28th NY Cabaret Convention: Gala Opening Night

| October 17, 2017

28th New York Cabaret Convention

Gala Opening Night

Rose Theater, NYC, October 16, 2017

Reviewed by Rob Lester for Cabaret Scenes

Photos: Maryann Lopinto


If variety is the spice of life and life is a cabaret, old chum…then the variety show that was the opening night of the Cabaret Convention concerts certainly had its share of spice. For those who prefer their classic favorite musical dishes served up with old family recipes, some parts of the annual meal might have been too spice-filled to agree with their palates.

But, you can’t say that KT Sullivan, Artistic Director of the Mabel Mercer Foundation, didn’t go in for a varied menu. While there were familiar faces and famous fare being sung or swung, there were also a few who’d be too young to be served a cocktail had they been in one of the clubs where we go to hear cabaret with a two-drink minimum. If the newbies, nervous or naive, showed more potential than polish or panache, it takes some learning by doing because the times when “A Star Is Born” with no labor pains are rare. Mixed bags may offer mixed results and get mixed reviews and not every item would be to everyone’s taste.

Marilyn Maye

Those who came wanting only a stricter adherence to what makes cabaret unique—sublime entertainment and singing lyrics in a personalized way, making them sound as real as a good actor does, convincing us he IS the character saying those lines from the soul and heart, communicating and touching our emotions in the process—found some rewards.  The first course was piping hot, the deservedly beloved Marilyn Maye singing “It’s a Most Unusual Day.” Maybe for some, the rest of the day after Maye was a bit too unusual in its s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g the boundaries to the point where one might ask, “There’s ability there, but was that cabaret?” But with Marilyn—no worries. One is dazzled and gets into the words and is wowed, too.

Introduced by her decades-long adjective that could be almost part of her legal name—”Marvelous Marilyn Maye”—her medley of songs co-written by Johnny Mercer included one whose title included that very word: “Too Marvelous for Words.” We really should be singing it to her instead of vice versa. Stay tuned for the closing concert on Thursday when the composer who collaborated with Mercer on that one, Richard Whiting, gets his own salute (with Hoagy Carmichael sharing the night’s tip of the hat). Miss M. and her ever-superb pianist/music director Tedd Firth had some cute fun with the line “And so, I’m borrowing a love song from the birds” when he suggested bird sounds via the keyboard. The mega-medley included a “Come Rain or Come Shine” that benefited from being treated to genuine persuasiveness and passion, rather than punch and pizzazz (which she can give out as blithely as you might give out mini-chocolate bars to trick-or-treaters in a couple of weeks). Sure, she knows every trick in the book—the book being the Great American Songbook as well as her own book of rules for how to knock ’em dead without a mallet, the actress in Marilyn Maye can mesmerize with her convincingly amazing phrasing, too. I wonder if the new breed was watching and taking notes; they should have been.

Nobody in his or her right mind would want to follow electric Miss Maye on stage, but Gregory Gropper and Lyric Peterson were the young up-and-comers come up to the mic.

Greg Gropper

Gropper clearly has CHARM. But it takes more than inserting two letters before the last letter of that word and adding one letter after it to turn CHARM into CHARISMA. In other words “In Other Words” (“Fly Me to the Moon”) melded with a number literally about taking off in the air (“Come Fly with Me”) didn’t fully take off, and “You’ll Be Back,” the sassy selection from the score of Hamilton might need more hammy abandon. But I don’t think the latter can be generalized and then work out of context in a cabaret situation where the singer before us is revealing who he is, not playing a role. He may have been holding back at times, but I’d go back to see the “You’ll Be Back” performer again. Gropper will grow, and probably grow on me.

Lyric Peterson

I’m always happy to see younger artists added to the mix. Vocally, Miss Peterson has some chops, evidenced when switching gears in “God Bless the Child,” the Billie Holiday trademark, ramping up the volume, but would benefit from more focus on matching the power and punch to the needs and nuances of the words. The audience is not something to avoid so you can stay inside yourself. Concentration can’t cancel connecting. But there were sparks.


Adam B. Shapiro

Tanya Moberly

Some able performers who are also actors chose to entertain and wink, such as Adam B. Shapiro, who was diverting and amusing, especially if you’d never heard the one-joke parody of “Pennies from Heaven.” Tanya Moberly, accompanied by bassist Ritt Henn, thought outside the box with “Chuck E’s in Love” with attitude galore—and a smile.

Vivian Reed

Vivian Reed, given The Mabel Mercer Award, brought “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” to a higher and higher flame, traversing the stage in a purple gown, showing lots of leg and lots of energy. But at the end of the day (or rather, the end of the night, as she was the closing act), I’d have much preferred to have more voltage on feelings and mind and heart stimulation in a tender, articulate way. Instead, we got the musical equivalent of a heart defibrillator. “But where’s the cabaret quotient?” some were wondering.

Joshua Lance Dixon

Joshua Lance Dixon, dashing in with apparent joy and a million-dollar smile, was playful and powerful, both emotionally and vocally. His Rat Pack salute was packed with smart choices. After his ebullient start, he got to the heart, and shared his own. He pulled off the kind of cabaret miracle transformation with what we thought was a thin, commercial, even shlocky sing-along, long ago-dismissed trifle. With “Everybody Loves Somebody” he spun straw into gold.  Revealing the long-hidden potential of the words by slowing the tempo, and making the words matter via fresh phrasing, it was a stunning achievement.

Corinna Sowers Adler with students

Gorgeous of voice and spirit, Corinna Sowers Adler entered, spoke of her teaching (Look for an article on her in the upcoming issue of Cabaret Scenes), and sent chills to the spine. Surrounded by and singing with her own students, we were witness to their witnessing—increasing the impact manifold of Stephen Sondheim’s “Children Will Listen” and John Lennon’s plea for hope, “Imagine.” Wise words serve as a word to the wise, and the results are cathartic, cautionary, and connection.

Danny Bacher

Jacob Storms

Also on the bill were Danny Bacher with sly humor and likability factor, and the more earnest Jacob Storms with Irving Berlin’s meteorology promise of “Blue Skies.”

Karen Oberlin

Luba Mason

Arguably, cabaret and Cole Porter are the strongest of “marriage partners.” Although the composer-lyricist was not an honoree, his work was on ample display. Karen Oberlin graced Porter’s classic “Night and Day,” gliding through it with intelligence, and Luba Mason chose “Love for Sale” for dramatic effect—and it worked. 

KT Sullivan

KT Sullivan, the perfect example of how to show versatility, offered three songs from the score to Kiss Me, Kate, showing her different vocal colors and styles. But the “Mr. Harris, plutocrat” in “Always True to You in My Fashion” was not Alan Harris, a late addition to the roster, was a refreshing change of pace and tone, accompanying himself on guitar and crooning in a soothing way.

Alan Harris

Carole J. Bufford

Jason Martin & KT Sullivan with Carole’s Donald F. Smith Award

When the quite special (in a good way) Carole J. Bufford got a special award (The Donald F. Smith Award) that surprised her (in a good way), she collected herself and then musically imagined “The Man I Love,” one of many gems written by the siblings Gershwins—conveniently offering a plug to come back for the next night when the output of those gentlemen would be the repertoire on display. See you there! (at the Rose Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center in NYC.)

Tommy J. Dose

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: Cabaret Features, Cabaret Reviews, New York City, New York City Cabaret Features, New York City Cabaret Reviews, Regional

Comments are closed.

Read previous post:
Amy Wolk: Hungry Like the Wolk

A lot of confidence, a little sass, and a winning smile.