- CHARITY BENEFIT
Written By Joel Benjamin – August 27th, 2012
Forever youthful Jeff Harnar made his Birdland debut with a program of “lighter fare for a summer night.” This isn’t to say that he didn’t sing any masterpieces. Cole Porter, Noel Coward, Leonard Bernstein/Comden & Green, Cy Coleman & Dorothy Fields aren’t exactly chopped liver. Add in Stan Freberg, Tom Lehrer and a touch of Allan Sherman, and you can see that this was a very substantial, yet fun, program.
From the moment he took the stage, Harnar had complete command over his celebrity-filled audience. His banter held the program together with witty bits about his childhood and, of course, about the songs. He spoke of coming to New York, staying with his Aunt Fran who gave him his first taste of sophistication and of working as a singing waiter, gradually insinuating himself into the higher rungs of show business, finally becoming a cabaret icon.
Harnar sang Porter’s “I’m Throwing a Ball Tonight” and the Cy Coleman/Dorothy Fields’ “My Personal Property” with both the hilarious parody lyrics that not only updated the songs, but kept their sophisticated tone intact. Harnar wrote his update of “I’m Throwing” and Barry Kleinbort did the honors for “My Personal Property.”
Despite being kibitzed by Elaine Stritch, Harnar managed to get through a Coleman/Michael Stewart list song “Everybody Today is Turning On” which manages to name every chemical turn on. List songs proved to be a large part of the program. “Well, Did You Ever” which was part of a medley that included “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” “Friendship,” “You’re the Top,” “Cherry Pies Ought to Be You”—all list songs, too—was smoothly put over with the vocal help of Harnar’s invaluable Music Director, Alex Rybeck, another fixture on the Cabaret circuit.
A change of mood, Styne/Cahn’s “I Fall In Love Too Easily” illustrated Harnar’s ability to lead an audience, which was laughing hysterically just moments before, into a sweet ballad, sung with sadness and warmth.
Harnar is the winner of the 2012 Noel Coward Foundation Cabaret Award. The reason he won was clear in his interpretations of “Sail Away” (quiet and thoughtful) and “Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs. Worthington” (building to a comical rage).
On the eccentric end of the spectrum was Tom Lehrer’s “The Elements,” a rapid-fire romp through the Periodic Table; Stan Freberg’s “Television,” written in a mock calypso style, taking television’s empty-headedness to task; and some of Allan Sherman’s non-Camp Granada tidbits, still funny today.
Bassist Mark Minkler and drummer Ray Marchica combined with Rybeck to produce many colors and timbres.
The show ended with yet another list song, Porter’s “Can-can,” exhaustingly rendered in its every double entendre glory.
More Information: 212-581-3089 or www.birdlandjazz.com or www.jeffharnar.com
*Photo: Seth Walters