Duncan Moore and Ensemble: Bernstein at 100—Songs of Love and Longing

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Duncan Moore and Ensemble

Bernstein at 100—Songs of Love and Longing

St. John’s Episcopal Church, Chicago, IL, October 6, 2017

Reviewed by Carla Gordon for Cabaret Scenes

Conceived by Duncan Moore, Bernstein at 100—Songs of Love and Longing, was presented by an ensemble of singers from cabaret and musical theater which, in addition to Moore, included Anita Kallen, Jason K. Martin, and Catherine Thomson. Stylistically more concert than cabaret, it was a loving salute to Maestro Bernstein.

Kallen’s offering of “A Little Bit in Love” (Wonderful Town; lyrics: Betty Comden and Adolph Green) was both sweet and authentic. Martin’s presentation of “Lucky to Be Me” was challenged by over-singing and by facial mugging that distracted from the journey of this standard that has been covered well by Tony Bennett and Jane Monheit, among others.

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Martin fared better on the powerhouse “I Get Carried Away” (On the Town). Moore’s honest delivery of ”Lonely Town” (also On the Town) engaged beautifully. However, the background singers were not needed and seemed to get in the way of the story.

Kallen  and Thomson shared nostalgia and conveyed sisterly love through well-executed harmony in “Ohio” (Wonderful Town). Thomson offered a thoughtful pairing of “Build My House” (Peter Pan; lyrics: Bernstein) and “Take Care of This House” (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; lyrics: Alan Jay Lerner).

While the focus on lesser-known songs is intellectually appealing, audiences also enjoy what is familiar from iconic composers like Bernstein. In that light, musical director Mark Burnell’s lively instrumental medley of selections from West Side Story was particularly engaging. Another moment of high engagement came during a parody of the show’s “America” in which the ensemble declared, “Puerto Rico IS in America!,” followed by a bit of paper towel roll volleyball making for an hilarious skewering of a certain White House occupant.

At times, the high volume, nearly operetta-like presentations felt overwhelming in the relatively small upstairs chapel at St.

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John’s. Hopefully, Duncan Moore and ensemble will encore this tribute to “Lennie” in additional and larger venues.

Carla Gordon

Carla Gordon is a singer/songwriter, director, and producer. The Chicago Tribune cited her among “Chicago’s most accomplished cabaret performers….a major player in Chicago cabaret.” Reviewer Pam Peterson called her “Honey-voiced wisecracker!” Ageless Magazine called her performance as Sophie tucker, “A gem!” Gordon writes custom material for singers nationwide. Her flagship show, "Blacklisted," featuring songs made famous by artists blacklisted under McCarthyism, has toured to critical acclaim. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Chicago Cabaret Professionals and on the Advisory Board of the Skokie Theater. Her songs air on WFMT’s Midnight Special and are being performed performed by cabaret artists nationwide. carlacabaret@aol.com