The Two of Clubs
Having covered the cabaret club scene for the better part of two decades we have witnessed the cyclical ebb and flow of this precious little genre. There are times when there is a plethora of clubs and, like the last year, there have been times when this world shrinks to a handful (or less!) venues and you begin to think this could be the end. But, no. Cabaret is like John Wayne with one lung. It isn't what you'd call healthy but it stands tall and keeps on going. Right now, after seeing important clubs like Helen's and Danny's bite the dust, and fearing that Don't Tell Mama would be next, comes that not necessarily deep but nonetheless oxygenated breath of new life with the brand new Broadway Baby Bistro in the theater district, the saving of Don't Tell Mama, the tentative return of Dillon's, and the increased cabaret presence of clubs like the Laurie Beechman Theatre, the Duplex and Birdland. Throughout all of this change, with the emergence of The Metropolitan Room as the versatile and premiere space for acts that could just as easily play Feinstein's or any of the smaller clubs, you suddenly find that cabaret will enter 2008 with surprising health and vigor. Or at least hope.
We now begin to catch up with some of the highlights of the last few months, some of them still running some of them (hopefully) returning soon ...
The Oak Room: Andrea Marcovicci Sings Rodgers & Hart
As she nears legendary status as a cabaret performer of grace, wit, and charm, Andrea Marcovicci finds a perfect fit with the lyrics of Lorenz Hart. Lots of people sing these songs, but few take the time to sort out the meaning of each clever phrase and give these standards their due. Exquisitely interpreted and acted, this is a show for lovers of words. The evening we saw her, Ms. Marcovicci was getting over a bad cold, but in her "talk-singing" voice she brought a delicious depth both to the comic and the heartbreaking work of this gifted, if tragic, man. And, of course, she talks the best game in town; her patter is an entertaining course in Music Appreciation 101 and it comes circa the most beautiful and stunningly dressed professor in town. Her show continues at the Oak Room through January 12.
Chita Rivera's best show was at Feinstein's – but wait ...
This is a touch of old news, as Chita Rivera performed a new club act at Feinstein's at the Regency in November, but for the record it was a sensational show. More cohesive and entertaining than her recent Broadway show, and richer and more intelligently conceived than her previous act at Feinstein's from a few years ago, this was Chita at her best. It was the story of her career, of course, but done with considerable style and humor.
Now comes the fresh news: we have it on good authority that Chita will be making a one-night only appearance at Birdland in a special BC/EFA concert. Based on her show at Feinstein's, you can bet it will be a knockout. Jim Caruso has arranged this so check his website and/or Birdland's for details as they become available.
Douglas Ladnier at Broadway Baby Bistro
Tall, dark, handsome and with the most mellifluous baritone you will likely ever hear in a cabaret club, Douglas Ladnier brings his new show into New York's brand new night spot. [More on the club in a later column, as the room is having its grand opening later this week on December 20th.] A singer with considerable taste and an iconoclastic style, his show features at least two of the most memorable performances of the year. Hearing him sing "I'm Your Man" is a romantic/sexy tour de force, while his "Blackberry Winter" is deeply, achingly moving. Happy to say that he has one more show, Tuesday, December 18th at 8 PM.
Ray Jessel at Don't Tell Mama
Singer/songwriter Ray Jessel is hilarious. Flat out funny. He writes comedy numbers that make a room scream with laughter. Songs like "She's Got a Penis" and "Life Sucks" have become instant cabaret classics. Curiously, so far, nobody else sings Jessel's songs except the songwriter himself, but perhaps that's because nobody can pull them off with such a wonderful, dry sense of humor. Based in L.A., Jessel periodically comes back to New York to perform his songbook at Don't Tell Mama. Droll simply doesn't do him justice. Hearing him does. He'll be back again soon.
Poor Baby Bree at Don't Tell Mama
Bree Benton takes on the persona of a 1920s/30s waif called "Poor Baby Bree" in a unique piece of theatricality that features an hour of obscure but fascinating songs like "If the Rest of the World Don't Want You" with the tag line: "go back to your mother and dad." Then there's "I've Got a Pain in My Sawdust," a number sung by Baby Bree pretending to be a rag doll that's sick. Consider also "Little Pal" performed by a prostitute who has to give up her three-year-old to an orphanage" The show is full of dark and rueful numbers like that, performed in a voice that sounds like a cross between Maude Maggart in her twenties trill and a young Joan Rivers. It's a strange and captivating sound. This is not your typical cabaret act and that, perhaps, is why we liked it. We understand that Baby Bree will be returning to Don't Tell Mama to perform this show on a once-per-month basis. Keep an eye on the Don't Tell Mama website.
Ben Rauch as Horace Vanderveer at the Laurie Beechman Theatre
Like Bree Benton, Ben Rauch takes on a whole other persona for the entire length of his show at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, except his piece is, in some ways, the exact opposite of Benton's. Playing a Broadway wannabe called Horace Vanderveer with fake buck teeth and an even more fake British accent, he sings either famous Broadway songs like "Don't Rain on My Parade" and "Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)," or contemporary Broadway music from shows like Jersey Boys, Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables and Wicked. Regardless of a song's genre, its gender, or even its key, Vanderveer insists he was born to sing the song and play the role. There is something game and winning about Rauch's character. His resilience is at once comic and inspiring. He's a fool, of course, but you have to admire his pluck, and some of this stuff is genuinely funny. The show runs amuck a bit but that's the nature of the material. You'll either be charmed or you'll hate it. Either way, like Bree Benton, you have to admire the total commitment to the character. Here, too, there is talk of bringing this show back to the Beechman as it played to virtually sold out performances throughout its recent five show gig.
At the Metropolitan Room: Jeanne MacDonald, Luba Mason, Amy Wolk, etc.
We mention these three performers who recently performed at the Metropolitan Room to make a point. Amy Wolk is a funny and entertaining newcomer, Jeanne MacDonald is a Nightlife Award-winning vocalist with a great New York Times review from a recent show, and Luba Mason has starred in a number of Broadway productions and has a voice that compares to Linda Eder's (she replaced Eder in Jekyll & Hyde). All three found an appropriate home on the stage of the Metropolitan Room.
Briefly, Jeanne MacDonald's tribute to Peggy Lee in her Metro Room show was elegant, tuneful, and polished. Amy Wolk's show was brash and fun. She has a great sense of humor, terrific stage presence, and a bright voice; she's got a future. Luba Mason is the package: beautiful, great voice, confident performer, but some of her musical choices need rethinking; her rendition of "You've Got to Be Taught" from South Pacific is a case in point. Of her talent, however, this is no doubt. We'd go see her again in a flash. In fact, we'd go see most anyone at the Metropolitan Room because it so such a shrewdly booked room.