The Two of Clubs
The nightlife of New York doesn't slow down even during the hurly-burly of the theater season's rush to the finish line. There has been plenty to see in the nightclubs around town, though precious little time to write about what we saw – until now. Join us for our first of two installments as we take a stroll down short-term memory lane. Here are just some of New York's more recent shows that were putting the life into Nightlife ...
At Feinstein's at the Regency, where the celebrity quotient is always high, Donny Osmond did a short, sold out run that reminded us that star power is an ineffable quality. If you were a fan of Donny's in his heyday, you might still screech and yell - and pay dearly – for his show, but we sure didn't get it. Could there be any pop star more bland? A modest talent like Tony Danza runs circles around Donny Osmond because he has personality. Osmond still has a great voice but it might be fair to say that he never interpreted a lyric in his life. His fans, it would seem, couldn't care less. But they filled the place and that is a review that an accountant can love.
Following Donny Osmond at Feinstein's was actor/singer Peter Gallagher. What a breath of fresh air. Making his nightclub debut, Gallagher succeeded at something that relatively few ever master even after years of trying: he was himself on stage. Grounded, relaxed, poised, Gallagher was a wonderfully charming presence with a warm yet muscular voice. It was odd that he crooned more than he interpreted – as an accomplished theater/movie/TV actor one expected him to act his songs as much as sing them, but that was simply not the case. He sounded fine but few of his numbers landed an emotional punch. Nonetheless, his personality was so engaging – and his patter so breezy and funny – that he won us over anyway. It was a delight to be in the same room with him.
In one of the other big rooms in town, The Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, Karen Akers held forth in what was surely the most congenial show she has ever assembled. Once known as cabaret's Ice Princess, Akers has chipped away at that image until she's finally become the most beautiful comedienne with the highest cheekbones in the business. In a show devoted to the music of Julie Styne, Akers was playful and casual, almost to a fault. Styne and Akers might not be the ideal match, but the marriage of composer and performer was not helped by the inclusion of medleys that kept Akers from truly acting her material – which is one of her greatest gifts. While this show wasn't as fully satisfying as her last two brilliant shows at the Oak Room, it was nonetheless a worthy and winning act. After all, Karen Akers is a towering talent (in more ways than one) and any chance to see her perform is worth the price of admission.
You want to talk big names? How about Larry Gatlin? Songwriter/singer/superstar, the man is nothing if not a bonafide showman. Presented by Jamie deRoy to an appreciative – and star-studded — audience (hey, we sat next to Keeley Smith!) at the Metropolitan Room, Gatlin wowed the crowd with a winsome and winning combination of singing and storytelling. His calling card is self-effacing humor in which he makes fun of himself even as he slyly lets you know he's the guy with the big house on the hill. He gets away with it because he simply radiates star power in a way that Donny Osmond (sorry, Donny) never can and never will. Gatlin steps on the stage and he owns it. He doesn't have to claim it or fight for it; it's his by the divine right of talent. Singing mostly his old hits, many unfamiliar to the likes of us who don't follow country music, he had us hanging on every heartbreaking phrase. Happily, he plans to come back and sing in New York in the future. That's sweet news.
The Metropolitan Room has become, in one short year, the hottest nightspot in town. The club's owners, the Mazzilli Brothers (Chris and Steve), threw a one year birthday party to celebrate not only the success of their spanking new club but also to thank all of those who helped make it happen. The wonderful party featured a wide variety of performers that included the club's talented booking manager Lennie Watts as well as some of the most gifted performers in New York who also happen to work for the Mazzilli Boys as waiters, waitresses and hostesses; we're speaking here of David Colbert, Lorinda Lisitza, and Kristine Zbornik.
Speaking of Kristine Zbornik, who performed her own act in the time slot before the Metropolitan Room had its birthday party, just mark her down as one of the most original, creative and fundamentally funny nightclub performers you will ever have the good fortune of seeing. Her humor is dark, but bittersweet. And oh you will laugh! She has the brassy voice of an old-time vaudevillian but the modern sensibility of a woman to whom irony is only the appetizer in a seven course meal that also includes sarcasm, whimsy, wit, vocal pyrotechnics, vulnerability, and sweet revenge. She is an underrated talent who should be performing all the time. Until that day comes, catch her when you can.
Part II of this roundup will include short reviews of Stacey Sullivan at the Metropolitan Room, Melissa Errico at Birdland, Phil Geoffrey Bond's cat story at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, three young Australian contest winners in a show sponsored by ASCAP at Don't Tell Mama, Daryl Sherman at the Waldorf Astoria, and the Puppini Sisters at the Oak Room. Stay tuned.