Baby, Dream Your Dream: Great Women Writers of the American Songbooks

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Baby, Dream Your Dream:
Great Women Writers of the American Songbook

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, January 17, 2018

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes.

Karen Ziemba

Baby, Dream Your Dream: Great Women Writers of the American Songbook, addresses a question that blazes with relevance, having made the scene in and out of the American conscience for at least the past 50 years—”What is a woman’s place?” 

Before that, it was assumed, although not universally agreed upon, that a woman’s place was in the home, kitchen and bedroom. It was in the 1960s that a resurgence of women’s rights emphasized that women actually have a choice in the lives they live.

It was an idea that turned out to be amazingly controversial and occasionally threatening. 

Through the years, there were always some strong-willed women who boldly carved places for themselves in a variety of professions– despite difficulties, discrimination, and blatant rejections. For those choosing songwriting, acceptance was weak and slow to come, although many of their contributions did become classics. Created, written and hosted by Deborah Grace Winer, the 75-minute revue celebrating these high-powered talents, has been performed several times, including at the 92nd Street Y and it recently returned to Feinstein’s/54 Below. 

The finest musical support was provided by premier music director/arranger/pianist John Oddo, Jay Leonhart on bass, and James Saporito on drums. Smoothly directed by Mark Waldrop, the show featured four impressive singers: fine actresses who could put across a song with meaning—Kenita Miller, Margo Seibert, Emily Skinner, and Karen Ziemba (pictured), with chances to show off their versatility.

Their harmonies were tight right from the top on the title song and “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” (both from Sweet Charity, music by Cy Coleman). They joined the dry humor of Leonhart on vocals and bass, delivering “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” (Ann Ronell/Frank Churchill) with the close harmonic exuberance reminiscent of the ’40s swing girl groups. 

Notable moments included Ziemba delivering Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s touching confidence in “Back to Before” and, joined by the others, developing the song into an anthem of feminism. Also touching was Skinner, perched on a stool, finding her way into the essence of poignancy in “It Amazes Me” by Carolyn Leigh and Coleman. 

There was an effervescent look back at the ’70s with “And Then There’s Maude” (Alan and Marilyn Bergman/Dave Grusin), led with gusto by Miller, with the cast joining in. Smack in the middle of the show, the song fit perfectly after Skinner’s slyly winning “He Had Refinement” (Fields/Arthur Schwartz), and it preceded Seibert’s rendition of Betty Comden/Adolph Green/Jule Styne’s regretful “The Party’s Over.”   

Seibert showed her comic side with “The Boy from…” (Mary Rodgers/Stephen Sondheim).

Ziemba gamely took on the tongue-twisting warning in “If You Hadn’t But You Did” (Comden/Green/Styne) and “When in Rome (I Do as the Romans Do)” (Leigh/Coleman). Miller’s powerful voice had fun with Mary Rodgers/Marshall Barer’s “Shy,” but her delivery of “God Bless the Child” (Billie Holiday/Arthur Herzog, Jr.) would benefit with softer nuance for the eloquent lyrics.  

Winer, well versed in American pop music and songwriters, periodically stepped in to offer personal insights into the writers she knew and their snappy wit. Underscored with the women’s issues of today, Baby, Dream Your Dream ended with determination to get to “The Other Side of the Tracks” (Leigh/Coleman), punching in the finale with a few confident bars of “The Best Is Yet to Come.” 

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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.