Linda Lavin: My First Farewell Concert

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Linda Lavin

My First Farewell Concert

Birdland, NYC, January 31, 2016

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Linda-Lavin-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212Linda Lavin just does not have enough to do these days. After all, she only has that Broadway show, Our Mother’s Brief Affair, to star in as well as intermittent appearances on TV’s The Good Wife, and films like The Intern. What is she to do with those minutes in between?

No problem for this dynamo of talent and energy. In the midst of ongoing theater, television and film, Lavin decides she will put on a humorous musical cabaret act to tell her favorite stories through some of her favorite songs “from the Great American/Brazilian/Yiddish Songbook.” She gathers some top musicians—Billy Stritch on piano, guitarist Ron Affif, Tom Hubbard on bass and her husband, Steve Bakunas, on drums. She invites super jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein to be her special guest, and My First Farewell Concert is ready for two nights at Birdland.

No stool or chair needed for Lavin, although she does settle on the piano bench to perform a pairing of “But Beautiful” (Johnny Burke/Jimmy Van Heusen) and Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s “I Walk a Little Faster.” She quipped, “My mother wanted me to be a concert pianist.” Back in those days, however, Lavin had other plans; first dancing, then acting and singing.

Raised in Portland, Maine, music was a constant in her home and all her theatrical talents are evident in this “farewell concert.” She’s in action nonstop around the stage. No Streisand or Barbara Cook, she sings with a sound all her own, a strong belt, jazz panache and a top-notch delivery. She understands and communicates the phrasing that makes the song.

One example of her multifaceted theatrical delivery comes from her early off-Broadway performance in The Mad Show, singing a flashy specialty tune with a bossa beat and a Spanish accent, “The Boy From…” (“Tacarembo la Tumbe del Fuego Santa Malipas Zacatecas la Junta del Sol y Cruz”). The music was by Mary Rodgers, the lyrics by a fellow named Esteban Ria Nido (or, Stephen Sondheim). From Broadway’s It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman,  Lavin comes out with another Latin-flavored tune, Lee Adams and Charles Strouse’s catchy “You’ve Got Possibilities.” From the cabaret world, she has long admired the charisma of Bobby Short and delivers here a trio of his trademark songs.

She uses the musicians around her for this substantial show. Bakulas lends his voice to Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To”; Weinstein on violin joins Lavin in “Fun to Be Fooled” (Harold Arlen/Ira Gershwin/Yip Harburg), and Stritch delivers a sumptuous rendition of Willard Robison/Larry Conley’s “Cottage for Sale.” While her whimsical sense of fun and droll delivery propels her show, Lavin’s melancholy mood pauses are the highlight. She savors the emotion and passion in “You Must Believe in Spring,” by Michel Legrand with Marilyn and Alan Bergman, and her intimate interpretation of Ray Noble’s “The Very Thought of You” is exquisite with Stritch’s sensitive spare piano accompaniment.

Linda Lavin is an all-inclusive musical in one trim package and having the time of her life. If this is her First Farewell Concert, it is not the last for this Maine-event at Birdland or any stage.

Elizabeth Ahlfors

Born and raised in New York, Elizabeth graduated from NYU with a degree in Journalism. She has lived in various cities and countries and now is back in NYC. She has written magazine articles and published three books: A Housewife’s Guide to Women’s Liberation, Twelve American Women, and Heroines of ’76 (for children). A great love was always music and theater—in the audience, not performing. A Philadelphia correspondent for and InTheatre Magazine, she has reviewed theater and cabaret for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia City News. She writes for Cabaret Scenes and other cabaret/theater sites. She is a judge for Nightlife Awards and a voting member of Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.