For four consecutive nights (October 9-12, 2018) the Mabel Mercer Foundation’s 29th annual New York Cabaret Convention, showcased an impressive lineup of talent, a mix of icons of the cabaret world and newcomers deserving to become stars. The plentiful talent stands in contrast to the limited performing venues available and makes one long for more opportunities.
I attended both the opening and closing nights and thrilled to many of the performances at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall. The opening night was dubbed “Cabaret Today!” Closing night was subtitled “The Night They Invented Champagne: The Lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner,” with Lerner numbers filling the entire bill.
KT Sullivan, noted cabaret artist, elegantly dressed, including wearing one of her colorful trademark hats, hosted opening night, and of course also sang, giving an exquisite rendition of “All the Things You Are.” But the evening’s opening numbers were by the renowned mother-son team. Pianist Bill Charlap played “Tea for Two,” and then introduced his mother, Sandy Stewart, still in fine voice with “Remind Me” and “After You.”
One of my favorite cabaret artists is Carole J. Bufford, who always looks great on stage and has a gift for interpreting lyrics with flair. She gave a sexy, defiant performance of “All By Myself,” and also teamed with Eric Yves Garcia in a medley of “Come Dance With Me,” “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Sway.” Garcia impressed with what he called a Bobby Short medley in tribute to the late star.
Other standouts included Danny Bacher exuberantly singing “Hooray for Hollywood;” Todd Murray showing leading man quality with the demanding “Some Enchanted Evening” and “This Nearly Was Mine;” Dawn Derow making “White Cliffs of Dover” newly fresh; Karen Oberlin excellently singing “No More;” Marissa Mulder impressively performing “Love;” Corinna Sowers Adler soaring with the challenging “Glitter and Be Gay,"`1 and Anna Bergman and Todd Murray teaming delightfully on “So In Love.”
Among others distinguishing the program were Gregory Generet, Dorian Woodruff, Meg Flather, Joie Bianco, Gustavo Palma, Paula Dione Ingram, Marcus Lovett. David Baida, Nancy McGraw, and Jaedyn Hanna. Piano accompanists for the various acts included Alex Rybeck, Jon Weber, James Horan, Tracy Stark, Ian Herman, and Mark Nadler. Band members included Steve Doyle on bass and Rob Garcia on drums.
The closing night turned out to be a special dazzler. It was co-hosted by stars Andrea Marcovicci and Jeff Harnar, who turned out to be model hosts. They introduced performers with enthusiasm and clarity, and, naturally, also performed. Together they sang “You’re All the World to Me,” “I Remember It Well,” and “The Night They Invented Champagne.” Marcovicci soloed with “Mr. Right” and Harner soloed with “Come Back to Me.” But before the hosts took over, Stearns Matthews got the show underway with a superb rendition of “On a Clear Day.”
If one were to award a show-stealer prize for the night, it would have to go to Mark Nadler, flamboyant as always. Nadler mentioned that Alan Jay Lerner was intensely political and always a Democrat (audience applause here). Nadler then provided the night’s wittiest line: “If Lerner were alive today he’d be glad he was dead.”
Nadler told of an unfinished work on which Lerner was collaborating with Burton Lane—a musical version of the film “My Man Godfrey.” Then, according to the setting of down-and-outs, Nadler played the piano and sang “Garbage,” including the lyric “Garbage isn’t what it used to be.” And Nadler even tap-danced.
Competing in the show-stealing department was the venerable Sidney Myer, who gave an introduction in his typically wry, devil-may-care, sophisticated, above-it all manner before singing sarcastically, “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore.”
Long favorites of mine, the ever-delightful married team of pianist-singer Eric Comstock and vocalist Barbara Fasano made a substantial contribution with “Another Autumn,” “Too Late Now,” “She Wasn’t You,” and “Lusty Month of May.” Another favorite, Anita Gillette, applying the called for cockney accent, served up a colorful and sassy “Just You Wait Henry Higgins.” Penny Fuller, who often performs with Gillette, soloed with a poignant “There’s Always One You Can’t Forget.”
Pianist-singer Steve Ross, who holds an exalted position in the international cabaret sphere, delicately performed the sensitive “Heather on the Hill,” and then Shana Farr, who won this year’s Donald Smith Award established to honor the founder of the cabaret convention, teamed with Ross for “From This Day On.” Farr added a spirited rendition of “Show Me,” with Ross continuing at the piano. Ever elegant Karen Akers treated the crowd with “Here I’ll Stay.” Richard Holbrook added a dash of humor with his rapid “How Could You Believe Me.”
One special highlight was hearing Joshua Lance Dixon and Stearns Matthews affectionately and touchingly sing the meaningful plea “Why Can’t They Leave Us Alone.” Dixon also sang “I Could Have Danced All Night,” usually reserved for the female star of “My Fair Lady.”
And accustomed to hearing a man sing the “My Fair Lady” number “I’m Getting Married in the Morning,” as in the show, I was delighted to hear the way Sally Mayes tore into the song in her dynamic version. There was also a high-energy closer to the show—and the convention—contributed by Marta Sanders, who sang “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?" with the power that I had never heard applied to it before. Then the entire company appeared on stage to “The Night they Invented Champagne.”
Other pleasers in the final program included Tammy McCann singing “Almost Like Being in Love,” Gabrielle Stravelli doing “On the Street Where You Live,” Iris Williams singing “I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face,” Leanne Borghesi snappily delivering the anti-male rebuke “No Man is Worth It,” and Barbara Brussell soaring with “If Ever I Would Leave You.” Among those providing piano accompaniment were James Horan, Alex Rybeck, Tom Nelson, Art Weiss, Brandon Adams, David Gaines, Paul Greenwood, and Tracy Stark. Band members included Jered Egan on bass and Dan Gross on drums.
Keep in mind the above comments related only to the two nights I attended. Add all of the artists on stage for the October 10 and 11 extravaganzas, and you get an idea of the enormous amount of cabaret talent available these days. At Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center. Reviewed October 14, 2018.