New York: Big City Songbook

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New York: Big City Songbook

Birdland Theater, NYC, October 28, 2018

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg for Cabaret Scenes

A delicious celebration of all things New York City, from locations to romance to transportation issues, New York: Big City Songbook was produced, written, and hosted by Deborah Grace Winer, who deserves great credit for assembling a wonderful group of talents, both singers and musicians. Mark Waldrop directed the evening and kept the whole show moving at a smooth pace.
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Latanya Hall brought along her smooth jazz style to expressively offer up such classics as “Autumn in New York” and “Sunday in New York,” both so appropriate for the Sunday evening concert on a somewhat blustery fall evening. Nicolas King made some chestnuts sound fresh and fun; he has a real knack for making the lyrics sound as if he is making them up off the top of his head; “Manhattan” and “New York State of Mind” seemed brand new, and his reinterpretation of “Theme from New York, New York” as a bluesy dream scored big. When King and Hall got together on a scintillating ride as they advised the audience to “Take the A Train,” it was pure magic, and only made it more regrettable that there weren’t even more duos and trios throughout the evening.

The classic Broadway sound has no better proponent than Klea Blackhurst.
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A superb comedienne, storyteller, and belter, she seemed born to deliver a range of songs from “Way Out West” to “I Happen to Like New York” to that celebration of New Yorker moxie, “Ring Them Bells.”

Also notable was instrumental support of the highest order from music director, arranger, and pianist John Oddo and bassist and occasional vocalist Jay Leonhart. There is very good reason both these gentlemen have been lauded for many decades now.

Flaws: a few. Winer’s comments, delivered in a rather breathless style that often blurred her words, could be shortened to keep the show moving faster. Another tightening device might be to keep the performers on stage during the show, rather than constantly entering and exiting, especially considering how much they seemed to enjoy each others’ work when sharing the platform. Despite these caveats, this delightful revue made for a very special evening.

Bart Greenberg

Bart Greenberg first discovered cabaret a few weeks after arriving in New York City by seeing Julie Wilson and William Roy performing Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter outdoors at Rockefeller Center. It was instant love for both Ms. Wilson and the art form. Some years later, he was given the opportunity to create his own series of cabaret shows while working at Tower Records. "Any Wednesday" was born, a weekly half-hour performance by a singer promoting a new CD release. Ann Hampton Callaway launched the series. When Tower shut down, Bart was lucky to move the program across the street to Barnes & Noble, where it thrived under the generous support of the company. The series received both The MAC Board of Directors Award and The Bistro Award. Some of the performers who took part in "Any Wednesday" include Barbara Fasano and Eric Comstock, Tony Desare, Andrea Marcovicci, Carole Bufford, the Karens, Akers, Mason and Oberlin, and Julie Wilson. Privately, Greenberg is happily married to writer/photographer Mark Wallis, who as a performance artist in his native England gathered a major following as "I Am Cereal Killer."