisler/ Zina Goldrich). Her vocal is lovely, character embodiment innocent and credible. Kudos to the appealing McDonald for taking a risk. (Piano on both-Jon Weber)
Stacy Sullivan; Natalie Douglas by Stephen Sorokoff
From new CD Stranger in a Dream, we hear Stacy Sullivan’s deft, airbrushed “I’m Beginning to See the Light” (Duke Ellington/Don George/Johnny Hodges/ Harry James) and a well rendered swing selection in which the vocalist shifts octaves like an aerialist (MD/piano-Jon Weber).
The surprising opening of Act II is a buoyant “Helpless” (Lin-Manuel Miranda from Hamilton) featuring Karen Oberlin, KT Sullivan, Natalie Douglas as Eliza and Jon Weber- rapping! (MD/piano-Jon Weber). Douglas is then palpably surprised by winning the Donald F. Smith Award endowed by Adela and Larry Elow. Her interpretation of Jerome Kern/ Oscar Hammerstein II’s “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” is beautifully understated. (MD/piano- Mark Hartman)
Vivian Reed and Dancers by Stephen Sorokoff
Broadway’s Vivian Reed unleashes “Sweet Georgia Brown” (Ben Bernie/Maceo Pinkard/Kenneth Casey) as a full production number replete with choreographed backup dancers and bebop scat followed by a gospel “Believe” (admirably without overshooting the mark), which visibly courses through her. (MD/Piano-William Foster McDaniel)
Kristoffer Lowe’s jaunty, tandem “A Quarter to Nine” (Harry Warren/Al Dubin) and “If You Feel Like Singing, Sing” segues from stylish to infectiously happy. Lowe is old school classy. Making his Convention debut, the immensely elegant, decidedly decadent Kim David Smith captivates in English and pristine German with renditions of “Illusions” and “Eine Kleine…” (Piano-Tracy Stark)
Kristoffer Lowe; Kim David Smith by Maryann Lopinto
Irving Berlin’s “It Only Happens When I Dance With You” is married to Amanda McBroom’s poignant “Dance” by Susan Winter who takes us with her on every emotional journey. Shimmering arrangement by MD/pianist Alex Rybeck. The reliably show-stopping Carole J. Bufford erupts into “St. James Infirmary” with powerful vocal from chest to throat, growl to howl, sinuous moves, and a command of the stage we rarely see. (Matt Baker-piano, Tom Hubbard-bass, Rob Garcia-drums, Charlie Coranics- superior Trumpet)
Maureen McGovern is appreciatively presented this year’s Mabel Mercer Award. The artist then sings two immensely original takes on numbers from The Wizard of Oz (Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg): a charming preface of “Optimistic Voices” (You’re out of the woods…) leads to an a capella and acoustic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” which one can only call indelible. Showcasing her range, McGovern then delivers an ardent, “Blues in the Night” (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer) with an entirely different voice. Wow. (MD/Piano-Jeff Harris)
Maureen McGovern by Stephen Sorokoff
Also featuring: Two Randy Newman songs from Karen Oberlin-one appealingly shadowy, the other, a dissonantly paired political ditty (Piano-Jon Weber); T. Oliver Reid’s bubbly “I’m Throwin’ a Ball Tonight” by Cole Porter (MD/Piano-Larry Yurman); A warm Fran Landesman/Alec Wilder number from Barbara Fasano who makes us empathize with every sentiment (Piano-Eric Comstock); Stephan Bednarczyk’s angry take on Noel Coward’s “Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage Mrs. Worthington” which defangs implicit wit…
Jacob Storms, whose voice is like an articulated hum, chooses two iconic songs on which he unfortunately leaves no personal stamp. (Piano-Jon Weber) Eric Yves Garcia’s rendition of Cole Porter’s “I’m A Gigolo” emerges vocally forced instead of insouciant, though the artist is capable of the latter. It should be noted, to my knowledge, this is the first time superb performer Leslie Hutchenson,“Hutch,” has been mentioned on the Convention stage. If you don’t know his work, I highly recommend research.
Barbara Fasano; Matt Baker by Stephen Sorokoff
Elvis Costello’s “Almost Blue” is evocatively performed by Matt Baker including breathy vocal and arrangement that sounds like fine, 1950s jazz. (Bass-Endea Owens, Drums-Darrian Douglas) He’s less successful with an over long, dense interpretation of the theme from The Apartment (Charles Williams.) Crowd pleaser Christina Bianco safely repeats her Kander and Ebb “Cabaret” turn for the umpteenth time, imitating such as Julie Andrews and Judy Garland. The talented vocalist might consider moving on. (Piano-Jon Weber)
Thanks to Steve Doyle and Ron Hubbard, bassists, Rob Garcia-drums.
The evening ran a long 2 ½ hours, but offered many rewarding performances.
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.” KT Sullivan
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.” Andrea Marcovicci
“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. Jeff Harnar
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.” Rex Reed
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.” Klea Blackhurst
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
A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer. A bird sings because it has a song. Chinese proverb
Every year on her birthday, Elizabeth Sullivan, matriarch of the formidably musical family, flies to New York from Oklahoma for a blow out party. The tree from which these talented apples fall not far is herself a songwriter and vocalist. Sullivans from all over gather at a local club-Sunday it was the packed-to-the-gills Metropolitan Room, to share their talents with friends, fans and each other. It’s a love fest.
Ever elegant, Elizabeth, who turned 86 this year and looks well over ten years younger, begins with a group of her own compositions. “You Are the Reason I Sing My Song”/You are the why of it all/Without you listening, it would go so wrong… It drifts down with utter warmth and sincerity. We sway.
Stacy Sullivan, Robin Brooks Sullivan, Elizabeth Sullivan, KT Sullivan
Songs are brief, poetic, personal. If you didn’t know her you might imagine Elizabeth a good actress. The truth is that every lyric grows from her heart like a flower. She seems authentic because she is. Communication and sensitivity more than make up for a wavering word or note not quite reached. ‘Om puttin’ things on the back burner/ Serving up what’s good tonight/’Om thinking soon or maybe later/I’ll hear a tune and get a rhyme…(“Back Burner”) emerges riding a kick-back-and-rock-on-the-porch two step.
Where there never was a box/Then there never was a limit… (“Out of the Box”) is wise yet light. Elizabeth’s voice rises like an upward sigh, a feather on a breeze. She performs “Without a Song” (Vincent Youmans and Edward Eliscu) with depth of investment that makes it feel as if she were the author. For “Song of the Chimes,” (her own) the performer is joined by 6 year-old granddaughter Layla Elizabeth Sullivan, bending down to duet with the very pretty girl at her own level. Some of it is stage-whispered adding to delicacy. They make quite a picture.
Elizabeth Sullivan and Layla Elizabeth Sullivan; Montana Sullivan
KT Sullivan, Artistic Director of The Mabel Mercer Foundation and Elizabeth’s daughter in law, Robin Brooks Sullivan, share one of the writer’s signature songs, “As Long As We Sing.” Written in honor of Mabel Mercer, the number is a moving, cabaret anthem. The ladies harmonize.
KT then offers Elizabeth’s “How Were We To Know?” inspired by her unexpected meeting of husband-to-be, Stephen Downey. (It’s a charming story.) Despite his opening salvo, including somewhat daunting references to his mother and five children, both apparently “knew.” How could we miss/The promise of that thrill/Spinning in our bliss/ Above a world gone still…Lovely. Robin returns on guitar and vocal for Bobby Troup’s “Route 66” which arrives with pith, spit and lively, country twang.
The Sullivans have each chosen his or her own musical path/genre. Robin’s son, young Montana Sullivan, offers “Soul”, a classically tinted piano solo of his own composition. I hear insistence, fluency, spirit…a stream, creek, river, waterfall, the ocean…unstoppable momentum with pauses preparing waves. The piece is evocative and well played.
Granddaughter Savannah Elizabeth Brown who has recently embarked upon her own singing/acting career, has chosen the charming “Bubbly” (Colbie Caillat/Jason Reeves.) “The song is about a lover, but I’m gonna bring it back to my grandma because I think I had my boyfriend sold when I showed him what I’d look like at 86.” Guitar in hand, with backup by her mother, vocalist Stacy Sullivan, and Montana on piano, Savannah exhibits vocal qualities like Elizabeth and Stacy-she can float a melody. Harmony is appealing, the song diaphanous.
Savannah Elizabeth Brown and Stacy Sullivan
Stacy then takes center stage for “Lullaby of Birdland” (George Shearing/B.Y. Foster) accompanied by Jon Weber’s up, UP-tempo jazz piano and Tom Hubbard’s fast-as-hummingbirds’-wings-bass. A performer able to successfully embrace many genres, she delivers both percussive and lyrical verses with finesse. Stacy, Robin, KT and Elizabeth then share the nostalgic “Where My Picture Hangs on the Wall” (Elizabeth Sullivan), a song about home Dorothy Gale (The Wizard of Oz) would’ve treasured.
Elizabeth closes with more of her own material including one of my favorites, the deeply romantic “Not Tonight”, written for her husband’s 70th birthday (Mr. Sullivan passed.) There may be a time when I’ll not want you/But not tonight, not tonight… The room then joins in “Friends” whose partial lyrics adorn a flyer left on tables. Singing or not, every soul in the room feels the love.
The Family (Tom Hubbard on bass-background)
This evening’s concert was accompanied by the superb Tom Hubbard on bass and Musical Director Dennis Buck on piano. Mr. Buck, with whom I am unfamiliar, subtly tailors arrangements in service of both composition and artist. He plays with terrific finesse and an ear to wind change.
Sunday May 22, 2016
Photos by Maryann Lopinto Opening: Elizabeth Sullivan