54 Sings As Thousands Cheer

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54 Sings As Thousands Cheer

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, November 13, 2018

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg for Cabaret Scenes

In 1933, Irving Berlin and Moss Hart created a Broadway revue that had many distinctions beyond featuring a superb score: it was the great dancing star Marilyn Miller’s last appearance; it was the first time an African-American artist (Ethel Waters) was billed equally with her white co-stars; and it was topical satire built around a format of sections of a newspaper. This allowed such contemporary personalities as the Hoovers and the Roosevelts, Queen Mary of England, Aimee Semple McPherson and Gandhi, Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Barbara Hutton to be impersonated by Miller, Clifton Webb (long before Mr. Belvedere fame), Jerome Cowan, Helen Broderick, and others. It also offered a highly controversial moment when Waters bewailed the horror of a husband who had been lynched (“Supper Time”).

Who would believe that in 2018, much of the same material would be relevant (the co-opting of fine arts for commercial motives, the argument between the United States and European powers over governmental debts, a groom waking up his bride so they can dress for their wedding, the above mentioned lynching). The score, both the standards and the forgotten numbers, sounds as fresh and enjoyable as when they first presented.

Director Justin Schwartz and MD Eugene Gwozdz assembled a cast of seven exciting young talents to perform the material. They were all adept at capturing the style of the period, as well as the comedy, not to mention that they possessed beautiful voices.
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They even deserve plaudits for being able to navigate the very crowded stage with an ease that kept the evening moving smoothly.

Dana Aber, who bears a striking resemblance to the young Bernadette Peters, excelled at both comedy and romantic ballads with a lovely soprano (“How’s Chances”).

Jennifer Apple played a striking Italian delegate in “Debts” and a malicious gossip columnist in “Through a Keyhole.” Lindsay Fabes brought a touching simplicity to the gentle torch song “Lonely Heart.”

On the male side of the cast, Sheldon Gamabon brought a delightful goofiness to “The Funnies,” and Zachary Spiegel offered a powerful Broadway tenor to his part of “How’s Chances,” as did Eric Stephenson on probably the most classic song in the show, “Easter Parade.”

If there was a first among equals, it was the extraordinary Andrea Fleming who inherited Ethel Waters’ three song spots. Not only did she use her shimmering voice as she scintillated through “Heat Wave,” she created a jubilant torch song with her impersonation of Josephine Baker in “Harlem on My Mind,” and broke the audience’s heart as the grieving wife in “Supper Time.

” She seemed to establish three different women with her shift of body language and facial expressions.

Feinstein’s/54 Below often offers these delightful resurrections of old, often forgotten, shows, but rarely do they present one so ready to transfer to an off-Broadway engagement.
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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."

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Charles Prentiss

    “As Thousands Cheer” is a Classic show with a Classic score. It should transfer to a commercial run, if more people want to see a really Great show that everyone would love.

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