The Two of Clubs
There have been a number of cabaret shows this Summer that were, essentially, teasers for the Fall. Two of nightlife's best young talents (plus one debut!) presented brand new acts but only put them on the stage for one or two shake down performances with the idea of bringing them back for longer runs in the cooler weather. Happily, we caught all three of these stellar shows and this is a preview of what you'll be seeing in the very near future ...
4 ½ Stars: Karen Oberlin Performs Like Love: The Popular Songs of Andre Previn
Her Doris Day show a few years ago culminated in critical acclaim, a much-admired Doris Day inspired CD, and plenty of awards. In a display of "top this," she followed that considerable success by giving birth to her first child. Now, performing with a brand new glow, Karen Oberlin has returned to cabaret with a bold act called Like Love: The Popular Songs of Andre Previn. What makes this show particularly bold is the fact that Andre Previn did not write very many "popular" songs. In her brisk one-hour cabaret show, however, Oberlin will entertain you so thoroughly that you'll actually come away believing that Previn was – or, at least should have been – as popular as Richard Rodgers.
It may take you a day or so to come down off that cloud and accept the fact that Previn was, indeed, an exceptional talent, but that he ultimately ranks as a fascinating second tier composer. In her naturally delivered, conversational patter that is crisp, clean and to the point, Oberlin spins the engaging facts that make Previn such a rich subject for a cabaret act. Setting up each song with an easy grace, Oberlin sings them with care and conscience, acting the lyrics from such wordsmiths as Johnny Mercer, Marilyn & Alan Bergman, Comden & Green, Alan Jay Lerner and, of course, Dory Previn.
It's less important that we reel off some of the songs she sings or the nuggets of information she imparts. Better to hear it all from her. Don't let it bother you that many of the numbers in this show might best be described as "art songs" because most of them are also musically enchanting. Or is that Oberlin who is enchanting? It's hard to separate the singer and the song – which is the way it's supposed to be. Oberlin's winsome voice and delicate phrasing are a perfect match for Previn's compositions. She performed this show twice at Danny's Skylight Room in July, playing to packed houses on both occasions. Happily, she's bringing this show back – this time to the Metropolitan Room – on September 14, 15, 16 (Thursday thru Saturday) at 7 p.m. and Sunday, September 17 at 4 p.m. Her musical director is the estimable Tedd Firth.
4 Stars: Julie Reyburn: Everybody's Song
Julie Reyburn, another young mother, put up two shows at The Laurie Beechman Theatre earlier this Summer. But then Julie – perhaps the hardest working woman in cabaret – barely stopped singing either before her daughter was born or after. She's been deeply involved in Carolyn Montgomery's six Roast & Toast Tribute shows as well as performing guest spots all over town. Everybody's Song, however, is Reyburn's first new show since she was the opening act of the now defunct Encore room in the theater district.
There are a lot of things that make the multi-award winning Julie Reyburn an important performer to see whenever she's putting on a show. Some of those things are givens: an entreating voice that sings out with passion, an endearing personality that is, at once, playful and vulnerable. Then there's her keen intelligence that manifests itself both in her lively patter and in her always incisive lyric interpretation. But for us, the one thing that always makes her a must-see is her willingness to take chances, to grow, to evolve, change, and ultimately to improve her craft.
Reyburn's new show, which she promises to bring back to the Laurie Beechman Theatre in the Fall, is just such an adventurous show. With her musical director Mark Janas at the piano, she has added the special attraction (and sound) of cellist George Trapp to accompany her. The result is a show that is enriched and made uniquely beautiful. We're frankly surprised that more people don't choose to shake things up and use cellists, guitar players, or violinists more often. Even so, if some of the arrangements were bit overdone, we imagine that when she brings the show back later this year, it will be an even stronger and tighter act than the one we witnessed and so much enjoyed.
4 Stars: Andréa Burns at The Metropolitan Room
When a musical theater performer tries to make the transition to cabaret, many simply can't do it. They don't know how to be themselves for an hour on stage. Theater star Andréa Burns doesn't have that problem. Not at all! She recently made her cabaret debut in a single sold out show at the Metropolitan Room and arrived fully formed as a natural. She could not have been looser, funnier, or more genuine on stage. She was, in a word, delightful. Personality is what ultimately makes or breaks a cabaret performer and Burns has got a personality with more fizz than Alka Seltzer.
Her act is built upon the dichotomy of her birth. She is half Venezuelan princess and half Jewish American Princess. Her exotic nature comes from her mother; her show business grit and sense of humor comes from her dad. And the kid can sing. We knew her primarily as a performer with a bright and warm soprano. Many will tell you that among today's young musical theater performers, she has one of the most beautiful soprano voices on the boards. That may be, but the big surprise was her big, brassy, and exciting Broadway voice.
Steve Marzullo was her pianist and musical director and he led the three piece band; the only fault there was that the drums were way too loud. Nonetheless, singing a wide variety of songs from classic musical theater to disco, Burns segued with exquisite ease from song to song and story to story. One of her best stories, complemented with song, is her long history playing Maria in seemingly countless productions of West Side Story. This was, at once, the high point of her show and the low point (the latter a stunningly unpleasant duet of "One Hand/One Heart" with guest star Natacia Diaz who has often played Anita to her Maria). One presumes that there will be no need to repeat that duet in any subsequent performances of this otherwise revelatory debut.
Oh, and Andréa Burns recently had a baby, too! That makes three for three. And that makes three for three in cabaret shows, as well.
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