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.
It’s unusual for an artist to perform a CD from top to bottom as a cabaret act, but that’s what Tom Wopat did in his one nighter at 54 Below in NYC. He opened his show Monday evening with the title song, “I’ve Got Your Number,” followed by “The Good Life.” Wearing a vintage suit (“Sinatra wore a suit,” he quipped), white shirt and tie, he described his show as “more like a saloon than cabaret.” For Wopat, that translates to less story telling and “more of a vibe”. . . or perhaps, more of a publicity opportunity. Wearing a baseball cap, he personally passed out CD’s to his fans before the show.
Stylishly dressed in black tux and a sequin lapel on her bare-shouldered jacket, Lorna Luft paid tribute Monday evening at “Lorna’s Living Room” aka Birdland in New York City to three influential female composers who impacted her life: Dorothy Fields, Betty Comden and Laura Nyro. Luft, who began her career at 11 on her mother’s TV show, exhibits a strong stage presence and energy which compensates for any notes she misses. Even off pitch, she can belt out a song and is a sensational entertainer.
David Brenner, now graying a bit, but as sharp and edgy as ever, felt right at home at the Metropolitan Room this week. It’s the site of the former Gotham Comedy Club where he first performed stand-up comedy in the seventies. And just in case the audience forgot, he opened his show with a quick video collage of his TV appearances. He holds the record for the most guest shots on The Tonight Show as well as surpassing other performers with the most guest appearances on all TV talk shows.
Following a 15 year absence from the New York stage, Pia Zadora presented an incredibly slick comeback show. “Pia Zadora–Back Again and Standing Tall” was well-rehearsed and more Las Vegas than the laid back Metropolitan Room in style. Dressed in a long, low cut Bob Mackie bronze sequin dress with a high side slit, she exuded sex and wowed the men in the room.
It’s been a stellar double-header this week at NYC’s 54 Below (for award-winning vocalist Eric Michael Gillett. He not only presented his own show, “Careless Rhapsody: An Evening Dedicated To The Lyrics of Lorenz Hart,” but the multi-talented star of Broadway (”Sweet Smell of Success,” “Kiss Me Kate”) and New York’s cabaret circuit directed Tovah Feldshuh in her show, “On, Off, and Now Under Broadway!”
Every time I hear the haunting words and tune, “From A Distance,” it always captivates me. The Grammy winning song was used as a wake-up call for the astronauts when the Americans and Russians met in outer space for the first time. It brings to mind Bette Midler, who popularized the peace anthem. That is, until Monday evening, when I heard composer Julie Gold perform her masterpiece at the Duplex in the West Village. Wow! Gold at the piano sang this and other songs she’s written accompanied by backup singers Margaret “Madge” Dorn and Emily Bindiger. Their well-balanced harmony complemented Gold beautifully.
It’s freezin’ outside. . . hence the time many of us travel to warmer climates, or at the very least, fantasize about an exotic locale on a beach or under the stars. The Calendar Girl, Colleen McHugh, takes us on that journey from sandy Havana to Mexico, Shanghai and beyond in her show, “Wish You Were Here.” She even includes Mackinaw Island, which she compares to Bermuda in Michigan. Her once monthly show at the Duplex in NYC is constantly changing. Her January offering was the best of her travel song repertoire — “Mackinaw,” “Shanghai,” “Red Sails in the Sunset,” “When Will You Come Back To Me?”
Filling in for Linda Eder at 54 Below this week, the exceedingly talented Marin Mazzie, a familiar figure on Broadway stages (“Next to Normal,” “Passion,” “Kiss Me, Kate”), made a striking entrance dressed in pink sequins. She invited everyone back to her house in Rockford, Ill, when she was ten. That’s where her personal music chronology began. Her parents would dance and she shadowed their every move.
Bridges take many forms; some are more functional than others. They vary in strength and aesthetics as well. The multi-talented Ann Hampton Callaway expanded the meaning of this concept in her new show, “Bridges” at Birdland. Just as all bridges are not equal, neither were all of the selections. Although Callaway’s voice is incredible, she was not at the top of her game in some of the numbers chosen to meld with this theme. But her musical message was loud and clear: how “bridges” help us connect with the world. Brazilian composer Milton Nascimento’s song inspired this singer/songwriter’s show. Hampton Calloway declared 2013 “as the year of building bridges.”
The Kennedy Center Honors celebrated its 35th anniversary last weekend with a group of extraordinary and diverse life time achievers in the performing arts. Even President Obama noted that they “have no business being on the same stage.” But the three remaining members of the 70’s band Led Zeppelin – vocalist Robert Plant, bassist John Paul Jones and guitarist Jimmy Page– came together for this annual celebration with actor/director Dustin Hoffman, late night talker David Letterman, bluesman Buddy Guy and dancer Natalia Makarova. The group was honored at the State Department, White House and Kennedy Center with a taped- for- CBS-TV tribute (airs December 26) and late night gala supper.
Washington will miss the outspoken Letitia “Tish” Baldrige, the octogenarian etiquette maven, who passed on this week. Tish learned the manners of political Washington at an early age when her father served as a U.S. representative from Nebraska. Later, she served as social secretary to America’s ambassador to France in Paris, assistant to Clare Booth Luce at the American Embassy in Rome, and chief of staff to first lady Jackie Kennedy.