Celia Berk: Manhattan Serenade

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Celia Berk

Manhattan Serenade

Metropolitan Room, NYC, April 24, 2016

Reviewed by Peter Haas for Cabaret Scenes

Photo: Sekou Luke
Photo: Sekou Luke

Where is cabaret’s next top headliner coming from? To paraphrase a Sondheim lyric, “Don’t worry, she’s here.” She’s Celia Berk, who packed the Metropolitan Room through four Sunday sessions in April with her rich voice, simplicity of style, and warm personality.

Her show was a tribute to her home town and featured a variety of songs, old and new, about it. To find her numbers, Berk commented, she turned into a “musical truffle hound”—and her searching paid off.

 Songs from bygone eras included Irving Berlin’s jazzy “Manhattan Madness,” Kurt Weill and Langston Hughes’ plaintive “Lonely House”’ from Street Scene, Rodgers & Hart’s “I Gotta Get Back to New York” and, in its first New York presentation, “A Day Away from Town,” with music by Richard Whiting (which his granddaughter Debbi Whiting found in her basement, and with early lyrics by Gus Kahn and new lyrics by Hubert “Tex” Arnold). Tex and Lew Spence were represented as well by a newer song, “Such a Wonderful Town.”

Among the other selections were “The Broadway Song,” by Cy Coleman and David Zippel (its first commercial recording is on Berk’s new album, also titled Manhattan Serenade); Kander and Ebb’s “All I Need (Is One Good Break),” from Flora the Red Menace, and “A Tree in the Park” (Rodgers & Hart).

An imaginative feature was a medley of songs, old and new, that she collectively titled as “Every Song Sounds Like a Song About New York.

” The numbers included: two by Rodgers & Hammerstein—“Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful” [“or …” —you know!] and “I Have Dreamed;” — “How Deep Is the Ocean (How High Is the Sky)” (Berlin); “The Way You Look Tonight” (Kern/Fields); the contemporary “The Party Upstairs” (Ronny Whyte and Francesca Blumenthal); and, in a bow to the past, “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life!”

With direction by Jeff Harnar, and with Alex Rybeck at the piano, Michael Goetz on bass, Dan Gross on percussion and Dan Willis on woodwinds, much of the program can be found on her new album.

Peter Haas

Writer, editor, lyricist and banjo plunker, Peter Haas has been contributing features and performance reviews for Cabaret Scenes since the magazine’s infancy. As a young folk-singer, he co-starred on Channel 13’s first children’s series, Once Upon a Day; wrote scripts, lyrics and performed on Pickwick Records’ children’s albums, and co-starred on the folk album, All Day Singing. In a corporate career, Peter managed editorial functions for CBS Records and McGraw-Hill, and today writes for a stable of business magazines. An ASCAP Award-winning lyricist, his work has been performed at Carnegie Hall, Feinstein’s, Metropolitan Room and other fine saloons.