- CHARITY BENEFIT
Cabaret Reviewers Choose their Top 10 Picks for 2011. Here’s what Sandi Durell, Joe Regan, Jr. and Stephen Hanks have to say:
Sandi Durell’s Top 10 Cabaret Picks for 2011
It’s been a busy year for me, not only seeing and reviewing cabaret at some of New York’s finest boites, but also as Managing Editor of the growing Times Square Chronicles. The online paper busily updates dozens of times on a daily basis, while the monthly print edition allows for readership by thousands of tourists and residents alike.
Reviewing cabaret and theatre (Examiner.com and T2conline.com), keeps me busy on practically a daily basis throughout the year.
I’m happy to welcome cabaret reviewers Stephen Hanks, Joe Regan Jr. and Susan Hasho into the fold! We all wish you a Happy New Year and many musical cabaret nights!
*The order does not reflect preference. They’re all Top 10!
1. Clint Holmes “Remembering Bobby Short” – checked into the Café Carlyle with some serious hot swing and tender interpretations of the music of icon Bobby Short. Holmes’ ability to capture the essence of the songs, his energetic magnetism and well-experienced understanding of reciting a lyric while caressing each syllable and nuance, revealed his soulful and reflective power. He’s the ultimate showman!
2. Elaine Stritch still singin’ Sondheim at the Carlyle – Why Not? It’s always amazing how this 86 year old veteran comes up with new surprises. Talk about being in the moment, Stritch is hell bent on engaging her audience with a feistiness and authoritative willpower. It doesn’t matter one iota that she has difficulty remembering lyrics or patter, this tough cookie is both philosophical and belligerent, always raising the bar in the art of storytelling.
3. Marilyn Maye “The Best of Times is Now” – With all the superlatives used up, what can a mere reviewer say? That the Queen of technique is as feisty, fervent and flirty as ever as she regaled her loving audience at Feinstein’s. There truly is no tune like a Maye tune when it comes to attention to lyric and nuance; her smoky, slightly raspy vocals promise and deliver.
4. Ah Men! The Boys of Broadway was one of Betty Buckley’s shining hours at Feinstein’s. Why can’t a woman be more like a man? She can as this Tony Award winning singer/actress seemed to have accomplished her lifelong goal of learning how to deal with men by playing this trump card of a show. All those fabulous songs written for men in Broadway shows are no longer pigeon-holed for the male gender. Buckley took some of the best, used her powerhouse vocals and dramatic skills and turned them into gems with new meaning.
5. Mark Nadler: Crazy 1961 - Pure Genius exploded at the Laurie Beechman Theatre into a brilliant 50th Birthday celebration. “Crazy 1961” is a precise compilation of 61 historical events and 61 songs written in that auspicious year. I could go on and on, and Nadler did, as he related facts, world and theatre, that made ’61 a very good and wild year! Weaving data into songs written in the same year could only come from a thought process and mind called Mark Nadler.
6. Emily Bergl continued “Kidding on the Square” at Algonquin’s historic Oak Room. The Desperate Housewives, Southland TV star is at home on a Broadway stage or in the intimacy of a cabaret venue, her lilting sweet soprano reminiscent of the 20s/30s cuties playfully squeezing every ounce of drama and comedy out of a song. She’s the consummate actress and interpreter and I’m not kidding!
7. Cheyenne Jackson’s Cocktail Hour: Music of the Mad Men Era – made a sizzling splash as Jackson’s modest demeanor summed it up saying he’s waited his whole life for this, his first solo performance at the iconic Carnegie Hall. The heart throb showed off the fine facets of his voice from sexy baritone to smooth and rich liquid falsetto tones backed by the NY Pops Orchestra under the direction of Steven Reineke.
8. Jacques Brel Returns: The Music of Brel, Blau, Shuman and Jouannest en Cabaret – The Triad Theatre is home to this drama, love and passion as a rotating cast regales the sadness, romance, death and fierce realities of life; the meat and potatoes of Belgian-born Brel’s wit, humor and sarcasm. It’s a bawdy, fun-filled evening with Robert Cuccioli, Ereni Sevasti, Natascia Diaz, Jim Stanek and others.
9. James Barbour celebrated his 4th Annual Holiday Concert and new CD “Bring Me Giants” at Sardi’s. Blessed with a God-given voice of soaring magnitude, his rich baritone filled the room with colorations of rainbow proportions. Fans will be seeing lots more of Barbour as he soars and thrills on Broadway in March with the musical adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” in the role of Jack Favel, joined by Karen Mason and Howard McGillin.
10. Think hot, cool, sensational! That best describes John Pizzarelli & Jessica Molaskey, one superlative collision at the Café Carlyle. This couple keeps breaking the boundaries in musical intensity, weaving their way on a magical path of new surprises, with real genius behind the selection of the 60s and 70s tunes. It’s a mix and match of pop and jazz songs seamlessly spliced together and a whole lotta scattin’ going on!
Joe Regan Jr.’s 2011 Top Ten Cabaret and Music Shows
1. “A 95th Birthday Tribute to Russ Garcia” starring Shaynee Rainbolt, Terese Genecco and the Little Big Band, with guest star Billy Stritch, featuring Russ Garcia and his lyricist wife Gina Garcia participating via Webcam and Skype. This was, without a doubt, the “event” act of the year, with extraordinary performances by three singers at their peak, with nine musicians. Between the numbers, Garcia told his life story, his work as a teenage musician bandleader, interacting with the audience. Fortunately, the event was recorded and is on the Iridium’s website.
2. Gregory Nalbone did two superb shows focusing on romantic ballads, “Love is the Air – Songs of Romance & Passion“ sold out on Super Bowl Sunday, and again in November. Beautifully paced, Nalbone daringly, yet gently, sang the lyrics “I’ll Remember You,” “In Other Words (Fly Me To the Moon)” with its rarely sung verse. In both shows, he released his sexual power on “Something’s Gotta Give.” “Night and Day,” in its original waltz tempo, made the song romantic. Nalbone does romantic ballads better than any other male singer around.
3. Ricky Ritzel “Ingénue” - had the courage to do a show featuring only songs written and made famous by women, opening with Pat Suzuki’s “I Enjoy Being a Girl,” rallying the audience to sing along with Irene Ryan’s “No Time At All” (Pippin) and tearing into the most heartbreaking version of “Lies of Handsome Men.” He closed with “I’m Still Here,” going for the high note at the end!
4. Daryl Glenn, Ricky Ritzel and Alison Nussbaum “ A Ritzmas Daryl.” It was Ritzel and Glenn’s brilliance to combine the score of “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” and “Scrooge” with Ritzel playing Scrooge and Glenn and Nussbaum doing all the other parts. Ritzel, as Magoo, sang the opening number, “It’s Great To Be Back On Broadway.” Glenn and Nussbaum did solos and duets including the beautiful “Winter Was Warm” and Glenn expressively sang “I’ll Begin Again.”
6. Marissa Mulder “Look to Your Heart” - possesses an extraordinary vocal instrument and a talent for phrasing which made you think you were hearing standards for the first time, reminding me of the great Lee Wiley. The show, a tribute to James Van Heusen, ran the gamut from “Personality” to a superb “Here’s That Rainy Day” with concerto like music direction by William Zeffiro and skillful direction by Karen Oberlin.
7. Sigali Hamberger “A Toast to Ava Gardner” - Instead of imitating Ava Gardner, Hamberger, a classical trained lyric soprano, chose to tell Gardner’s life story and the music related to it. Opening with Gardner’s favorite song “Lush Life” and choosing, appropriately, “Cornet Man” (about Gardner’s marriage to Artie Shaw), “How Am I To Know,” which Gardner sang in “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman,” and “I Could Have Told You,” about her breakup with Sinatra. The encore was Aznavour’s “She,” summing up Gardner‘s life.
8. Baby Jane Dexter (2 shows) – I saw the great Baby Jane Dexter twice this year. Dexter’s talent turns every lyric into a one act play. On both comic and intense blues songs, her expressions come deeply from her soul. “Still Bad, Still Blue” featured a sad “Good Thing Going” as well as a sing along, “One Meat Ball,” along with love message “If Love Were A Train.” On “Everybody Hurts,” the audience reached out to touch her as fans of Judy Garland used to do!
9. Wesla Whitfield “The Best Is Yet To Come” - thrilled us with the country western songs “Walking After Midnight” and “I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart.” She did a stunning “You Must Believe in Spring” and “Being Green,” in which her facial expressions, during the musical breaks, spoke volumes! Class act all the way!
10. Edie Stokes “A New Ride on the Carousel”- glamorously dressed, sang a series of songs connected by battle of the sexes jokes, delivered with the wide eyed wonder of the eternally innocent. All the songs were delivered with passion, the audience responding with laughter and applause.
My runners up: Billie Roe “Dangerous Women: Life in Film Noir,“ Stearns Matthews “This Will Be,” Joan Jaffe “Man Ha Ha Ha Tan,“ Stacy Sullivan “Tribute To Peggy Lee,” Maureen Taylor “Too Marvelous” tribute to Lauren Bacall, Richard Holbrook’s annual Christmas Show and Fred Barton’s great big band show. All worthy of award honors!
Stephen Hanks Top 10 Cabaret Shows of 2011
This was my first full year as a cabaret show reviewer (for both T2C and Cabaret Scenes Magazine) and there have been few things in my life as fascinating and enjoyable as observing and writing about the talented and brave souls who perform in this art form. The list below is based on the 70-plus shows I either reviewed or attended as a fan.
1. Barb Jungr: Man in the Long Black Coat—I’ve never been a big Bob Dylan fan but after seeing this performance at the Metropolitan Room I am definitely now a Barb Jungr fan. This British-born chanteuse didn’t just interpret 13 Dylan classics she re-imagined them with a rich voice that ranged from a whisper to a belt. Supported by intricate yet accessible arrangements, Jungr delivered a totally engrossing show.
2. Laura Benanti: Let Me Entertain You—And at Feinstein’s she certainly did, even without stripping or wearing a Playboy Bunny costume. Benanti is a just-one-of-the-guys, down-to-earth diva with an accessible beauty and sensuality. When a playful sense of humor and a great voice come with the package, it’s a compelling combination.
3. Marquee Five: 8-Track Throwback—This exciting new singing group absolutely rocked the Laurie Beechman Theater in March and November with their wonderful arrangements on classic pop and rock songs of the 1960s and ‘70s, and followed up with a terrific CD release. This fantastic five-some is the Manhattan Transfer for the new millennium.
4. Janice Hall: Grand Illusions—The Music of Marlene Dietrich—At the Metropolitan Room and then at Urban Stages, this lovely, classically-trained opera soprano took on the challenge of delivering the songbook of this German-born Hollywood icon and pulled it off with subtle sensuality, without falling into camp or mimicry.
5. McNamara & Henn: Take That!—Singer/songwriter Mary Liz McNamara teamed with songwriting bass player Ritt Henn, at the Duplex, and the result was musical magic. This new cabaret dynamic duo displayed great chemistry and delivered 14 songs they wrote either individually or together and there wasn’t a clinker in the bunch.
6. Meg Flather: Home Shopping Diva—After listening to her lovely voice on a variety of song styles (including her own compositions) at Don’t Tell Mama, and her fun anecdotes about her life as a TV cosmetics pitchwoman, I was ready to buy anything from this charming cabaret diva.
7. Shana Farr: The Songs of Julie Andrews—Supported by terrific arrangements from her pianist Fred Barton, this elegant blond expertly delivered the well-known and more obscure songs from the Andrews catalog with style, grace and vocals that would make Maria von Trapp proud at the Metropolitan Room.
8. Terese Genecco: & Her Little Big Band—For a third straight year, this ball of talent and energy, with a great voice, took over the Iridium once a month with an 8-piece orchestra (led by Barry Levitt) and delivered classic pop, rock, standards and “Rat Pack” songs. Frank, Dean and Sammy would have put her in the act.
9.Rosemary Loar: An extroverted cabaret veteran with a terrific voice, great stage presence and cheeky sense of humor was a busy girl in 2011, offering her stunning “Sting, Stang, Stung” Sting songbook at the Metropolitan Room and “Rosemary Returns to Her Roots” at Don’t Tell Mama, a solid show featuring her own compelling material.
10.The Salon Open Mic Cabaret: At Etcetera Etcetera Restaurant (West 44th St), Host and Musical Director Mark Janas and Producer Tanya Moberly have created the classy go-to place to hear singers of every age and style on Sunday nights. Janas’ presentation of “Classical Corner” during the mid-show break alone is worth the cover charge and the minimum.
Ten Honorable Mentions (Alphabetical)
Frank Basile (Metropolitan Room); Raissa Katona-Bennett (Feinstein’s and hosting the outdoor concerts at Tudor City Greens); The Bobs (In August at The Duplex); Cougars on the Prowl (Patricia Fitzpatrick, Dana Lorge and Helena Grenot at Don’t Tell Mama); Dazzling Debuts: Lynly Forrest (Don’t Tell Mama) Tom Gamblin (Metropolitan Room), Kenneth Gartman (Don’t Tell Mama) and Marya Zimmet (Don’t Tell Mama); Cleve Douglass (Nat “King” Cole at Urban Stages), Wednesday Night at the Iguana (hostess Dana Lorge orchestrates the best cabaret variety show in the city); Joey Infante (Metropolitan Room); Jillian Laurain (Barbra Streisand show at the Laurie Beechman); Shaynee Rainbolt (Sugar Bar).