Just as singers need to sing, writers need to write. These two writers, therefore, are delighted to add this new nightlife column here at Talkin' Broadway to their regular weekly output of reviews at TheaterMania.com.
Jonathan Frank established an important cabaret presence with Talkin' Broadway readers and we're proud to follow in his footsteps. We hope to continue to broaden the crossover appeal of all forms of live entertainment through this weekly column.
It's our promise to you that you'll read about the stinkers as well as the stunners, and the never-gonna-happens as well as the up-and-comers. You'll get the full gamut of the good, the bad and the ugly. All we ask is that you come to "The Two of Clubs" with the same combination of curiosity and hope that we feel whenever we see a new act.
We're glad to be here, and now we're gonna get to it ...
Jane Krakowski: Give Her Enough Rope ...
The American Songbook Series recently launched its new and expanded season with Jane Krakowski: Better When It's Banned. The Tony-award-winning actress from the recent revival of Nine made the unfortunate decision to zero in exclusively on her sexpot image with a program made up almost entirely of risque songs from the 1920s and 1930s. Playing the same card over and over again led to a show that suffered from a numbing sameness.
Nonetheless, she might have gotten away with this material - much of it rather clever and fun - had she not played it all so directly for sex. For instance, the last thing you ever want to do with double entendre songs like "My Handy Man" or "A Guy What Takes His Time" is to perform the joke. Sing it straight, without a wink, and these songs become sly and sexy. What Krakowski failed to recognize in her show full of exaggerated posturing is that the best bombshells simply are sexy; they don't act sexy.
It was only late in the show that Krakowski let it be known that she had other colors in her performing palette. Most impressive was her emotionally centered rendition of "Let's Face the Music and Dance." It was too little too late to save the act. But if she was listening to the applause that song garnered from a discerning audience, she might come back next time with a very different and better-rounded act.
Playing Jule Like a Styneway
After stellar shows devoted to George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, followed by a surprising Sondheim misfire, the dynamic duo of cabaret - KT Sullivan and Mark Nadler - have come up with yet another sensational show devoted to the work of an American composer: Jule Styne. Their show, presently packing them in at the Algonquin Hotel's celebrated Oak Room, is called Everything's Coming Up Roses. It is, indeed, a bountiful bouquet of an act - colorful, sweet smelling, and ... expensive. Well, you often have to pay more for the good stuff.
Styne, who wrote the music for such classic shows as Gypsy, Funny Girl, Do Re Mi, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Bells Are Ringing, is a perfect subject for Sullivan & Nadler because his music is as brash as they are. The two deliver their patter with a natural ease, telling amusing anecdotes that illuminate Styne while providing smooth transitions from one song to the next.
Seasoned pros, they approach the famous songs smartly, finding a fresh connection to the lyrics that avoids comparisons to icons like Ethel Merman, Barbra Streisand and Judy Holliday. The most inspired new interpretation has Nadler rather than Sullivan singing Carol Channing's signature number, "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend." Combining the song with "Penniless Bums" from Sugar, Nadler takes the point of view of a poor man who can't win the girl because he doesn't have the dough to give her diamonds. Sung with an air of melancholy, the choice is inspired. For that matter, so is the show.
The Voice versus The Words
Craig Rubano does his research. He has put together a carefully constructed program of wonderful songs - both famous and obscure - that deal in some way with dance. From "You and the Night and the Music" to a comic send-up of "Begin the Beguine," Rubano's show, called Change Partners at Helen's, is a musical pleasure.
Furthermore, when Rubano sings, all is right with the world; his full-bodied baritone is warm and expressive. On the other hand, his patter feels too carefully written; there is nothing natural about either the content or the delivery. The irony is that the patter, though arch, is nonetheless intelligent and insightful. The feeling here is that once Rubano relaxes into the show, the patter will smooth out into something more conversational. The net effect will be substantial because each of the songs will be set up far more effectively, giving each number an even greater impact.