Cabaret Review: Marilyn Maye

This lady hits the stage like a ball of fire! Ella Fitzgerald once called Marilyn Maye “the greatest white female singer in the world.” That’s no ex...

Theatre Review: “The Artifici...

Ridiculous Theatre legend Charles Ludlam's The Artificial Jungle is essential queer theatre viewing – and one hell of a lot of fun. The late, great ...

Cabaret Review: Paulo Szot

Mr. Showbiz, that's Paulo Szot! And I mean this as the highest compliment. Many years ago, I saw the operatic baritone's first New York cabaret show...

Cabaret Review: Lisa Loeb

Singer / songwriter Lisa Loeb may still be best known for the 1994 song that made her famous – “Stay (I Missed You)” from the film Reality Bites – b...

Theatre

Cabaret Review: Marilyn Maye

This lady hits the stage like a ball of fire! Ella Fitzgerald once called Marilyn Maye “the greatest white female singer in the world.” Th...

Cabaret Review: Marilyn Maye

This lady hits the stage like a ball of fire! Ella Fitzgerald once called Marilyn Maye “the greatest white female singer in the world.” That’s no exaggeration; she may be the only singer alive who combines a great vocal instrument with interpretative flair and savoir faire equal to Ella’s own. There are younger singers who might posses more powerful voices but I can think of no other singer who possesses Maye’s combination of interpretive ability, rhythmic verve, and vocal range – at 89, her voice is the envy of singers 50 years her junior.

This “saloon singer” has a fantastic rapport with her audience, singing them beloved songs from a startlingly wide variety of genres. These shows at the Metropolitan Room take full advantage of this facet of her talent. Marilyn asks her audience to pick her “Marilyn By Request” set list by making song suggestions when making their reservations. It makes for an evening filled with surprises, and plenty of energy from both sides of the footlights.

Musical director Ted Firth is the perfect match for this footloose kind of approach, combining a broad knowledge of popular music with snappy, sophisticated jazz chops. Maye exquisitely tailors her style of singing to the individual song, smooth for the ballads, swinging for the standards, and truly gritty for the bluesier numbers. And always, always fully at home in – and totally committed to – the music.

Maye appeared on Johnny Carson’s edition of “The Tonight Show” a total of 76 times, a record not likely ever to be beaten by any other singer with any other host. If you love songs of every kind sung like they’re meant to be sung, it just doesn’t get any better than this.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Theatre Review: “The Artificial Jungle”

Ridiculous Theatre legend Charles Ludlam’s The Artificial Jungle is essential queer theatre viewing – and one hell of a lot of fun. The late, great Ludlam founded the Ridiculous Theatrical Company 50 years ago, creating a singular style of campy but rigorously structured theatre committed to outrageousness without apology, but also without any kind of knowing wink.

Jungle was Ludlam’s final play and mercilessly yet lovingly parodies film noir. As was often his wont, Ludlam turned to an older and more sturdily built model, Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin – a tale filled to bursting with lust, murder and horror – for the plotting. For the dialogue, however, he takes film noir‘s “hard-boiled” schtick, turns the heat all the way up and lets the whole thing boil over.

The director for this production is Ludlam’s husband and muse, Everett Quinton (whom I have had the great pleasure of working with several times). Everett is the ideal interpeter of Ludlam’s plays, knowing when to be loyal to what Charles had already done, and when to push things even further into preposterousness to keep it fresh.

Quinton has a marvelous cast to work with, who seem to truly get it. David Harrell takes on the role Ludlam wrote for himself, Chester Nurdiger, the schlubby, happless owner of a New Yawk pet shop, and Harrell gleefully puts the “nerd” in Nurdiger. Alyssa H. Chase plays his frustrated housewife Roxanne with energetic and angular vampiness. Hunky Anthony Michael Lopez takes Quinton’s role, Zachary, an interloping hired hand, which he delivers with muscular intelligence. Anita Hollander takes the one-time drag role of Mother Nurdiger, and puts it across with an appropriately drag-sized performance. Rob Minutoli has terrific comic timing in the small role of Officer Spinelli.

A key part of the action is a tankful of piranhas, which designer Vandy Wood has crafted with the obvious theatricality that is such an important part of the Ridiculous aesthetic, and which puppetmaster Satoshi Haga imbues with surprising expressiveness and personality. Hilarious, and highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Cabaret Review: Paulo Szot

Mr. Showbiz, that’s Paulo Szot! And I mean this as the highest compliment. Many years ago, I saw the operatic baritone’s first New York cabaret show, and it was introspective to the point of being opaque. I mean he never sings less than gorgeously, but in that long ago show he wasn’t what you’d call expressive or lucid. The difference between that and his current show at Feinstein’s / 54 Below could not be more huge. The man who has always been a master musician is now also a master showman, which makes for a massively entertaining show.

The openly gay Szot’s voice is a seductive, luscious instrument, a large part of the reason he won a Tony his first time in a Broadway musical (South Pacific) – by the way, it seems like a serious oversight that he hasn’t been back on Broadway since. He has incredibly solid musical taste, and real wit about the way he uses it. He talks about his fellow Brazilian Antonio Carlos Jobim’s collaborations with Frank Sinatra, and then weaves the single showtune Sinatra and Jobim did together, “Baubles, Bangles and Beads,” into a South Pacific medley.

Speaking of Jobim, much of the evening’s collection of showtunes is performed to bossa nova arrangements, alluding to Szot’s Brazilian background without overdoing it. The absolute high points of this Broadway-centric evening were a reading of Sondheim’s “Being Alive” that is perhaps the most rawly emotion interpretation I’ve ever heard, and the song from South Pacific that has rightly become a signature for Szot, “This Nearly Was Mine.”

Szot is now definitively the total package! So when are we going to get another Broadway appearance, or even some studio albums? Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Cabaret Review: Lisa Loeb

Singer / songwriter Lisa Loeb may still be best known for the 1994 song that made her famous – “Stay (I Missed You)” from the film Reality Bites – but she has been steadily writing and recording ever since. And she’s utterly charming. Loeb’s stage presence is among the most engaging I’ve seen in a cabaret, and that makes her new show at the Café Carlyle a very enjoyable one indeed.

Loeb’s song catalog seems to have two main registers; first, very sincere and simple songs, including some children’s songs, and, second, more intricate songs that show the influence of the likes of Suzanne Vega. I was surprised to discover that, while I remembered “Stay” as a simple song, it really belongs in the latter more ambitious category, and has really stood the test of time.

About three quarters through the show, after singing “Stay,” Loeb takes requests, and I was interested that the songs were more generally for her more writerly stuff like “Dance with the Angels” and most compellingly “Hurricane” – it’s a matter of personal taste, but I think this is the side of Loeb I enjoy more.

All this is not to say that the simpler side of her repetoire is innately inferior. Indeed, the children’s song “The Dissapointing Pancake” was one of the evening’s highlights. She also does a handful of covers, where she reveals that her charm isn’t limited to between-song talk, but extends to the way she interprets the words of a classic like Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile.” Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Cabaret Review: Antonia Bennett

In the best possible way, Antonia Bennett is musically every bit Tony Bennett’s daughter. She has down cold the kind of laid-back jazz-inflected gently swinging phrasing that her father perfected more than any other artist. If anything, her rhythmic sense is even a touch more sophisticated, which makes her tendency towards bossa nova arrangements so pleasing.

Again like the elder Bennett, Antonia is the furthest thing from musically flashy. She, too, exemplifies the virtues of subtlety, precision and seamless elegance. Her ability to communicate the meaning of a song comes less from anything to do with storytelling or acting, and more from a refined sense of what musicality can express all by itself, be it in the turn of a phrase, a slightly syncopated hesitation or any number of similar things.

Her set list is exclusively from the Great American Songbook, with a strong emphasis on Gershwin. She is ably supported by a skilled jazz trio, whose approach is every bit as subtle and measured as her own.

Bennett shows great musical confidence, and on stage she projects a warm, sweet charm rather than magnetic charisma. This works for the intimate setting of cabaret, though some witty scripted patter and theatrical shaping certainly would give her winsome appeal a better frame. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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