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.

Mark Nadler

That’s Entertainment: Dietz & Schwartz and Friends


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                         

Cabaret Convention: October 16-19, 2017

Stacy Sullivan in A Tour de Force


A Night at the Troubadour: Presenting Elton John and David Ackles brings together vocalist Stacy Sullivan, Director/Arranger Mark Nadler and MD/Pianist Yasuhiko Fukuoka whose collective talent, passion, and creativity are flat out extraordinary.

August 25, 1970: a young, British, writer/performer named Elton John was scheduled to make his American debut opening for established writer/performer David Ackles at the Troubadour rock club in West Los Angeles. Ackles, Stacy Sullivan tells us, turned to his wife and said, “I hope this kid’s good.” At the last minute, record executives switched the order. John listened from offstage. Like Elvis Costello and Phil Collins, he was an ardent admirer and champion of Ackles. Who?!

David Ackles was a child actor, literature and film major before he pursued his dream of songwriting. As the dark, literate material he wrote for others never seemed to fit, it was suggested that like popular singer/songwriters of the time,  he perform his own work. The artist was never comfortable touring. With only four albums issued in an abbreviated life (he died of cancer at 62), Ackles nonetheless made a lasting impression on other musicians.

Twenty-four years after that night at the Troubadour, Stacy Sullivan was cast in a musical written by David Ackles. They became close friends. She sang at his funeral. A heartfelt note from Bernie Taupin (John’s lyricist) read aloud suddenly alerted her to a musical past the deceased had never mentioned.

This show, clearly a labor of love, may have been gestating ever since. Sullivan introduces, illuminates and appreciates Ackles; establishes dominion over iconoclastic, often musically difficult material, and excavates personal emotions. Selected numbers by Elton John/Bernie Taupin are included to fine effect.

The piece is bookended by “Your Song” (John/Taupin). When initially paired with Ackles’ “Be My Friend,” the entire room leans in to Sullivan’s entreaty. Next, is “Everybody Has a Story” which illustrates the humanity and perception of its writer: Everybody has a story/Everybody has a tale to tell/Lies spoken, hearts broken, Lost in Hell…All you have to do is listen …It’s a one act play musically influenced by Brecht and Weill. The vocalist, an actress, is at one point down on her haunches earnestly addressing a woman up front.

“American Gothic” tells the tale of a poor farmer’s wife who craves more than her narrow existence. The story-song also evinces Weimar roots. A moment of wry directorial humor is delicious. As she begins “Down River,” Sullivan puts her hands in her pockets, cowed, serious, awkward, proud. She’s a man just released from prison meeting the girlfriend who never wrote. Piano chords support a battleworn vocal, rich with unspoken forbearing. Eyes look ahead seeing nothing. Sullivan inhabits the character’s ache.

“I’ve Been Loved,” a gentle, hurdy-gurdy melody evoking old people whose memories sustain them and “House Above The Strand,” (boardwalk along the California Ocean), a tender lyric including humming and a proposal, offer the illusion of lighter fare. The latter, it seems, could have been written for Sullivan’s first year of marriage. We watch her see it again with a heart that appears to visibly expand.

Three  tandem numbers show particular musical acuity. “Laissez-Faire” (Ackles) and “Levon” (John/Taupin) are spat out in resigned outrage, then become a prayer against ugly odds. Entwined renditions are powerful, moving. Sullivan’s husky contralto is enveloped by darkness even when backed by up-tempo rhythm. Piano is insidious, inescapable, haunting. The singer is palpably shaken, her last line exhaled.

Ackles’ “Your Face, Your Smile,” initially heard by Sullivan at his memorial, became the first song she ever recorded. It’s a necessary goodbye wrenched from the depths of despair and lands with visceral effect. Barely pausing, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” (John/ Taupin) begins with spoken lyric : “I can’t light no more of your darkness/All my pictures seem to fade to black and white…”  Delicate piano tiptoes. This version is measured, transfixing, it’s howl withheld. You can hear a pin drop.

In order to experience as close to firsthand experience as possible, we hear a recorded excerpt from “Love’s Enough” with Ackles singing. Slightly sandy, deep and expressive, it’s the kind of voice in which one wants to wrap oneself. Sullivan then comes in fervent but quiet with “Your Song.” The moment shimmers.

To my mind only “Rocket Man”, paired with Ackles “Road to Cairo” (Cairo, Indiana), emerges excessive – as if evangelical testimony.

Yasuhiko Fukuoka, Stacy Sullivan, Mark Nadler

MD/Pianist Yasuhiko Fukuoka is equally adept at controlled detonation, enthralling pathos, and deft sensitivity. His symbiotic attention to the needs of an actress in thrall is expert.

Director/Arranger Mark Nadler has the cultural acumen to mine every bit of subtext. His extensive musical vocabulary offers nuanced underpinning even when emphatic. Nadler channels Sullivan’s focus into theatrical performance without gratuitous gestures. We believe every gutsy embodiment. The show is well paced and thoroughly engaging.

Dialogue is revealing, beautifully integrated, and often intimate. The artist’s signature warmth overflows. This is a brave piece, an achievement. Stacy Sullivan’s unconditional investment and muscular performance is one for the books. She excels as a keeper of the flame. Brava!

(With any luck, they’ll do this again)

Photos by Steve Friedman

July 14, 2016
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22 Street
Venue Calendar