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.
Monday night, the National Arts Club hosted Shana Farr and Steve Ross in a unique concert spotlighting Christmas and some of the collaborators’ other best loved things. The unique evening offered original arrangements of familiar holiday songs, wry, unexpected novelty numbers, love, romance, hope, faith, and affectionate nods to Cole Porter, Alan Jay Lerner and Manhattan. It was warm, amusing, uplifting and stylish.
A Viennese-waltz-like “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of The Year” segues, with Ross’s “Oh!” into “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” –he’s flirty! And then Farr’s melodically gliding “Sleigh Ride.” Ross tells us “Snow” was written on a hot Los Angeles day. Heat apparently inspires Christmas songs. Irving Berlin is said to have penned “White Christmas” at La Quinta Hotel in Arizona, probably we’re told, in the middle of the night. (He was an insomniac.) “Take this down,” Berlin commanded his secretary. “I’ve just written the best song anyone’s every written.” Accompaniment is both harmonious and fresh.
In the satiric vein, Midwestern-bred Farr performs “Department Stores Mean Christmas to Me.” “…They had to get that frankincense from somewhere!” arrives ingénue-sincere. (David Cameron Anderson/Steve Landau) “I did sit on Santa’s lap outside (J.C.) Penny’s” she admits. And, in duet, Fred Silver’s immortal “The Twelve Days After Christmas”: The third day after Christmas, my Mother caught the croup/I had to use the three French Hens to make some chicken soup/The four calling birds were a big mistake for their language was obscene/The five golden rings were completely fake and they turned my fingers green…
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things” wafts light and lilting (Farr) in tandem with John Wallowitch’s uber-droll “Three Penny Things” (Ross). The latter is just what it sounds like, a charming, family-friendly lyric riding Kurt Weill’s foreboding music. Ross’s ersatz chermin interpretation: “…schnitzel mit noodles…ven the dog bites ven the bee sinks…” is tongue-in-cheek perfect.
Citing the centenary of Alan Jay Lerner, Farr offers “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” as if breathing in tune and Ross sings a tender “The Heather On the Hill” whose melody emerges like an embrace by graceful arms.
More recent material is represented by Larry Kirchner’s “Winter in Manhattan”- Farr imbues its lyric with deep affection, Ross’s soulful, rather elegant “Manhattan Moon” (Richard Crosby/Steve Ross), and “It’s Almost Christmas Eve” (Rosie Casey/Ken Hirsch/Steve Ross/Frederick Chopin), a Norman Rockwell painting of friends, and family evoking gratitude.
The traditional “Three Ships”: I saw three ships come sailing in/On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;/I saw three ships come sailing in/On Christmas Day in the morning…replete with pianistic chimes and- reverence, is lovely. Farr’s acoustic “Oh Holy Night” carries gravitas further. The artist annually sings in a one-room Missouri church at which her grandparents still worship. Tonight she might just as well be wearing a long white choir robe bathed in shafts of light coming through a stained glass window. A powerful and humble rendition.
Farr’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” and “Santa Baby” are less successful for lack of engaging sexual innuendo. Ross’s inevitable Cole Porter numbers though swell, don’t really fit.
To close, we all sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The room is warmer than when we entered, dispositions have softened, spirits have risen. A sophisticated evening presented with talent, class, mutual regard, and genuine feeling for the season.
Photos by Bruce Allan
The National Arts Club – since 1898 Our Mission is to Stimulate, Foster & Promote public interest in the Arts & Educate the American people in the fine arts. 15 Gramercy Park South
Carousel was the second musical produced by the dynamic team of Rodgers and Hammerstein following their ground breaking Oklahoma! If audiences expected another feel good show, they were surprised. Carousel is based on Liliom, a somber 1909 play by the Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár. A failure when it was first staged in Hungary, Liliom fared better when it was produced on Broadway in 1921. Carousel, which opened on Broadway in 1945, received positive reviews and has since been revived numerous times. Carousel’s themes of forgiveness, healing, and redemption always seem to hit home. In that respect, Arena’s new production couldn’t come at a better time.
Despite the photos in Arena’s ads, there’s no actual carousel on the Fichandler circular stage. Indeed, Todd Rosenthal’s set design is rather sparse, with a floor of whitewashed wood and crates that are frequently rearranged depending upon the scene. The orchestra is housed in a gazebo, above the stage, while the music director, Paul Sportelli, waves his baton from a spot below the stage. Except for glowing stars in the second act, there are no props. The actors mime drinking coffee, playing the accordion, playing cards, digging clams, and picking up garbage. Without extraneous distractions, our attention stays focused on the players and their stories.
Billy Bigelow is a barker for a carnival in small town Maine. With his roughish good looks, Billy has no trouble attracting women, most of whom work in the local mill and come to ride the carousel for entertainment. He’s an alpha male and an irresistible draw for the shy and inexperienced Julie Jordan (Betsy Morgan). Nicholas Rodriguez, his black fedora tipped at a jaunty angle, brings to mind a young Sinatra, who was originally cast as Billy in the film. Billy and Julie assess their growing attraction in one of the musical’s best known songs, “If I Loved You,” a sweet moment that, unfortunately, sets up expectations that will never be met after the two are married. Billy is caught between two women; Julie, and Mrs. Mullin (E. Faye Butler), who not only owns the carnival, but acts like she owns Billy, too. When he defies her order to leave Julie and get back to work, she fires him. Julie, too, loses her job after missing her shift at the factory, choosing to stay with Billy at the carnival.
Betsy Morgan and Kate Rockwell
Julie’s good friend, Carrie (an exuberant Kate Rockwell), also has a boyfriend (Kurt Boehm). Rockwell’s heartfelt tribute to her beau, “Mister Snow,” glosses over his shortcomings. When I marry Mister Snow/ The flowers’ll be buzzin’ with the hum of bees. Neither woman hits the romance jackpot. Billy, beset by job and financial setbacks, will take his anger out on Julie, abusing her psychologically and actually hitting her at one point. (While some productions have downplayed this aspect of domestic violence, Director Molly Smith wisely recognizes that it’s a problem that hasn’t gone away.) Enoch Snow isn’t abusive, but he’s a control freak, seething with jealously. When he catches Carrie dancing with another man, he quickly breaks off their relationship. They reunite after Carrie desperately pleads with him.
For Billy, the turning point comes when Julie tells him she’s pregnant. Contemplating fatherhood, Billy is overjoyed. Rodriguez literally stops the show, his strong baritone delivering an emotional “Soliloquy.” You can have fun with a son/But you gotta be a father to a girl. Eager to provide for his child, Billy gives in to pressure from his shiftless friend, Jigger (a very convincing Kyle Schliefer), to rob the mill’s owner, David Bascombe (Thomas Adrian Simpson). The whole town is celebrating with a clam bake, and Billy and Jigger attend, using the event as a cover for eventually leaving and staging the holdup. Billy carries a knife that he plans to use to threaten Bascombe, not kill him. But when the plan goes awry, Billy opts to kill himself rather than face the possibility of prison. Julie holds Billy as he’s dying and finally whispers what she has never told him, “I love you.” Julie is comforted by her cousin, Nettie, played by Ann Arvia, delivering a gosse-bump-inducing “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
Now on the other side, Billy tries in vain to gain admittance to heaven, arguing with heavenly friend (Nicole Wildy) that he wants to see “The Highest Judge of All.” His one chance is to return to earth and try to redeem himself. Fifteen years have passed. Billy’s daughter, Louise, is now a teenager, and not a happy one, bullied by classmates about her criminal father. Skye Mattox’s Louise displays her hurt and passion in a dance sequence that is both sad and beautiful. It’s an exquisite piece of choreography by Parker Esse, with a tour de force performance by Mattox. She’s now on our radar.
Everything comes together in the end. Julie somehow feels Billy’s presence and knows that he did truly love her. Louise understands that her father’s mistakes are not hers and that her life is truly her own. And Billy’s visit to earth, where he makes himself visible to Louise, comforts her, and gives her a star, is enough to gain him admittance to heaven.
Kudos to costume designer Ilona Somogyi and wig designer Anne Nesmith for creating a period look that was both aesthetically pleasing and wonderful to look at without distracting from the performances.
Rodgers and Hammerstein never shied away from tackling important and, at times, controversial issues in their musicals. Oklahoma! has upbeat songs, but also deals with political and cultural issues that erupted between farmers and cattlemen. South Pacific and The King and I confront racism. Great musicals endure because at their core they have powerful messages that encourage us to be better than we are. Carousel does that. And it’s a message we need to hear now. Go see it.
Photos by Maria Baranova Top photo Betsy Morgan and Nicholas Rodriguez
Carousel Fichlander Theater Arena Stage 1101 Sixth Street SW Through December 24, 2016
“Every song I will sing tonight will be about someone who helped me get here. Every note and every word will be shared in the spirit of gratitude…” leading lady Kelli O’Hara tells us, explaining her show title. The hall is packed to the rafters for the musical theater actress’s solo Carnegie debut. (This year also saw her Metropolitan Opera Debut.) In another era, enthusiastic fans would carry her on their shoulders.
Oklahoma born O’Hara is eminently likeable. When that glorious soprano soars from her fresh, pretty, Mid-Western face and petite figure, audiences feel connected. She seems like one of us, albeit with extraordinary vocal abilities. Patter is warm and sincere. The artist tells us about her start in the business and family members. Each musical selection has context.
To her mom, the dreamer, who listened to Frank Sinatra, she dedicates Vincent Youmans’ “Without a Song.” It’s an unusual arrangement, somewhat western, though vocally balladic. To her father, who taught her how to work, O’Hara dedicates “To Build a Home” which swells and swirls in heartfelt interpretation. (Jason Robert Brown from The Bridges of Madison County in which she costarred): …And blade of grass by blade of grass/And ear of corn by ear of corn/And bale of Hay by day by day/They build themselves a home…
“The Light in the Piazza” is imbued with the innocent character’s immense sense of wonder. (From the show of the same name by Adam Guettel in which she played Clara, “a role that changed my life.”) Apparently she and Victoria Clark sang the entire score to an ailing Betty Comden in her apartment, the kind of thing, O’Hara says, that can make the work wonderful.
Two of what the artist calls her “man songs,” i.e. numbers ordinarily performed by men, are “Finishing the Hat” which she comments is “no longer just a man’s problem” (Stephen Sondheim from Sunday in the Park with George) and “This Nearly Was Mine” (Rodgers and Hammerstein from South Pacific in which she played Nellie Forbush.)
The first arrives with new mindset in place. An overtaxed woman tries against odds to complete what she started in the face of endless demands. The understated version (with wonderful violin), eschews its usual pointillist arrangement in favor of quiet intensity. The second number, buoyed on piano eddies (until the bridge) begins swaying slightly with regret, then erupts into an uncontainable waltz.
When O’Hara got to New York 18 years ago, she had a temp job in the box office of Café Carlyle. Barbara Cook was playing. Her first performance on a Carnegie Hall stage was a Barbara Cook concert. “In this life you look for people who set examples…” Much to collective surprise, Ms. Cook is then wheeled out in her chair to receive admiration and affectionate thanks. O’Hara sits on the floor next to the icon, hot pink dress billowing around her.
Kristin Chenoweth, Kelli O’Hara
We’re also introduced to fellow Oklahoman, Kristin Chenoweth who, instead of feeling competitive, got O’Hara her first agent and voice teachers here. They sing – what else – a rousing “Oklahoma!” Both performers bounce, taking turns holding “that” note while the other bounds on. The audience spontaneously claps time. What is it in the water of Oklahoma…?
Selections for her attending children include a tandem “Smile” (Charles Chaplin) and George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” which don’t quite work together (for her son, an avid Beatles fan) and, by O’Hara herself, the charming “She Sings” written for her daughter Charlotte.
O’Hara tells us she couldn’t manage juggling work and family without appreciable help. Her husband, Greg Naughton, joins for one of his compositions “about not getting too crazy busy to share your world.” The country number arrives in easy harmony, fiddle-sounding violin and two-step rhythm. With bandmates Rich Price and Brian Chartrand, the four then perform his “Dance With Me,” a country tune with a sweet, comfy sound but alas, mostly unintelligible lyrics.” (The band is Sweet Remains.)
Brian Chartrand, James Naughton, Kelli O’Hara, Greg Naughton, Rich Price
Taking the atmosphere a step further, adding O’Hara’s father-in-law, actor James Naughton, the group sings an a capella “Lonesome Road” (James Taylor) with only an overhead microphone. A pristine rendition, it sounds like a hymn.
One of the unquestionable highpoints of the evening is the story/song “They Don’t Let You In The Opera (If You’re A Country Star)” by MD/Pianist Dan Lipton and David Rossmer: Now, I was born down in Georgia/But Georgia wasn’t good enough for me/I’d sing country songs for them, but/My heart sang La Bohème and it/Didn’t help we moved to Tennessee/Nashville’s not the place you sing/High C…Wearing a cowboy hat, delivering every lyric with just the right yee-haw inflection, segueing into serious opera, O’Hara shows us singing and acting chops with infectious panache.
There were two encores.
Photos by Chris Lee Opening: Second Encore: “I’ll Get By (With a Little Help from My Friends)” John Lennon/Paul McCartney
Kelli O’Hara- Never Go Solo Dan Lipton- MD/Piano The Stern Auditorium Carnegie Hall October 29, 2016
I would call this an appreciation. I’ve listened to Stranger in a Dream several times now, hearing something new or drifting at different junctures each pass. The recording is, in fact, dreamy. Though ostensibly a celebration of Marian McPartland inspired by Stacey Sullivan’s appearance on Jon Weber’s radio show, Piano Jazz, the two musicians have made these songs their own.
This is music you want to hear wrapped in someone’s arms, sharing a romantic dinner or working your way through a bottle of good wine. Vocals are often diaphanous, phrasing deft, accompaniment sensitive.
Sullivan sighs into Stephen Sondheim’s “Loving You.” The ends of phrases leave afterglow. Its brief instrumental is meditative. An elegant rendition. “Stranger in a Dream” (Irving Caesar/ Marian McPartland) evokes shadows, curling smoke, collars up, alleyways. We’re beckoned by Steve Doyle’s haunting bass. Vocal is almost visibly sinuous. I imagine the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland, replete with hookah. “In the Days of Our Love” (Peggy Lee/Marian McPartland) is like sorting through packets of faded, ribbon-bound love letters and stained, curling photographs. Jon Weber’s piano caresses.
“Oh What a Beautiful Mornin” (Rodgers and Hammerstein) is borne by an uncommonly original arrangement. Distant clop, clop horse-hoof-vamp fades to the languid, waking singer, rubbing sleep from her eyes, stretching, putting on coffee, optimistic perhaps in the wake of a good dream. Sullivan makes this intimate rather than the vast cornfields to which we’re accustomed; ‘one woman’s experience.
“September in the Rain”and “Come Away With Me” (Al Dubin; Nora Jones/Harry Warren)-an inspired pairing, offer escape rather than brooding reflection. Bone-damp ghostliness is broken by light, stage left at the back. A second surprising combination arrives with “All the Things You Are” (Oscar Hammerstein/Jerome Kern) and Chopin’s Waltz in B Minor Opus 69 #2. ‘Just beautiful.
Even classic swing numbers, though up-tempo, are predominantly subdued. A cottony “Prelude to a Kiss” (Duke Ellington/Irving Gordon/Irving Mills) never gets dense or insistent;“It Don’t Mean a Thing (If You Ain’t Got That Swing)” and Ellington’s “Jump for Joy” eschew pounding boogie woogie – though footwork is fancy and the girl goes flying. During “Lullaby of Birdland” (George Shearing/George David Weiss), Sullivan elongates her lyric while Weber’s fast, precise piano jitterbugs on its own caffeinated recognizance and Doyle’s bass sounds like a syncopated hummingbird.
“Castles in the Sand” (Walter Marks/Marian McPartland), one of my particular favorites, begins a capella like a child’s rope skipping song. It’s young, buoyant and somehow delicate. Nick Russo’s strings tickle.
Musicianship is grand. Overall feelings: pleasure.
Opening: Left photo: Maryann Lopinto; CD photo-Bill Westmoreland
Internal Photo: Stephen Sorokoff
Stacy Sullivan-Stranger in a Dream
Jon Weber- MD/Piano, Steve Doyle-Bass, Nick Russo-Guitar & Mandolin Click to buy on Harbinger
When vocalist Stacey Kent and husband, musician/writer/arranger Jim Tomlinson, samba into Birdland, the faithful gather with sure knowledge of respite from the world outside. Pulses slow, audiences sway. Kent’s sighing, slightly nasal voice, back of the throat vibrato, and slip/slide octaves pair with Tomlinson’s soulful, as-if-muted alto saxophone and winged flute to deliver a dreamlike evening far from the madding crowd. Tonight joined by Tom Hubbard-bass, Josh Morris-drums, and the extraordinary Art Hirahara on piano, they don’t disappoint.
Tomlinson’s contemporary “Make It Up” (with Cliff Goldmacher) is mid-tempo, upbeat and utterly charming. …If we knew what we were doing/We’d be doing it all wrong/So let’s just make it up as we go along…Hirahara’s piano sounds dappled with sunlight. Kent is infectiously flirty. This and the composer’s quirky, vocally ethereal “Ice Hotel” (with Kazuro Ishiguro), with which I’m familiar, are two of tonight’s highlights. More original material would be appreciated.
Stacey Kent and Jim Tomlinson
Beautifully rendered, non-Brazilian standards include Ray Noble’s “The Very Thought of You,” sentimentally evoking a lantern-lit country club or USO dance from the 1940s and a palpably savored “That’s All” (Alan Brandt/ Bob Haymes) with pauses between verses that never feel empty. Circling brushes, stroked bass, and delicate piano support Tomlinson’s eloquent sax soliloquy on the second number. The musician effortlessly bends notes and emotions. Kent steps offstage to listen and admire.
“If I’m Lucky” (Josef Myrow/Eddie DeLange) is a tribute to Perry Como of whom Kent is “a huge fan.” If I’m lucky/This will be no light affair/It’s forever/From the start…The ballad floats in sloooow and easy. Kent’s eyes close, one hand holding the microphone stand. Bass shadows, sax is as mellow as it gets, every piano note is pristine whether tripling or barely touched. It’s a hope, a request, a vision, tinged by sad history.
Rodgers and Hammerstein are affectionately represented by “People Will Say We’re In Love” and “Happy Talk,” (Kent on guitar) both with Brazilian arrangements. The vocalist often comes in off the beat, waiting for and sensing currents on which she might hitch, and sometimes from above a note, giving lyrics organic lilt. “Happy Talk” is effervescent- a sky filled with kites at play, circling, darting, tails like airborne doodles.
Jim Tomlinson and Stacey Kent
Among Brazilian numbers, untranslated but for its title (Kent sings in perfect Portuguese and French), “Estrada de Sol” -Street of the Sun (Tom Jobim/Dolores Duran) is lush, grateful, playful. The lovers have made it through a “stormy” night. Marcos Valle’s “The Face I Love” …Just think of things Like a daffodils /And peaceful sheep/ On clover hills/ And morning sun/ On whippoorwills/ And you’ll see the face that I love…emerges in deep melodic, hammock-like scallops. Hubbard’s bass is rhythmic thrum, notes overlapping as if woven. Hirahara’s piano takes off with an untraceable flight plan.
I admit to having heard “So Nice” aka Summer Samba (Marcus Valle/Paulo Sergio Valle/Norman Gimbel), “One Note Samba” (Tom Jobim/Newton Mendonça), and Jobim’s “Aquas de Marco” aka Waters of March perhaps once too often and can only imagine how Kent and Tomlinson feel after hundreds of performances. Time to replace these?
An evocative, romantic evening reminding us something exists besides bad news.
Compiling an Honor Roll seemed like a fine way to celebrate Fathers on their nationally designated day. But then I started to consider ASCAP, modesty and the fact that Fathers are mostly not chosen by their offspring. (I confess that last point is contested by a gifted actor, playwright and director to whom I have the gift of being related by blood. She makes a beguiling case for the scenario of child as casting director. Seeing the ideal actor. the soon-to-be-newborn makes his or her decision and only then elects to join the cast already in performance.)
So, with a nod to those three principles I set out to compile a list of memorable achievers and over-achievers from the paternal ranks. Some will be named; others will be described by what they did for their children; and then honor will be paid to Fathers who would prefer to be anonymous (even sometimes to their own children.)
Let’s start with the ASCAP Factor that describes, but does not quote. Better music connoisseurs than I have put together lists of Best Songs by and about Fathers and Fatherhood from the points of view of both parent and child. From ionic songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein to Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash George Strait and Judy Collins, I could instantly recognize the reasons songs by these men and women made the lists.
Who could fail to relate to Billy Bigelow seeing himself reborn at his bravura best in “My Boy Bill,” then the change of tone as he faces the fact that “he” might arrive instead as “My little girl.” No such list would be credible if it did not include Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” (with special laurels for the version he composed for England’s Queen to celebrate her 60th Jubilee.) Verdi’s O Mio Babbino Caro and “The Old Man” by Ireland’s most recorded musician Phil Coulter get my nod for poignant comments about their Fathers. by a daughter and a son.
I nominate the lovely Judy Collins composition, My Father in her early Who Knows Where The Time Goes album. It is all the more touching for the fact that the man whose vision she honored was in fact blind. Carly Simon’s Love of my Life took on a whole new richness when associated with Julie Kavner’s discovery of her daughters’ importance as she worked to establish her career as a stand-up comic in the film This is My Life. And now, from left field: Sondheim’s Nothing’s Gonna Harm You. In Sweeney Todd, the protective promise is not delivered by a Father to his child. But I think it could be. In the mouth of a parent, it is the very sort of promise any child would cherish.
In my own life, the unlikely soundtrack of memory delivers the lyrics of “School Days,” and “My Wild Irish Rose.” In the remembered baritone of my Father these have all the warmth of the most consoling lullaby. After all, it is the singer as much as the song that says, “Don’t worry dearie darling, all will be well.”
Now, to the “modesty” factor. Heroes of Fatherhood will here be honored as anonymous workers of very real and specific miracles. For example: the man whose livelihood as an entrepreneur was threatened in rapid succession by an epic Depression and a suspension of automobile manufacturing for all the years that the war effort took precedence. All this occurred while he and his wife were devoting themselves to securing the best of costly private education they saw as their lifetime endowment and empowerment of their children. Obviously a miracle. But the even more amazing feat was that no hint of fear or anxiety was ever communicated to either of the two age brackets of their children.
Another amazement is the single Father who manages to navigate the hair-raising 21st Century tightrope of special needs and baffling choices with a singular blend of simple faith with a gallows sense of humor. (Note that a wise psychotherapist friend hearing details of his story judged that this Dad would be just fine, because his brave blend of unquestioning belief and unpredictable laughter is “the perfect combination.”
But what about Dimes? Who even uses them these days? Humor me, if you will. As a believer in the unending nature of life I find it to be expected that lives continue to intersect forever. Having passed from life lived on a specific timeline to one liberated from the constraints of the clock and the calendar, Fathers will be given creative ways of saying “I’m here for you.” No spelled out agendas will be delivered. But the message will be as clear as it is demanding of the son or daughter’s own initiative.
For me, the message takes the form of ten-cent coins. Connect the dots from a community leader who was an early champion of the March of Dimes and the evidence of reassurance is clear. Dimes appearing on floors, city sidewalks, previously unoccupied church benches have stimulated realizations and laughter, offered silent applause and sensible cautions. “Get it in writing.” “Don’t sign that new business agreement.” “Take a second look at that person.” “Remember the advice of the man whose face is on the dime that the only thing to fear is fear itself.” Perhaps today there will be a new dime and the message. “Thanks for catching on, Sugar and Happy Fathers Day.”