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.
For a couple of years Stephen Hanks has been producing a series of New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits; October 7 featured his 14th installment. (Two more of this series will be presented this year at the Metropolitan Room, and eight more are slated for next year.) “Greatest Hits” are not typically for ardent fans – since they will have heard the songs and perhaps the show before – but these are not typical artists or shows. Often the revivals are some months or years gone and, as such, they bring the artist to the fore after a period of further reflection on the material. The result may be better than the original and, at the very least, one can expect the shows will be solid and professional.
Susan Winter had achieved some success as a cabaret performer in the 70’s but took an extended leave to raise a family. She returned to the stage in 2008 after a 30 year hiatus and was promptly gleaning nominations and awards, including the 2009 Bistro Award as outstanding vocalist for her show Love Rolls On (originally launched at the Met Room). And it is Love Rolls On that was reprised on October 7, complete with her original band of Rick Jensen on piano and Tom Hubbard on bass – all of them now more established, mature and mellow.
A review of Winter’s original Love Rolls On included a reference to her “cheerful mezzo.” Whatever the history, now her voice is more of a velvety alto – with a soothing viscosity. Her musicality, vocal placement, articulation and humor (and her joy in performing the show) are all very evident. Winter dispels any cold thoughts her name might conjure with an emotional hug for everyone in the room; yet it is not overly sentimental.
Rick Jensen and Tom Hubbard
Oftentimes a performer is so comfortable in his or her skin, on the stage with the material, that the audience can relax into the show like a comfortable chair. There is no frisson of risk, no sign of nerves. There is a trade off there. The electricity is less, but the ease is greater. Winter has that ease. Even when a key was flubbed, there was a humorous reference and a smooth segue into perfect harmony. And Winter is at an age when one might anticipate some diminution of vocal control; I heard no sign of that. Artists that perform regularly may keep that control for decades more (e.g., Anthony Benedetto); I can hope that Winter will do so. The original material remains fresh, and Winter kept it that way throughout the evening.
Jensen and Hubbard, well known regulars on the cabaret circuit, provided more than background. The accompaniment was musically rich, neither bashful nor overbearing, and a fully significant component of the show – adding as rich a sound as a piano, bass and voice can generate.
The show sprang from Winter’s reflections on the death of her mother and her consequential discovery of a cache of love letters between her parents – the mother she had known and the apparently loquacious father she had only known, to that point, as a man of few words. The show is expressly about relationships (but isn’t all decent literature?); particularly loving relationships, and how they mature in time. Winter’s narrative connected the pieces.
Winter opened with “Moondance” (Van Morrison) in a smooth and mellow arrangement which, upon her introduction by the Met Room, picked up a driving syncopation and a growing dynamic. She moved on to “You’ll See” (Carroll/Coates) in a similar style – after which I wanted a cigarette (if one could still be found.) Winter talked about her home in Florida (under threat from Hurricane Matthew), a small cabin in Pennsylvania and a modest apartment in Manhattan as an intro to “Anyplace I hang My Hat is Home” (Arlen/Mercer). Winter spoke of relationship advice given one of her sons, to “be lucky”, before performing the beautiful “It Amazes Me” (Leigh/Coleman). She next sang “An Older Man is Like an Elegant Wine” (Lee Wing), a very funny song she reported having previously sung at a JCC for the Gesund-ers (men over 60 and capable of enjoying the occasional “lunch”):
. . . And so that’s why the man
with whom I’d like to combine
will be an older man who’s like an elegant wine.
And when I meet him
I’ll enchant him
Hug him, kiss him
Then I’ll decant him
at which every man in the place, she reported, slicked back a cow lick and sat a little taller. Winter can still be a bit of a coquette.
Winter then related the story of having discovered her parents’ letters. Her mother, Lil, the third of nine children, ran off to marry her dad in New Orleans, a few weeks after he had been drafted. They had six weeks together before he shipped out – marking the start of the correspondence. She followed that with “I Can’t be New” (Werner/Paul), a smart and somewhat wistful song about what we can offer as we age, and what we can’t. Winter assured us the she, at least, had never been unfaithful; but, she explained, her memory isn’t what it was.
“I’ve Still Got My Health” (Cole Porter) was upbeat, smart and sassy. With reference once again to her parents’ post elopement correspondence, Winter sang “After Hours” (Parrish/Bruce/Feyne) about longing for an absent lover; and, for the father she only got to know through his letters after her mother’s death, “Isn’t It a Pity” (Gershwin/Gershwin), a poignant reminder of late-discovered opportunity.
Winter performed a more haimish number “I Love the Way You’re Breaking My Heart” (Drake/Alter) with Jeff Stoner, a member of Winter’s wide cabaret family (accompanying on the ukulele).
Winter and Jensen performed a lovely duet/medley of “Old Friend” (Cryer, Ford) and “In Passing Years” (Jensen) – which I would not have thought could be dovetailed, but was. The oddly paired voices were nicely and surprisingly warm toward each other. Additional songs, ending with” Our Love Rolls On” (Frishberg), nicely filled out the evening.
The audience was warm, responsive and enthusiastic. I have no basis to expect this show to be reprised again but you might well benefit by keeping an eye on the Metropolitan Room calendar for later performances by Winter and subsequent editions of the Greatest Hits series.
On the 25th Anniversary of this show’s original opening, (the vocalist’s debut at the fabled Oak Room of The Algonquin Hotel), and the 1st Anniversary of Stephen Hanks’ monthly series New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits, Jeff Harnar and Alex Rybeck thrilled a club (The Metropolitan Room) so full of enthusiastic audience we practically sat on one another’s laps.
Worthy of The Hollywood Bowl or London Palladium (are you listening New Jersey Performing Arts Center?), this exceptional evening manages to embrace 21 Broadway musicals that opened in or were still running during its memorable 1959 season. The piece, performed with gusto, clarity, and taste, is cleverly framed as a show unto itself (top ticket price $9.20) with narrative arc illuminated by some of the best constructed medleys I’ve ever heard. Occasional duets add sparkle. (MD/pianist/Alex Rybeck.)
Bookended by a splendid arrangement of “Tonight” (West Side Story) delivered in three musical chapters – light piano cadenza, modulated upswell, Broadway fervor and a gauzy “Till Tomorrow”(Fiorello) – this adroitly written show also contains opening and second act Overtures and an amusing Entr’acte. The latter skillfully conjectures what people might be talking about in Shubert Alley at the time.
Jeff Harnar doesn’t just look around the room, he looks into our eyes making this an immersive experience. The performer is expressive and charming. Lightness of carriage and infectious love of the material makes us feel as if we’re at a stylish, showbiz party. Harnar is in superb, muscular voice. He musically turns on a dime and delivers appreciable script without dropping a stitch. There are songs performed with theatrical accents and others he inhabits with seemingly fresh character awareness. Sara Louise Lazarus reprises and conceivably improves upon her expert Direction.
We meet our boy and girl with “A Perfect Evening” (First Impressions.) He says I’ve seen her kind before…uppity laugh… She says, I’ve seen his kind before…head in the clouds, nose inthe air… The lyric is party spoken to great effect. “The wonderful thing about first impressions is that they change” prefaces a waltzy “Nine O’Clock” (Take Me Along) followed by a rich, aptly besotted “On the Street Where You Live” (My Fair Lady). “I Don’t Think I’ll End It All Today” (Jamaica) arrives with fair accent, engaging gestures, and dancey demeanor.
The show’s Marriage Medley slyly employs a familiar wedding theme from Company as a red herring, bridging numbers from other musicals. In part: “I’m Getting Married in the Morning” (My Fair Lady) is a wry dirge; Harnar’s reoccurring “Don’t Marry Me” (Flower Drum Song) emerges sophisticated, insouciant; “One Hand, One Heart” (West Side Story) contains a sob which seems new to this artist. Rybeck ably duets. Remember, he can sing. “As the Act I curtain falls, we find our hero contemplating the wisdom of his dreams.” Hands at his sides, ostensibly holding it together, Harnar showcases finesse while Rybeck’s arrangement shimmers light on selected passages.
Act II opens with a Political Medley featuring such as: “Little Tin Box” (Fiorello) during which Rybeck plays the prosecutor and Harnar the witnesses, several with New Yawk accents. This ends with a jaunty, ersatz soft shoe. And the acerbic hoedown “The Country’s in the Very Best of Hands” (L’il Abner) which sounds disturbingly current. (Why is no one doing a cabaret show of Broadway political songs?)
We then revisit “our troubled lovers.” “I Say Hello” (Destry Rides Again) brims with entreaty; “Long Before I Knew You” (Bells Are Ringing) is palpably warm, “Look Who’s In Love” (Redhead) lands surprised. Before the coda of this section, we hear Harnar’s Harold Hill tell partner-in-crime Marcellus that he can’t run away even if it means being caught. In love with Marian the Librarian,“… for the first time in my life, I got myfootcaught in the door…” (‘Inspired use of a line.). Four bars of “Till There Was You” (The Music Man) adds a cursive flourish. Always a talented balladeer, the vocalist brings sincerity to songs that might be merely sentimental in other’s hands.
A moving “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” (The Sound of Music) with unexpectedly entrancing piano serves as encore. Harnar is tender, not stressed. The song appears heady in a different, more affecting way. Much of the room tears up. Bravo!
This extraordinary show unfortunately has no future dates.
Photos by Steve Friedman
New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits presents Jeff Harnar sings The 1959 Broadway Songbook First engagement at The Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel 1991 Recorded live on Original Cast Records 1992 Jeff Harnar-Vocals Alex Rybeck- MD/Piano & Vocals Sara Louise Lazarus- Director The Metropolitan Room 34 West 22nd Street August 13, 2016 Venue Calendar
New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits series continued with its 10th presentation at New York’s Metropolitan Room Monday night, a revival of Barbara Porteus 2013 show, Up On the Roof. Spanning 40 years of pop, it also includes one country and a couple of jazz-tinted interpretations.
Like the original version, Porteus is here accompanied by three guitars – no piano: Musical Director/Arranger/Lead Guitar-Jack Cavari, Larry Saltzman, and Zev Katz. Though the musicians are first rate, only a few numbers successfully lend themselves to this choice.
Were one to select the most defining quality of Porteus’s performance, it might be the artist’s ability to put her whole self into a song without ever straining a vocal, unnecessarily raising volume, or becoming fussy. Nor does delivery wobble. Phrasing is smooth, often honeyed. Octave changes are fluid and subtle.
While the show’s title song (by Carole King) is pretty, to my mind, except for a romantic bossa nova rendition of Melody Gardot’s “If the Stars Were Mine,” the show doesn’t kick in until after a lengthy Beatles medley comprised of song snippets, most of which sound thin.
“Unwell” (Matchbox Twenty/Rob Thomas), “Twisted” (Wardell Gray/Annie Ross), and “Help Me” (Joni Mitchell) create a kind of contemporary, crazy suite. Though less overt expression would serve, (rolling eyes and draping oneself leads to diminishing returns), jazz undulations are skillfully handled. Vocally difficult material arrives sensitive and pristine.
Barbara Porteus, Larry Saltzman
“Someone Like You” (Adele/Dan Wilson), a song where a woman tells her ex she can’t let go, is theatrically adept. Here, we empathize with the singer. Whether this has personal meaning or no, the artist makes it seem as if it does.
One of the best musical arrangements emerges with John Mayer/Pino Palladfino’s “Stop This Train.” Buoyed by sweetly percussive country rhythm, Porteus’s gravitas is filled with yearning. One can close one’s eyes, reflect, and ride. Stop this train/I want to get off and go home again/I can’t take the speed it’s moving in/I know I can’t/But, honestly, won’t someone stop this train?…
We finish with a quotation from the film Monkey Business, “You’re only old when you forget to be young.” Though the show’s “recollection of her youth through adulthood,” drops its subject early on, the aphorism aptly bookends. “The Secret of Life” (James Taylor) is simply lovely.
Photos by Stephen Hanks Opening left to right: Barbara Porteus, Larry Saltzman, Jack Cavari, Zev Katz
Next Up for New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits: Maureen Taylor: Taylor Made-Bob Merrill- July 13 7:00 The Metropolitan Room 34 West 22nd Street Metropolitan Room Calendar