by Rob Lester
On West 30th Street, The Urban Stages eclectic festival Winter Rhythms continues through December 11 and it's filled with winners of the Bistro, Nightlife and MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs) Awards. Gretchen Reinhagen, who's won all three of those prizes for bringing the big personality of Kaye Ballard to tiny cabaret stages, knows different facets of the genre as a performer and teacher. She's been on the boards of different stages and is on the Board of Directors of MAC. Both Sides Now is the title of her brand new show, which can be seen on Saturday (and can also be seen at other times in another venue, like other acts stopping by the festival). Also on the packed Saturday Winter Rhythms schedule is an afternoon cabaret discussion with the experience-packed opinions of reviewer Roy Sander, who is heavily involved with all three previously mentioned awards, and director/performer Lennie Watts, who has won many and is President of MAC. The seminar is free to MAC members and anyone holding a ticket to the festival's events ($25 for one, $40 for two on the same day). The celebrated, opinionated, sometimes enervated Watts also directs Saturday's anticipated solo show by Tanya Holt (who succeeded him as booking manager at the Metropolitan Room), with musical direction by Tracy Stark, who has a mantleful of cabaret awards herself. Many other award winners are in the songwriter showcasessongwriters and performersin the series earlier in the week. And Sean Harkness, the MAC and Bistro-winning guitarist/composer/sometime singer and sideman for seemingly half the cabaret acts in town, gets his own show on Tuesday after Bistro winner Janice Hall's new act.
This Wednesday, December 7, a jazz event will find winners of all kinds: Just-added is Tonya Pinkins, Tony Award winner for Jelly's Last Jam, who will join their Jazz Jam to sing four numbers. Also joining the gang are Kat Gang and Urban Stages' alumnus Cleve Douglass, who has some trophies on his shelf, too. On board is Mary Foster Conklin, a winner in jazz categories of the cabaret awards, as is the night's maestro on keyboard, Barry Levitt. And the impressive Levitt's composing skills will be featured in a Songwriter Showcase on December 9, along with the lyrics of frequent collaborator Peter Napolitano, the series' Producing Associate, working with Artistic Director Frances Hill.
Urban Stages' Winter Rhythms' opening night, with a loving tribute to the man behind the Mabel Mercer Foundation and the annual Cabaret Convention concerts, Donald Smith, was a love-fest festival kickoff. I got a kick out of seeing so many memorable moments from past Convention nights recreated, and hearing performers share their anecdotes and memories of the encouragement given by Mr. Smith, who was present in the first row. It was, he told me, his first night out after months of recuperating from the surgery that had also made him an absentee for the first time in over two decades of hosting the Conventions. With love songs and loving thanks in pre-song speeches, and his own thanks, you could say "The Winter Was Warm" (to invoke the name of a song in Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol which will be heavily sampled this week in A Ritzmas Daryl by Ricky Ritzel and Daryl Glenn, who've won every cabaret award known to man and beast). There were plenty of songs from musical theatre and film scores, and not just the usual suspects. Klea Blackhurst, who did a sensational job of hosting and singing, both with panache, did the title song from the 1943 Mary Martin vehicle that closed before it got to Broadway, Dancing in the Streets, and KT Sullivan was charismatic with a sampling of songs from Coco to get a dazzling night started. At its end, the honoree told the full (and fully appreciative) audience some additional hilarious stories of his early days, following up the earlier-stated legend that his first full sentence as a child in Massachusetts was, "When do we move to New York?," and youthful days celebrating Cole Porter's birthday with a party where he invited his eight-year-old friends.
Porter's work was represented by yet another multi-award winner, Colleen McHugh; one of her monthly themed Calendar Girls shows is a Porter night and she chose to wow the crowd with a Smith-shared sentiment, "I Happen to Like New York." (On Sunday I happened to arrive just as she did at the Cole Porter evening by John Proulx, very fine at Feinstein's.) On Thursday, she can't be at Urban Stages for its tribute to Lauren Bacall as she has her own holiday show downtown at the Duplex called A Stocking Full of Prozac. But she and her audience can catch the Bacall bash, with the more vocally-blessed Maureen Taylor saluting the film/stage legend on Dec. 11, 13 or 18 at the Metropolitan Room on West 22 Street.
At the Metropolitan Room Now: Susan Winter
Also mining Broadway, she scores with a two-song medley about boys who grow up before your eyes, ringing true and wringing a few tears, given context with mentions of her two grown sons: she combines the mother's song from Big, "Stop Time," and "If He Walked Into My Life." With Big's song setting it up, the latter number from Mame, often generalized by singers to be regrets about a romantic relationship, refreshingly returns to its roots to be about a kid. And, in raising a woman's self-doubts about raising a boy, Winter raises the stakes and the roof. Also showing nuanced acting, splendid singing, and treats to hear because they're rarely done are two newer numbers: taking its cue from the & Dreams theme and title is Rick Jensen's moving "Go Ahead and Dream." And go ahead and try to find a better character set-piece than the set-in-France-but-sung-in-English "Se reposer et observer" by Barry Kleinbort. He's also the wise director of the act, which brings back a cabaret class act.
Also in Cabaret Rooms as Winter Looms
Among the many acts in town, with nods to the season, are:
At the Metropolitan Room, with dates clustered around the end of the month, is the musical theatre/concert piece based on the old winter-set story of "The Little Match Girl," the group GrooveLily's Striking 12. And on the 18th, there's a holiday fundraiser for radio station WBAI whose decades-long-running Sunday night program "Everything Old Is New Again" plays Broadway and cabaret music. The program's host, David Kenney, will also host the Saturday afternoon benefit, with performances by some who've found their way to Broadway, like Robert Cuccioli and Melissa Errico and songwriter John Bucchino, plus more winners of cabaret awards (Karen Oberlin, Tom Andersen, Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano) and the winner of this summer's MetroStar Talent Challenge singing contest, Marissa Mulder. Keep an eye every month on the club's calendar for its Broadway on 22nd Street series with musical theatre performers, produced by yet another winner of cabaret awards, the club's own staff member, Joseph Macchia. The Metropolitan's staff of waiters, hosts, etc. is full of singing and comic talent with professional experience and their occasional generous-length staff shows have been superb. The holiday version is December 15.
Over on Theatre Row, at the Laurie Beechman Theatre (inside the West Bank Cafe), Macchia also produces the Cabaret Cares shows to raise money for young people with HIV. Holiday Duets is their December 11 entry. The venue has also booked the Tony Award-winning Alice Ripley for some late-night December slots.
Also in the theatre district, Don't Tell Mama has its share of winners with holiday cheer: the two most recent MAC Hanson Award winners Angela Shultz and Marianne Challis appear in separate shows; Tommy Femia and Rick Skye are Judy Garland & Liza Minnelli Live At Mama's!, respectively and semi-respectfully, in a duo show; and on his own is Steven Brinberg with his Simply Barbra show.
Daniel Reichard (Jersey Boys) has a wild-sounding Christmas extravaganza over at The Triad on December 12.
This month at Feinstein's at Loews Regency brings in Michael Feinstein himself, Barbara Cookand Kelli O'Hara come New Year's Eve.
At the Duplex, there's "a twinter wonderland," where the higher-than-highly recommended rambunctious Rescigno twins (Bistro Award winners) have their comedic Christmas Rescignoël show this Friday and Saturday.
Details and full schedules can be found at the websites indicated below. Note that the cabaret rooms have a cover charge and a minimum, usually two drinks, while Urban Stages' program offers a complimentary glass of wine with the ticket price ($25 or $40 to two same-day shows, except for the closing $75 December 11 gala with Steve Ross and the free-with-any-other-ticket Saturday seminar.)