The Two of Clubs
Forced into exile by ruptured floors in our apartment, we spent the better part of the summer out of town and out of touch. Before we left, however, we caught a number of shows that only now do we have the chance to mention, plus there's one show we just saw that we are delighted to talk about as well ...
Martin Vidnovic's Cabaret Triumph!
Martin Vidnovic put together his first cabaret act that debuted at the Metropolitan Room on four subsequent Mondays in July and August. A longtime romantic leading man who starred in such shows as Baby, Brigadoon (Tony nomination) and A Grand Night for Singing, Vidnovic is currently playing one of the fathers in the revival of The Fantasticks. This solo effort - directed by Lennie Watts with musical direction by James Followell, both deeply steeped in cabaret - was a full immersion cabaret experience. Vidnovic immediately grasped the essential element of the art form and gave full flower not only to his wonderful voice but most importantly, he allowed his colorful personality to flourish. He had the audience enthralled and entirely entertained throughout his act. We caught his last show which was packed with fellow stars, which might well have been the reason for the evening's excessive length. Clearly the show went on too long but, having said that, we have to admit we still enjoyed every moment of it.
Jonathan Whitton: Good to Go
Dozens – if not scores - of young performers make their debut in cabaret every year. Most of them are talented to a degree. Most have a limited gift that, while intriguing, probably won't be enough to provide them with a future in the art form. Some are very talented but unpolished; these artists certainly need to be encouraged and supported. Then there is that exceptional debut in which a young person steps up to the microphone and simply owns the stage right from the start. We've seen it rarely; Julie Reyburn comes to mind. So does Scott Coulter. We happily saw it again this summer when Jonathan Whitton began his show at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. A musical theater performer with considerable craft and skill at his disposal, this young and personable entertainer put together an act consisting of a winning combination of material that rested largely on contemporary musical theatre songs by the likes of William Finn, John Bucchino, and Jason Robert Brown. In addition to his wise choice of material, there were three other reasons for his immediate success: 1) A lovely and reliable tenor voice, 2) Excellent acting chops: he knew what he was singing and why; he expressed his emotions not only in his singing but in his acting, 3) Whitton has an engaging and winning personality; he's likeable. That goes a long, long way in cabaret. And we think, in fact, that Jonathan Whitton will, indeed go a long, long way in cabaret.
Sinatra with a Twist
One of this summer's biggest surprises came when we finally caught up to Cary Hoffman's Frank Sinatra show at the Metropolitan Room. We had heard about Mr. Hoffman's acclaimed concert work put over in the style and manner of Ol' Blue Eyes, but had not yet had the pleasure. It was our good fortune, however, to catch Mr. Hoffman at a transitional moment. Instead of simply singing the Chairman of the Board's great songs, he did something new and far more artful: he gave a hilarious running commentary of his obsession with Sinatra, explaining how and why he came to be singing these songs. Wry, with exceptional comic timing, Hoffman is masterful on stage. Some of his story is downright tragic, but he tells it with such ironic detachment that he turns even the saddest moments into a comic soufflé. The act was raised to its full height because Hoffman pays off with a great Sinatra sound. There is talk that this show, with its new changes, may be heading for a possible Off-Broadway engagement. Of the many Sinatra-related shows we've seen, this is the one that seems most worthy of an Off-Broadway run.
Jimmy James: A Seasoned and Savvy Performer
Currently starring in "Other Voices, One Room" every Wednesday night at 10 p.m. for the next two months at the Metropolitan Room, vocal impersonator Jimmy James demonstrates extraordinary versatility, a stunning voice (or should we say voices?) and a grand sense of humor. Among his best impersonations are Eartha Kitt, Bette Midler, Cher (and Sonny) and perhaps the funniest Bette Davis we've ever seen. His one extended routine involving Ms. Davis had us screaming with laughter. While James performs a scripted show, he ad libs a great deal, but always keeps his shows – and his characters – in the moment. Accompanied on this particular evening by substitute pianist Eric James (no relation), the show was smooth and simply great fun.