Jeff Harnar: Carried Away

  • Post author:
  • Reading time:3 mins read

Jeff Harnar

Carried Away

Birdland Theater, NYC, September 15, 2019

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg for Cabaret Scenes

Jeff Harnar
Photo: Michael Ian

Thirty years ago, Jeff Harnar, music director Alex Rybeck, and director Sara Louise Lazarus introduced their tribute to lyricists/screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green at The Ballroom with the two wordsmiths in attendance. The Ballroom has long been shuttered, and the brilliant authors have passed (as, ironically, has Mrs. Green—Broadway star Phyllis Newman—on the very day of this performance). Thankfully, Harnar and Rybeck are still with us, as charming and talented as ever, and the material remains fresh, funny, and moving by turns and, in one, case amazingly contemporary—an amusing “Simplified Language” (Cy Coleman) focused on gender-neutral vocabulary.

Wrestling the material down to an appropriate length, Harnar and Rybeck have created several massive medleys built around themes, sometime incorporating recognizable bits of dialogue from their screenplays. The song list was a delicious mix of standards (“Make Someone Happy,” “Just in Time,” “Never Never Land”) and obscurities that only diehard show fan will recognize (“Asking for You,” “It’s Good to Be Back Home,” “I Said Good Morning”). An extensive opening number provided Harnar a chance to welcome, flirt with and insult the audience. Later, a madcap sequence was framed by “Carried Away” and included the patented theatrical madness of the writing team with such oddities as “I Just Can’t Wait (to See You with Clothes On)” and “If.” Harnar clearly delighted in getting to break loose and play arrogance (“Subway Directions”), phony piety (“Repent”), and egotism (“My Fortune Is My Face”).

Of course, Harnar, being one of our premiere balladeers, also excelled with such moving ballads as “Asking for You” and “Talking to Yourself,” conveyed with a deep understanding of both the lyrics and the emotions behind them.

He also displayed his deep friendship with Rybeck by joining him at the piano to duet on a medley of building silliness (with a mix of classical melodies tossed in, reflecting Green’s passion for the genre) climaxing in a raucous “Wrong Note Rag.” Ending the show with the inevitable finest Broadway song of parting, “Some Other Time,” Harnar left us wanting a second trip through the songbook.

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."