A mere 90 miles from the US mainland but seemingly worlds away! There’s a mystique about Cuba! Havana, an architectural gem and culturally rich destination, was founded under a large Kapok tree. It’s coffee beans and cane sugar, salsa and jazz, its warm people and rich culture were long forbidden fruit for Americans. As regulations loosened during Obama’s presidency, regularly scheduled commercial flights from the US made it easier for Americans to discover the lure of this enticing and emerging destination. Although restrictions were still in place, Americans could join sanctioned tour groups as long as they didn’t spend dollars there.
Having grown up in Washington DC, Presidential Inaugurations have long been a part of my life–first as a dazzled teenager invited to JFK’s gala, and beginning with Jimmy Carter, as a committed journalist. I am no longer impressed; frazzled is more like it. But an Inauguration is a historical and memorable event, and in addition to politics a new administration. There’s plenty of pageantry and tradition on January 20, 2017. And it may even be eye-opening for the most jaded.
The new film “Star Trek Beyond” opened this week, 50 years after the first NBC-TV episode in 1966. William Shatner aka Capt. James Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise, now 85, says, “for Star Trek to remain in the public Consciousness 50 years later is a phenomenon beyond belief.”
Some 40 percent of voting-age Americans don’t exercise their right to vote, according to the Pew Research Center. It could be fear–not disenchantment or indifference – that keeps some people away from the polls.
Perhaps Donald Trump’s irreverence reached over to the dog eat dog world of Westminster. Even former Best in Show, Uno, was thrown out of Madison Square Garden this year. The Champion Beagle was “undocumented” according to MSG security.
According to legend, Scrub Island, was a destination for pirates seeking some down time from pillaging and scraping barnacles from the bottom of their sailing ships. Today, the island, aptly named, was transformed to a tranquil private oasis five years ago. One of the 60 British Virgin Islands and cays (pronounce that “keys”) in the Caribbean-only ten inhabited-it’s an enchanting retreat from New York winter temperatures and the rat race.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made headlines recently when he mocked a disabled journalist. Major media reported it as politically incorrect entertainment, just as though it was another “Saturday Night Live (SNL)” episode. Like, Serge Kovaleski, I am a disabled journalist. I, too, have covered presidents and presidential candidates, but unlike Kovaleski, my disability is invisible. But every so often it rears its unpleasant self. I don’t leave home without my tiny purse dog, a toy poodle, trained to alert me to a very difficult and troubling disability. Like Kovaleski, I cannot leave home to cover a story without my disability. If I could, I certainly would.
There’s no better interpreter of the American Songbook than Tony and Grammy Award winner Barbara Cook. Lyricist Maury Yeston (”Phantom”) called Cook “a living national treasure” as she marked her 88th birthday on October 25 with a musical tribute at the National Arts Club in Manhattan. The evening, which also honored award-winning lyricist Lee Adams - “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Applause,” “Golden Boy” and TV’s “All in the Family” theme song, “Those Were The Days”– benefitted the Encompass New Opera Theatre.
The secured gates of Winvian Farm in lush Morris, CT., offered no clue as to what we’d find within this pristine and peaceful 113-acre sanctuary a two hour drive from Manhattan. Upon arrival at the 18th century main house, tastefully restored with wood obtained from old barns on the property, we were greeted warmly, offered a chilled glass of Prosecco and directed down Meadow Lane to our cottage aptly named, Stable.
I’ve always looked forward to traditional Maine summers with lobster bakes in seaweed on the beach or picking up a “lobstah” roll local style with mayo inside a packaged hot dog bun or the whole boiled crustacean tossed live in a pot on the kitchen stove. In Maine, October is when the magnificent colors appear as well as country fair season – agricultural products and livestock are proudly exhibited. Folks walk around chewing on deep fried turkey drumsticks and bloomin’ onions. But Maine, today, is way more than that.
As a Washington columnist, I covered and got to know Jim Wright and his wife, Betty, during the final 20 years of the 34 he served in Congress culminating with his 1989 resignation in the midst of accusations of ethics violations. I once had the pleasure of introducing him when he was a guest speaker at the Women’s National Democratic Club in 1993. Former House Speaker Jim Wright died today at 92.
The dogs in show (and also in field) took front stage in New York City this past week. Miss P, the Beagle who won Best in Show at Westminster Kennel Club and Patti Hearst’s Shitzuh, “Rocket,” who won Top Toy, weren’t the only winners. Bonhams Barkfest Brunch last Sunday, benefitting the American Kennel Club Humane Fund, offered dog and art lovers alike a preview of their annual auction of dog art.
Sandra Bargman is not a name trending on Facebook, but her cabaret performance at The Duplex in New York City’s West Village is not only dynamic but powerfully spiritual. An ordained Interfaith minister she explores her edges through music and theater in “The Edge of Everyday.”
I last saw Brenner about a year ago in New York City. Although graying a bit, he was as sharp and edgy as ever both on stage and off. His observational humor included stories about how New York City has changed through the years. Bike lanes and taxis were among his targets. Many of his longtime social and political subjects are equally relevant today–overcrowded prisons, America’s school system, Congress and lobbyists. He described his humor as talking about the simple things in everyday life. He stayed up-to-date on current events and discovers the ridiculous side of them in his stand-up act.
“If Satchmo played the trumpet, I wouldn’t have to do anything,” a recently svelte Paula West said. “I’d just sit back and let him make a load of money.” She was referring to her five-year-old French Bull dog sitting at her feet. The dog is named after the late legendary jazz musician Louis Armstrong. Satch, who accompanies the vocalist everywhere, relaxes in the green room during her performances. “Satch is a big attention whore; he’s changed my life.” She continued, “I don’t trust people who don’t like dogs. It’s as offensive as saying, ‘I don’t like Mexicans or I don’t like Blacks.’” She feels those folks are missing something in life. She clarifies, “he’s not my kid; but he’s my baby. The plus side is the ramifications of ‘F’ ing up a kid are worse.”
Leo Ryan’s intellectual curiosity and a desire to perceive the harsh realities of life first-hand led the late Congressman to Guyana 35 years ago this week. It seems like yesterday. I spent much of the last evening of the 95th session of Congress in 1978 with the Democrat from Northern California. It was his final night in Washington before he would head back home and then, several weeks later, embark on his fact-finding trip to Guyana.
Frank Torren is one of those rare classy cabaret performers who takes you back to the days when cruise ships were a luxury and piano bars were De Rigeur. A native of Tampa, Fla, he fuses his Italian heritage with a Latin influence. Not only charming and sexy, but he’s a delightful raconteur. His voice is smooth, and he makes the stage his home.
Rain didn’t keep Cinderella away from the 58th annual Drama Desk Awards, at Town Hall in New York on Sunday evening. Laura Osnes, who won Outstanding Actress in a Musical for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” looked the part in a gold dress with spike heel sandals to match. What, no glass slippers? “I’m Laura,” she quipped. “Cinderella wears the glass slippers . . . and besides, it’s raining!”
The multi-talented Sam Harris has had quite a ride since winning Star Search in its first season to his two nights performing at 54 Below in NYC earlier this week. The singer/songwriter is sensational! He kicked the show off with a strong U2 and Sondheim medley including “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “I’m Still Here” with his own special lyrics backed by his musical director Todd Schroeder on piano. Schroeder showed off his jazz skills with Jimi Hendrix’ “Red House Blues.”
The New York cabaret community turned out at Birdland, Saturday afternoon, to celebrate their special affection for our four-legged pals at a benefit for Zani’s Furry Friends, an animal rescue organization, with a special show, “Love Makes The World Go ‘Round.” The nearly two hour show kicked off with song and dance man Lee Roy Reams doing a terrific high energy “Before The Parade Passes By.” He was so terrific that the shows co-host, Eric Michael Gillett, later urged: “Lee Roy, I’ll pinch you if you sing some more.”
Having long been a political junkie and covering that “biz” in Washington DC for most of my career, I’ve transitioned to NYC where Cabaret and Broadway is my bailiwick. So it seems apropos to take a closer look at an actor who combines the two in one role.
The new Barbara Cook is more “torchy,” and unfortunately “Sondheim-less.” The legendary Broadway soprano’s voice is still crystal clear and her phrasing near perfect in her show at 54 Below in NYC. Almost no one performs a song better than Cook despite the fact that she sang seated in a chair since her painful knees and back limited her from standing on stage. “I can’t walk very well,” she quipped after being helped on stage. “But I don’t feel 85; it’s a number.” This magnificent, courageous and resilient performer doesn’t look her age either. Her face was glowing with her expressive eyes and warm smile. Her strong passion to communicate a song and to go deep in her work is as apparent as ever. Although she can no longer reach the high notes of my longtime Cook favorite, “Ice Cream,” her current selections are ones she does well, and she does reach some high notes albeit in a lower key in the optimistic “Here’s To Life.”
It’s a family affair at the Café Carlyle where John Pizzarelli’s quartet, which includes his younger brother Martin on bass, share the stage with their legendary dad, Bucky Pizzarelli, 87, on guitar. The show really is about the exemplary father-son relationship. But there were three generations of Pizzarellis at the show including John’s wife, Jessica Molaskey, who frequently performs with the quartet and Bucky’s granddaughter who called the chords out for him.
Brothers Larry, Rudy and Steve Gatlin brought their rich country harmony to 54 Below in NYC for a single powerful performance Saturday evening thanks to the silver fox of cabaret, Jamie De Roy, who introduced them to the stylish venue. The Gatlin Brothers with their own guitars were backed up by Steve Smith on guitar and Shannon Ford on drums. Larry spoke the truth when he joked, “Only 80 minutes–it’s impossible to sing all the wonderful songs I’ve written.”
The relationship between God and politics may be an age old question, but when I first met David Kuo in 2008 our conversation was not the usual small talk. At the time, Kuo, author and former White House official, talked passionately about his controversial best-seller, “Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction.”
Lee Roy Reams, 70, is truly an-fashioned song and dance man. He put on a terrific one night show that flowed well at 54 Below, the former famed Studio 54 in NYC earlier this week performing selections from some of his Broadway shows including Hello, Dolly, 42nd Street, Sweet Charity and La Cage Aux Folles. Reams’ opening with an uptune, “Lullaby of Broadway,” was strong and set the pace for an entertaining evening. His musical numbers were interspersed with amusing and candid Broadway anecdotes.
What better way to close out New York’s cabaret month than the career launch of a shining new star. Eva Kantor, 27, already a magnificent vocalist, made her first solo cabaret debut with “The Way I Am” Easter weekend at the Laurie Beechman Theatre in NYC. Not only is Kantor a tremendous talent, she is the real deal – she almost looks too young and innocent for cabaret – and is surrounded by a supportive and accomplished team. The show is directed by her vocal coach, Eric Michael Gillett. Don Rebic, her pianist and musical director has worked with Peggy Lee and Lainie Kazan; bassist Dick Sarpola has performed with Tony Bennett and Barbara Cook; her husband Jonathan Kantor, whom she met on a blind date, plays tenor sax and clarinet as well as being a composer and arranger.
Patricia Racette has mastered opera and is trying her voice at cabaret. Although the soprano is accustomed to singing sad songs in opera, she opened her act last evening at 54 Below in NYC with a medley of “I Got Rhythm,” and “Get Happy” backed by Craig Terry on piano . She has the pipes but not the jazz although she made a good attempt at Rodgers and Hart’s “Where or When” and “Angel Eyes.” The latter sounded more like a blues or operatic combo than jazz as she labeled it. She credits her high school choir director with introducing her to jazz.
The small room at Don’t Tell Mama in New York’s theater district was packed last Saturday and Sunday morning. Marilyn Maye, who at 85 is the sweetheart of New York’s bustling cabaret circuit, shared her humor, talent and wisdom in stage performance with a dozen or so participants for five hours each day. In addition others – including an enthusiastic 90-year-old fan from Maye’s hometown, Kansas City, wearing a KC baseball cap – audited the day long class. Even rock singer Helen Reddy stopped by .
Helen Reddy, once known as the Queen of 70′s Pop in her heyday, wants us to forget that label. After a ten year hiatus from the stage during which she practiced clinical hypnotherapy, the Australian songwriter/singer, now 71, a few pounds heavier and a couple inches shorter, heard her voice again after singing a duet with her older sister at the latter’s birthday celebration. “Not bad,” she thought. The red head with the dynamic voice played two shows at BB Kings Blues Club in NYC this weekend. But now the third generation entertainer sings the songs she likes –some familiar and others not so – “Lost In The Night,” “Angel Baby,” “Ain’t No Way To Treat A Lady.” But all have meaning and reveal her personal struggles as a woman.
If you haven’t seen Marilyn Maye perform, join the crew on her MAYE-den voyage at 54 Below. This octogenarian is the ultimate entertainer who has perfected and carefully honed her stage skills. Easily breaking through the fourth wall illusion, she portrays a story in song. Her expressive and interpretative style sets her apart from most current cabaret performers. Approaching 85 years young, this energetic and talented dame is a real presence in a flashy fire engine red pants outfit accented with glittery sequins and a large rhinestone brooch.
They have it all – a contemporary look, infinite sound and sex appeal. Grammy winners Herb Alpert, 77, and his wife, Lani Hall, opened their repeat engagement at the Café Carlyle in NYC this week to a packed house which included talker Regis Philbin and a woman who said she traveled from Korea to see the show. The intimate room was the perfect venue for the classy duo.
It felt like family gathered in the living room for John Gabriel’s performance at the Metropolitan Room in New York’s West Village, Sunday evening. Not only were his grandsons ages 6 and 8 there, but his pharmacist, doctor, and closest friend for the past 50 years, actor/talker Charles Grodin.