The Two of Clubs
Jim Caruso Gets What's Coming to Him
It's said that Jim Caruso knows everyone. That truth found its manifestation in the lineup of stars that showered him and an adoring audience with their multitude of talents last Sunday night when he was given a benefit concert in his honor for his contributions to cabaret. The new Metropolitan Room was packed with well-wishers as well as those expecting to see an amazing array of entertainers. Actually, the two groups were one-in-the-same. Just some of the folks who performed in Caruso's honor were Linda Lavin, Stephanie J. Block, Julie Halston, Klea Blackhurst, Karen Mason, and Billy Stritch.
Everyone performed with panache, but several went the extra mile to prepare something that spoke specifically to their love and admiration for the man of the hour. We were particularly touched by Stephanie J. Block's rendition of "If I Only Had a Brain," using Caruso's own arrangement and singing his signature song back to him with such tenderness. Billy Stritch also went out of his way to prepare some parody pieces that were quite funny. Carolyn Montgomery, who produced the event so splendidly, also performed with pizzazz, including a clever comic opening number.
The real point of writing about this tribute, however, isn't to extol the talents of those who performed in Caruso's honor, but rather to emphasize how deserving the honoree is of the tribute. Jim Caruso's creation of the Monday Night Miracle known as Cast Party and his ability to sustain it through four different locations (it's solidly ensconced now at Birdland) is not just a testament to his talents as the show's producer and host, but also to his vision and perseverance.
Let's put his accomplishment into relief: He creates a remarkably consistent entertainment at a very high level every Monday night out of a combination of whoever walks in the door and his own endlessly resilient sense of the ridiculous. He is the Pope of Monday nights because he is infallibly funny, and when he blesses an entertainer with "please come back again," they feel like they have reached show business sainthood.
More than that, he provides a showcase like no other in New York. It's perhaps the only public forum where someone can sing at the open microphone and genuinely catch a break. Several singers have had their club acts reviewed by these critics after we saw them for the first time at Cast Party. And several entertainers, after singing, have been hired on the spot at Cast Party for Scott's various concerts at Town Hall, including Broadway by the Year, Broadway Unplugged, and the Broadway Cabaret Festival.
Finally, though, Caruso's most amazing accomplishment is that he has created something that is sustained not by the same people coming week after week – although there is obviously a significant core audience – but rather by a national reputation that brings him a new flood of tourists every week. That is exactly the kind of success that cabaret needs if it is going to grow and thrive. For proving that it can be done, Caruso deserves his award. For entertaining so many people, week in and week out, he most definitely deserves the one thing all performers seek: thunderous applause.
Cynthia Crane: at the top of her game
Best known in the cabaret community as a classic jazz singer, Cynthia Crane surprised us with a classic cabaret act, instead. Artfully assembled, delivered with a lifetime's worth of craft, her show entitled If I Knew Now ... displayed for all to see what she knows now about putting on a show – which is plenty.
Performing with hard won wisdom, Crane gave her show a political slant, peppering the evening with witty songs like "Everything I Buy Was Made in China" (Clark Gesner) and the sharply observed "My Country Used to Be" (Dave Frishberg). Most stunning of all was her resurrection of a hilarious twenty year old song about global warming by Jay Leonhart called "Goodbye, Miami." Clearly Leonhart knew then what we know now. And clearly Crane was clever enough to dig it out and sing its stinging satire with a knowing wink.
Crane also applied her wisdom to the subject of love in a short song cycle that included a wistful "Fun to be Fooled" (Ira Gershwin/E.Y. Hamburg/Harold Arlen) followed by a ruefully accepting rendition of "Close Enough for Love" (Paul Williams/Johnny Mandel). On a more playful note – or, rather, two notes – she also scored with the pairing of "May I Come In" (Marvin Fisher/Jack Segal), a song of romantic hope, followed by the end of all hope when he tries to come in one time too many: "Not You Again" (Duncan Lamont).
Not only did Crane choose her material exceptionally well, she put it over with the right mixture of acting acumen and stylish sense of self. The show was not about her voice, it was about her point of view which she expressed with humor and a generous helping of personality. We hope she'll bring this show back again after the summer.
Show ... and Tell
You've only got four chances to see Barb Jungr perform her Elvis show at 59E59. She's coming in at the tail end of the Brits Off Broadway series at the East Side theater complex. We've seen Jungr perform in cabaret and she is nothing less than sensational. She is, simply put, not one but two cuts above your typical cabaret artist. She has a killer voice, great acting chops, and a daring sense of the theatrical. Make it your business to see her starting this Thursday night, June 29 at 8:30 PM or one of the three subsequent performances later during the weekend. You'll thank us. In fact, by all means feel free to email us with your reaction to her show.
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