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.

Metropolitan Room

Unforgettable – Thos Shipley Tips His Hat to Nat King Cole


Thos Shipley presented a tribute to Nat King Cole Saturday evening, March 25, at the Metropolitan Room to a sold out audience, both vocal and warmly enveloping. Shipley’s is a relaxed and open personality, unpretentious and accessible. Whether that was cultivated by, or enabling of, his varied background, I cannot know. But it works. (Shipley was raised by a teacher mom and army dad; spent his youth in Japan; studied electrical engineering, followed by acting and singing; performs locally and interna­tionally and is now Ward Councilman in Roselle Park, New Jersey.) You want to like this man, and he makes it easy. He is, despite his current political role, a cabaret professional who has precisely prepared all aspects of the performance – befitting his broad experience on Broadway, regional theater and local and international cabaret and recording. And, again, it works. The show feels spontaneous and relaxed – perhaps because of the careful preparation.

Shipley was backed by Tom Guarna on guitar, David Finck on double bass, and Mark Soskin on Piano. These very able musicians had too brief opportunities to solo, but made the most of each one. Each is individually impressive, but they were there in the service of Shipley, and Cole, and delivered a smooth, and, as needed, swinging or syncopated sound, providing solid but unobtrusive support.


The show opens with a brief video of Cole; Shipley enters and blends into a Cole lyric to join the two performers, so we are immediately engaged, and alert to the connection. The band starts and we are launched into a medley of Straighten Up and Fly Right (Cole, Mills), I Love You For Sentimental Reasons (Watson, Best) and Route 66 (Chuck Berry, a timely reminder of his recent passing).

Shipley intermittently tells us a bit about Cole (nee Nathaniel Adams Coles), instructed by his mother in classical piano but, to his father’s chagrin, finding his heart in jazz. (I have supplemented the Cole history here.) Cole struck out on his own at 15 and gained renown for his piano playing. He was christened “Nat King Cole” by a band mate and initially prodded to sing, reluctantly, by an insistent, tipsy patron. He sang, then, a song that became one of his signature numbers; so did Shipley: Sweet Lorraine (Burwell, Parish) – with a brief but captivating Soskin solo.

IMG_6577 Soskin SMWAT

Mark Soskin

Cole was so widely recorded that Shipley had a broad repertoire from which to choose material strongly associated with Cole’s name.  Each number will resonate with many as being the Cole song they best remember. With the medley of Nature Boy (attributed to Cole), Mona Lisa (Evans, Livingston) and The Christmas Song (Wells, Torme), I heard Cole in Shipley, and relaxed into the evening.

The show is a tribute – not a recreation, but Shipley has, in addition to his own sonorous sound, much of the warmth and (for this performance, at least) some of the musical mannerisms of Cole, so that Cole is often spontaneously recalled to memory.  This is helped in part by the (minimal) costume changes and the instrumental backing, both stylistically reminiscent of Cole.

Shipley related an aspect of the racism of the time that kept Cole in his place and at least privately somewhat bitter:  Cole was simultaneously lionized for his talent and vilified as a black man attempting to popularize “black” music. He was personally harassed from both sides of the issue, but he strove to open the national entertainment industry to blacks. He enjoyed a truncated single season hosting a variety TV show on NBC, which footed the bill until it was agreed that, for fear of southern backlash, no national sponsor would be forthcoming. Despite support of black and white headliners (Nelson Riddle, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Mel Torme, Pearl Bailey, Mahailia Jackson, Sammy Davis, Jr., Tony Bennett, Harry Belafonte – among others, working for minimum scale), the show could not be sustained. Cole was physically attacked and intimidated. Without stressing the connection, Shipley sings the plaintive Smile (Chaplin, Turner and Parsons).


With the advent of Rock and Roll, Cole bridled, but Shipley relates that he did expand his jazz approach to include pop and country music; Shipley dons a new jacket and hat to evoke the ‘Cole cool’ to perform Send for Me (Jones) with some nice solo licks by Guarna, and Wild is Love (Rasch, Wayne). A silky rendition of It’s a Beautiful Evening (Rasch, Wayne) again brought back Cole for me.

As a performer, Shipley reflects those characteristics we might expect him to have picked up from his parents – discipline, a work ethic, respect for himself and his audience. He is clearly working on stage: not straining but delivering; not enraptured by fully engaged.  He is confident, comfortable, musical and enjoying the process.  You will too.

After additional Cole standards, Shipley began to wind down the evening with the obligatory Unforgettable (Gordon). The audience was not ready to end the evening. A video of Cole was projected on the back of the stage and Shipley again echoed Cole in voice and movement – bringing the performance full circle to the initial montage. Shipley thanked the staff, the musicians, the audience, his manager and husband, and slid into the “final” number of L-O-V-E (Kaempfert, Gabler). At this point, the audience was singing along unbidden and would barely let Shipley off the stage. An encore of Paper Moon (Arlen, E. Y. Harburg and Rose) closed the performance.  This is an enjoyable show for boomers who listened to Nat King Cole when growing up and for new comers to the American Songbook – who never had the pleasure.

Shipley will be performing on May 18, 2017 at Maureen’s Jazz Cellar in Nyack at 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.; current booking information can be found at www.ThosShipley.com. He plans to return to the Metropolitan Room in the summer.

Photos by Fred R. Cohen. Go to his website for more information.   

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.

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

Manhattan Serenade – Celia Berk


On April 3 the much acclaimed Celia Berk performed, again at the Metropolitan Room, to introduce her new CD (released April 1), Manhattan Serenade. Berk, winner of a 2015 Bistro Award, a 2015 MAC Award for female debut and the 2015 Margaret Whiting Award (among others), was also recognized for her debut album You Can’t Rush Spring – which was nominated for MAC’s 2015 LaMott Friedman Award for Best Recording. There are reasons to prefer a live show to a recording; and reasons to prefer a recording to a live show. What one gains in polish may be lost in spontaneity. Gains in precision may be traded for a loss in electricity and warmth.  Each has merits. This note is less a review than a contrast of the experiences.

I first heard Berk in live performance in 2015 and was immediately won over: see WAT Review. I subsequently heard the corresponding (debut) CD: You Can’t Rush Spring. I was blown away by both the material and the delivery. But a single point in the firmament, however lofty, gives no clue as to a trajectory so I awaited this second recording with a sense of anticipation. Remarkably, both CDs grow in appeal with repeated hearings as fresh nuances come to light. And both CDs reflect a scholarly curiosity (credited collectively to Alex Rybeck and Berk) for unearthing intriguing, little known gems. Manhattan Serenade is pursued with complete commitment by all involved. The liner notes (mostly by Berk and Rybeck) are personal, informative and, to me, an integral part of the CD. The musicality and deep experience of the creative team at work on Manhattan Serenade is so apparent that I am loath to second guess them – although that is in part the reviewers’ role.  Nonetheless, at the end of the day, for pure self-indulgence I prefer the first CD.  Having said that, Manhattan Serenade is arguably the more imposing work – for the variety of styles, the luminary supporting players and the novelty of the constituent works.

IMG_0332_BerkBerk is in her sophomore year of professional cabaret work but has been a student of the musical arts for years. As was apparent from her earlier performances and debut CD, this is a woman of remarkable emotive fluency – capable of putting a smile, a smirk or a wink into the last third of a syllable, and equipped with a rich alto instrument under intelligent and precise control. Her classical training is suggested by her vocal quality but rarely betrayed by operatic nuance – and that only in the service of the music or humor.  And unlike so much contemporary music, every lyric is articulated and given meaning by an experienced sensibility. But there is little melodrama here; the fireworks are largely cerebral. To quote Sondheim, “It’s a quiet thing”.

Alex Rybeck is Berk’s musical director, and the arranger of every track on the CD, and the CD is as much his product as Berk’s. To my ears, a couple of tracks are stylistic outliers (notably Goffin and King’s “Up On The Roof” and Kander and Ebb’s “All I Need”), but they add welcome texture. And they do adhere to the theme of the CD (termed by Berk a “Valentine to New York”).  Despite the theme, there is no narrative arc – so anything goes provided only that it has a colorable Manhattan connection. As such the CD is, indeed, a “connoisseur’s compilation” (David Zippel) of exotic tidbits where many might prefer, for a listening experience, a more coherent unity. But if you know Berk’s work to date, you know that is not how she cooks – and you will not leave the table hungry after enjoying this menu degustation.

The recordings include only four pieces (of 13) with which I was familiar – notwithstanding the notable pedigrees of the creators: David Heneker; Kander and Ebb; Goffin and King; Bacharach and Simon; Irving Berlin; Weill and Hughes; Weill and Coslow, Rupert Holmes, Whiting, Arnold and Kahn; Rodgers and Hart; Alter and Adamson, Scibetta and Reach; Coleman and Zippel. That, in itself, is entertaining, edifying and worth the price of admission for those who seek to deepen their musical experience.

IMG_0352_BerkThe recording opens with an apt intro for its theme: David Honeker’s “Manhattan Hometown” (from the 1983 musical Peg – which could well play behind the credits of Woody Allen’s next NYC movie), and closes with a similarly apt (and beautifully and simply arranged) “A Tree in the Park” by Rodgers and Hart. Between the two, musical styles and content run a gamut (and a bit amok). “All I Need” has a Latin rhythm with bongos; “Up On the Roof” has flute and guitar accompaniment to a soft jazz/waltz tempo; “Seconds,” written for the unmade film version of Promises, Promises has a recognizably Bacharach-ian Broadway orchestration; Berlin’s “Manhattan Madness”(featuring Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks Combo Orchestra) evokes the “big band” thirties; Weill’s “Lonely House” is rendered as a “jazz aria”; backup vocals color some arrangements. The musical choices are intriguing and usually surprising. To the aficionado, each piece may be a gem.  Nonetheless, when mounted together, they do not make a tiara – except perhaps in the East Village. And if that is your sensibility, this recording is also for you.

The Met Room performance which intro’ed the CD presented a somewhat different face. The notorious warmth of the performer, and the tiniest bit of residual nervousness in delivering patter, come through in the intimate space and add depth to the performance, as did the tangible affection in the room for Berk herself.  But the voice, in person as well as on the recording, remains rich, precisely tailored and with an unusual and appealing timbre.

IMG_0318_BerkThe show is directed by Jeff Harnar and accompanied by the ephemeral “Manhattan Serenade Symphonette” comprising Dan Gross on percussion, Dan Willis on woodwinds, Jered Egan on bass and Alex Rybeck at the piano, doing yeoman work to replicate the various tonalities on the CD. The encore, alone, Coleman and Zippel’s “The Broadway Song,” was sung to the CD music track in order to include the full instrumental richness captured there and a star-studded vocal backup (Josh Dixen, Kristoffer Lowe and director Jeff Harnar).

The live performance included a few numbers not included on the CD.  One, “The Party Upstairs” (Ronny Whyte and Francesca Blumenthal), was a particularly appropriate New York number focusing, as it does, on the intrusive entertainments of the upstairs neighbor – from which the singer is excluded.  And like “Seconds” (on the CD but not in the live show) it provides a poignant ending by illuminating an unexpected alternate meaning of the lyric. (I would have liked to have that on the recording.)  Also not on the CD but in the air were “Such a Wonderful Town” (Whiting and Arnold) reprising a comedic number from Berk’s Met Room debut and the Gershwins’ “Embraceable You.”

The CD lacks the patter that makes a live performance personal and, often, funny. From the stage, Berk offered New York-centric anecdotes including the tale of her having arrived in NYC with her theater degree and immediately getting a job in a bakery.  There she was privileged to serve Betty Comden a choice selection of rugelach accompanied by a (presumably sotto voce) rendition of “Bake someone happy, bake just one someone happy . . . and I can cook too!”   And there is no doubt that Berk can cook, and will – each Sunday in April at the Metropolitan Room.

Photos by Fred R. Cohen; his website: Fred Cohen Photography 

Click to purchase  You Can’t Rush Spring on Amazon.