Cabaret Is Alive and Well and Living in Los Angeles: Together at Last for the Second Time

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Cabaret Is Alive and Well and Living in Los Angeles

Together at Last for the Second Time

Tom Rolla’s Gardenia, West Hollywood, CA, November 14, 2015

Reviewed by Elliot Zwiebach for Cabaret Scenes

Charlotte-Rae-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212It was ladies’ night at the Gardenia, and the ladies displayed a tremendous torrent of talent. The occasion: the second annual Cabaret Is Alive and Well and Living in Los Angeles concert series designed as a benefit for The Actors Fund which featured an array of Broadway babies past and present. And what a past was present, highlighted by two nonagenarians—the adorable Charlotte Rae (pictured) and the irrepressible Carole Cook.

Rae opened the show with a sweet and energetic reading of “Yes” (Kander & Ebb), signaling for the audience to join her each time she got to the positive lyric of the title. She returned to the stage in the middle of the evening to provide the audience the privilege of seeing her perform two of her cabaret signatures from the 1950s: “The Sea-Gull and the Ea-Gull” (Vernon Duke/Ogden Nash), which she sang swathed in a pink boa with a Dietrich-like deep voice and accent, followed by Marc Blitzstein’s “Modest Maid,” a raunchy little ditty about a lecherous woman.

Cook is a powerhouse to be reckoned with, closing out the show by sharing, in her inimitable style, funny stories about some of her stage experiences, leading up to a piece of special material by Billy Barnes called “Queen of Equity Waiver”—a brilliant song made even brighter by Cook’s feigned been-there-done-that delivery that clearly wowed the crowd.

Between the two grande dames’ appearances were a series of show-stopping performances, including: Joanne Worley claiming to have taken singing lessons from a Brooklyn voice teacher and then singing “Till Dere Was Youse” (“Till There Was You” by Meredith Willson from The Music Man); Mary Jo Catlett with a well-acted take on “100 Ways to Lose a Man” (Leonard Bernstein/Comden & Green, from Wonderful Town); and Jane A. Johnston belting out a strong, powerful version of “Too Old to Die Young” (Murray Grand).

Karen Morrow showed off her powerful pipes as she recreated her audition song from the early 1960s, which she chose at the time, she said, because it allowed her to show off the three P’s—personality, power and pathos—each of which she demonstrated as she sang her way through the sections of “It’s a Perfect Relationship” (Jule Styne/Comden & Green, from Bells Are Ringing)—abetted by Greg Schreiner at the piano.

Ilene Graff, accompanied by husband Ben Lanzarone on piano, did a superb job on a medley devoted to family: a well-acted “Mama, a Rainbow” (Larry Grossman/Hal Hackady, from Minnie’s Boys); an expressive “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” (Michel Legrand/Alan & Marilyn Bergman, from Yentl); and a sweetly dynamic version of “The Prayer,” sung here as “A Mother’s Prayer” (David Foster/Carole Bayer Sager/Alberto Testa/Tony Renis)—a performance that elicited one of the strongest audience responses.

Marcia Rodd was wonderful recreating “The Boy from…” (Mary Rodgers/Stephen Sondheim) which she performed in The Mad Show. Beverly Sanders was delightful in a charming trio of animal-focused songs, and Lisa Passero was hilariously raunchy in the persona of Kitty Katz, an over-the-top Miami diva in sparkly pink glasses and a pink boa telling off-color jokes—backed by a steady drumbeat provided by Denise Fraser—and displaying a terrific belt on just a snippet of “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You” (Russ Morgan/Larry Stock/James Cavanaugh).

Offering a glimpse of a Broadway-baby-to-be was 19-year-old Madison Claire Parks, granddaughter of the late Betty Garrett, showing off her very mature soprano with a thrilling, full-throated performance of “Will He Like Me?” (Sheldon Harnick/Jerry Bock, from She Loves Me).

Keeping up with the ladies throughout the evening was Musical Director Gerald Sternbach on piano. The show was directed by David Galligan and produced by Dianne Fraser.

Elliot Zwiebach

Elliot Zwiebach loves the music of The Great American Songbook and classic Broadway, with a special affinity for Rodgers and Hammerstein. He's been a professional writer for 45 years and a cabaret reviewer for five. Based in Los Angeles, Zwiebach has been exposed to some of the most talented performers in cabaret—the famous and the not-so-famous—and enjoys it all. Reviewing cabaret has even pushed him into doing some singing of his own — a very fun and liberating experience that gives him a connection with the performers he reviews.