New American Songbook Orchestra

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New American Songbook Orchestra

The Duplex, NYC, April 9, 2018

Reviewed by Chris Struck for Cabaret Scenes

The New American Songbook Orchestra is an ambitious attempt to put together an orchestra devoted to playing a variety of classic, instrumental-heavy pieces ranging from opera to jazz. If that sounds fun, then they’d appreciate your support. Their Duplex show pitched the mission to create another opportunity for an orchestra to situate itself within a niche space in the Manhattan music scene—cabaret venue-style, in an intimate setting with strong violins and more. What perhaps makes The Duplex stage so special is how different the styles that converge on it are. Perhaps what the New American Songbook Orchestra reflects more than anything is how diverse the more contemporary songbook is.

The truest treat of this group was definitely the orchestra.

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The core members were a pleasure.  A few of them who stood out it were Hajnal Pivnick (violin), Brianne Lugo (viola), and Michael Ferrera (MC/MD/pianist,for the evening). It’s a solid threesome supported further by consistently strong melodies by the rest of the orchestra which included Andrew Griffin (violin), Scott McCreary (cello), Jen Augello (clarinet), Dominic Frigo (bass guitar), and Russ Nyberg (drums).

The musicians backed a total of 11 singers over the course of the evening, which is always a pleasure to see. However, to highlight my favorites I would have to go with “Nature, the Gentlest Mother” (a poem by Emily Dickinson) sung by Liz Lang. While she did, in some ways, sing over-confidently without a mic over eight instruments, she did a good job.

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I could hear almost all of what she sang clearly and in an operatic style.

Another favorite would have to be “It Won’t Be Long Now” from In the Heights (Lin-Manuel Miranda) performed by Forest Vandyke and Villavicencio. This duo of drag queen and punker in a jean jacket set the scene with a wildly theatrical style that brought the song to life. Vandyke sang the character Vanessa’s parts easily: “The elevated train by my window doesn’t faze me anymore,” while Vandyke sang “Good Morning! Good morning! Vanessa!”

Beyond even these, Kimberly Marable’s choice of “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” from The Book of Mormon (Trey Parker/Robert Lopez/Matt Stone) deserves the highest regard. From the moment where she promised a “village on the water where the roofs are thatched with gold” in one, easy sweep of her voice, I knew we were in for a fulfilling climax.

The group is hoping to expand to 30 members for a much larger show this summer and is seeking additional donations to help spur the performance. If you are interested, look them up at

Chris Struck

Chris Struck's debut novel, Kennig and Gold, is due to be officially published in June 2019. He's written reviews for Cabaret Scenes since August of 2017. For more information about the writer, see