Scott Siegel Presents: Return of the Great American Protest Songs

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The Return of the
Great American Protest Songs

Metropolitan Room, NYC , January 20, 2017

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

protest-songs-competition-cabaret-scenes-magazine_212Historically, protest is a cabaret inspiration: politically, socially and musically. On this weekend, when millions world-wide took to the streets to voice protests, a sold-out cabaret audience gathered on Inauguration Night at the Metropolitan Room to hear legendary American protest songs express their grievances.

Said Yip Harburg, “Songs have been the not-so-secret weapon behind every fight for freedom, every struggle against injustice and bigotry.

We have to thank creator/writer/host Scott Siegel for this up-to-the-minute Return of the Great American Protest Songs, presenting a breadth of emotions with Musical Director Ross Patterson on piano and co-music director/guitarist Sean Harkness. Siegel gathered eleven remarkable performers who presented songs that entertained and inspired with quality and conviction.

  Over the hour, frustrations faded and the evening evolved into one of joy and revitalization.

Quentin Earl Darrington (Ragtime, Cats) opened the show with the power and spirit he delivered in Ragtime‘s  “Make Them Hear You” by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens.  Kenita Miller (The Color Purple) brought her own fire and fury to Abel Meeropol’s “Strange Fruit.” From Chess, Maxine Linehan, with her bell tone and intoxicating vibrato, expressed the patriotic love of one’s country with “Anthem.” Born in Ireland, Linehan was also an obvious choice for the militaristic “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” (U2’s Adam Clayton, Dave Evans, Larry Mullen, Paul Hewson), adding her husband, Andrew Koss, on guitar and tenor Brian Charles Rooney (The Threepenny Opera Broadway revival) adding harmony.  Rooney also reflected a fierce anger against war in “Fortunate Son” (Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogarty) voicing the inequality of the unfortunate sons who were sent to Vietnam, and the fortunate sons who were not. With his deep resonant voice and singing a cappella, Chuck Cooper (The Life) related the story of legendary Joe Hill, songwriter/itinerant laborer/union organizer, who was convicted of murder, an unjust decision that led to an international campaign to exonerate him.

Tricia Paoluccio thoughtfully presented Paul Simon’s meditations on hard work, weariness and loneliness in “American Tune,” based on a melody line by Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.  With lines like “I promise you, we will win/If not tomorrow/Then the day after that,” from Kiss of the Spider Woman (John Kander/Fred Ebb), “The Day After That” was fervently rendered by Michael Romeo Ruocco. Douglas Ladnier (Jekyll and Hyde) dramatically delivered a chilling interpretation of “Eve of Destruction,” Barry McGuire’s vehement 1965 anti-war statement.

The program moved to calmer, yet no less meaningful messages in Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” sung by Stephanie D’Abruzzo (Avenue Q). Another Avenue Q veteran, Ann Harada, offered “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (Simon). Scott Siegel was surprise backup singer for Ashton Corey with “Power and the Glory” (Phil Ochs).

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Maxine Linehan’s poignant “Good Night New York” (Julie Gold) nearly brought the show to its close until the Broadway by the Year Chorus circled the audience.

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Chuck Cooper stepped on the stage to lead the house with an animated,”We Shall Overcome” (Zilphia Hart, Frank Hamilton, Guy Carawan, Pete Seeger).

On Inauguration Night we were a divided country, but a united cabaret community, appreciating the significance of other protest songs from other days.

[Editor’s Note: The fervent response to this show caused the producer and venue to arrange another night with the same agenda and type of repertoire, quickly scheduled for Friday, February 10, with other singers and other protest songs.]

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.