Barbara and Scott
The Two of Clubs

You will probably never see a more committed entertainer than Tovah Feldshuh. Fearless and ferocious, she throws herself into her one-woman show at Feinstein's at Loews Regency with an intensity that would make a laser beam blush. Playing a wide array of characters in her show called Tovah In a Nutshell, she puts on a performance that is far more theatrical than cabaret-like. There is, perhaps, no other high-end club other than Feinstein's where a show of this kind would work. And it works here largely because the nightclub has fostered an image in which it regularly presents entertainers one would not expect to see in a New York cabaret room, from comedians like The Smothers Brothers to concert artists who usually play huge auditoriums like Linda Eder.

Primarily an actress who sings, Tovah is at her best when she establishes a character and takes on a song that makes sense coming out of that other human being's soul. A perfect example of this is her performance of Craig Carnelia's "Joe" from the musical Working. Donning an old cap to cover her tresses, she transforms herself into a retired workingman who describes both his current life and memories of his youth. It is a musical masterpiece and Tovah wrings every bit of heartbreaking humanity out of it.

She occasionally goes too far - there is a bit of monkeyshines (literally) that finally seems out of place at Feinstein's - but one readily excuses Tovah's excesses because she is one of the rare performers who will take the big risks that define greatness. Give us an entertainer who is willing to fail grandly; that entertainer is the one who will, more often than not, knock your socks off. And with this show, figure on picking your socks up from the carpet when it's over.

Tovah Feldshuh's show has just been extended to March 22nd. And that's it, in a nutshell.

And here are some nutshell reviews of our own ...

Speaking of Craig Carnelia, there is a revue of his music called Life on Earth that is currently playing at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. Organized largely - and simply - by grouping Carnelia's songs by their shows, it is a wonderful way to experience the intelligence, wit and humanity of this latter-day musical theater wonder. We might argue that he gives away his masterpiece "Flight" too early in the evening and that it's bit jarring to follow the sexy and funny "I've Been Watching You" with the evocative "The Pictures in the Hall," but these are small complaints compared to the effervescent fun of the "Cowboy Waltz" - performed to perfection by Evan Harrington; the nostalgic nirvana of "The Kid Inside"; and the rueful truth of "Things I Learned in High School," not to mention the emotional tug of "Look for Me in the Songs." Simply put, a revue of Craig Carnelia's songs is long overdue and this nicely fits the bill. In addition to Mr. Harrington (a wonderful find for us), the cast consists of Broadway star Lisa Brescia, D.B. Bonds (most recently seen in the William Finn revue Make Me A Song) and another new young talent, Carey Anderson. There is one more performance of Life on Earth; it will take place at 6 pm on Monday, March 17th.

Daryl Glenn and Jo Lynn Burks are putting on an evening of inspired cabaret at the Metropolitan Room in their show honoring the music (and the lore) of Robert Altman's classic film Nashville. Jay Rogers is a special guest star with vocal support from Tanya Holt and Brad Wills. But what distinguishes this show is the pure joy with which the material is being presented. The movie boasted a hit song - "I'm Easy" - but it's easy to forget that the entire score was both musically and lyrically very hip, smart and just plain entertaining. This show will bring it all back, and it does with both exceeding good humor and considerable musicianship by Glenn and Burks, both of whom impress mightily. You will leave this show smiling ... and thinking you ought to pick up the DVD of Nashville. There are two more performances, on March 16 & 17 at 9:30 PM.

Every now and then we like to pop into one of the many talent showcases that take place in the clubs around town. No club has more of them than Don't Tell Mama, so we took a chance on Seth Bisen-Hersh's weekly talent showcase (Tuesday's at 7 PM).

Bisen-Hersh is a composer/musical director who holds forth at the piano with some dicey patter that bookends the hour-long program. His stock-in-trade is the comically inappropriate comment. That works most of the time - except when the comments truly are inappropriate. In addition to playing for all six singers in his talent showcase, Bisen-Hersh also performs an opening and closing number of his own, the latter (the night we were there) was a song that had the nearly packed house roaring with laughter called "If Only I Were Gay."

The six entertainers on the bill that night were, naturally, of varying quality. All were young and somewhat green. And all had at least one gift that made us understand why they might profitably take part in an evening like this ...

Jennifer Saputo has a pleasing voice but hasn't learned how to command the stage. Merrill Grant is terrific at commanding attention on stage, but could choose her songs more astutely. "Speak Low," in particular, at least in that loud, insistent arrangement, did not suit her. Alexander Gonzalez has a pleasant voice but his two song numbers weren't contrasting enough to show off any versatility. Nicole Patrick showed some real spark singing "Astonishing," while Cara Samantha Scherker projected a very winning personality. Heather Siler was the most interesting of the six because she had the most immediately identifiable Broadway voice, which she showed off well singing "Someone Else's Story." She also proved to be a real character. But for all her sexual cutting up with her second song, she never registered as an actress. Personality, yes. Actor no.

It was a fascinating hour. There is talent in this town ... but then you knew that.

-- Barbara and Scott Siegel