- CHARITY BENEFIT
REVIEWED BY: ALIX COHEN
Last weekend, the 2012 opening of 92nd Street Y’s Lyrics and Lyricists (series) breezed, bounced and fox trotted its way across the stage of the Theresa L. Kaufman Concert Hall to the big band musical styling of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks. Hosted by genial historian Robert Kimball, who was introduced as “holding the record for the most middle of the night phone calls needing to settle a bet about a song,” the show featured Christine Andreas, Laura Osnes, Jason Graae, Howard McGillin, Joan Morris and William Bolcom.
Among the literally hundreds of songs* by honorees Gus Kahn (lyricist) and Walter Donaldson (composer), are many of the most iconic numbers of the golden age between the two World Wars. These are lyrics you know but can’t remember why, entire tunes you hum forgetting the title. Some of you may have danced to this work revived by another generation. Some listened to it on vinyl, some remember the music from films. Though you may be woefully unfamiliar with “T’ Ain’t No Sin (To Dance Around in Your Bones),” how many times have you heard “Ain’t We Got Fun” and “My Blue Heaven?”
Thespian Jason Graae began the festivities with “How ‘Ya Gonna Keep’Em Down on the Farm” through which he sang and strutted with just the right vaudeville attitude. Graae has a flair for this kind of material. His rendition of “Yes, Sir! That’s My Baby” included a bit of appropriate, vocal Jolson-izing, duets contained lively footwork and a nice slice of ham. His voice is cherce. The man is fun!
Laura Osnes’ “Swingin Down the Lane” and “Dream a Little Dream of Me” (later popularized by Mama Cass Eliot), had an English Music Hall flavor added to by period ringlets. Her soprano seems to ride just above the melody and feels a little stressed. It’s easy to imagine Osnes in a long, light, ingénue dress on a garden swing hung from the top of the proscenium, though she also does nicely atop a piano.
Howard McGillin’s smooth, operetta voice lent itself to the evergreen “My Buddy,” the crooned “You Stepped Out of a Dream” and “Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away)” all of which sound similar in his hands. The 1929 “Liza” was introduced by tapper Ruby Keeler in Florenz Ziegfeld’s Show Girl. When Ms. Keeler seemed to lose focus toward the top of a platform, husband Al Jolson stood and sang from the audience. It worked and was repeated for safety’s sake on successive nights.
Vocalist Joan Morris and pianist/composer William Bolcom have been working together since 1973 (as well as being married.) Their ease and affection is apparent. A jaunty “Sundown”: Every little breeze is sighin’/Of love undyin’ at sundown./Every little bird is restin’/And feather nestin’ at sundown was followed by the arch “Little White Lies” and later , “Sam, the Old Accordion Man” with the cheerful help of Vince Giordano on accordion.
For my money, the classy Christine Andreas provided many highlights. From a smoky “It Had to Be You” to the beautifully interpreted “Love Me Or Leave Me” (originally written under duress for torch singer Ruth Etting-the duress emanating from her gangster boyfriend, the gimp), to a joyous open throttle “San Francisco,” Andreas exemplified well honed control, wide range, and the great skill of communicating. Her phrasing is as impeccable as her style.
Vince Giordano enthusiastically sang such quirky standards as “Borneo” and “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” from his perch in the upper tier of The Nighthawks. Giordano’s enjoyment is infectious. The band was in good form. In what other company would you have the opportunity to see and hear enormous clarinet megaphones not utilized in forty years or the smaller version attached to Henry’s Stein’s fine solo violin?
The ensemble’s “Toot, Toot, Tootsie” and proverbial “Makin’ Whoopie” were buoyant. Eddie Cantor’s number (Whoopie) was apparently written after Donaldson and Kahn had been fired from the musical for fairly consistent inebriation slowing down output. Donaldson and Kahn invited their replacements to a Long Island house party, kept them four sheets to the wind, and finished the assignment themselves. Clearly, Robert Kimball’s anecdotes were informative and amusing.
As lyrics came up on a screen, the audience sang “I’ll See You in My Dreams” along with the stage of smiling performers.
It was an entertaining, well put together show.
*Over 100 songs written as collaborators, and many more with other partners
Artistic Director, Robert Kimball
Vince Giordano, Co-Music Director
Peter Yarin, Co-Music Director /Piano
Patricia Wilcox, Stage Director
*Photo by Stephen Sorokoff