Sara Zahn: Both Sides of Bernstein

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Sara Zahn

Both Sides of Bernstein

Laurie Beechman Theatre, NYC, October 6, 2019

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg for Cabaret Scenes

Sara Zahn
Bill Westmoreland

Celebrating the release of her CD, Both Sides of Bernstein, Sara Zahn explored the many aspects of Leonard Bernstein’s career as composer and occasional lyricist, offering a wide range of material from Broadway and the concert hall. The program was first developed about 20 years ago, and it has been refined into a perfect cabaret show, beautifully paced, thoughtfully programmed, and delivered with heartfelt artistry.
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Zahn uses her powerful vocal instrument to slide effortlessly from jazz to blues to musical-theater style. Every lyric was delivered with clarity and depth, no matter the mood.
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This was evident in the clever pairing of the poignant “The Story of My Life” and the song that replaced it in Wonderful Town at the request of its star, Rosalind Russell, the comic “One Hundred Easy Ways” (both with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green). With flair, the vocalist exploited every double entendre in “I Can Cook Too,” the joy of “It’s Love,” the sly wit of “We Are Women,” and the passion of “Take Care of This House” (lyrics of the first three by Comden and Green and the fourth by Alan Jay Lerner).

Happily the song list expanded beyond Bernstein’s standards to some delicious obscurities: “My New Friends,” with lyrics by the composer for his friend Phyllis Newman’s one-woman show, The Madwoman of Central Park West; a melody from the abandoned musicalization of The Skin of Our Teeth, again with Comden and Green; and the starkly beautiful “Spring Will Come Again” which evolved into “Psalm 23” from The Chichester Psalms. To cover even more of the canon, several cleverly constructed medleys built around certain themes (New York, love, house and garden) were offered.

Taking nothing away from Zahn’s skill and talent, pianist Allan Kashkin provided such thrilling support that a solo concert of Bernstein’s work performed by him would be scintillating. Barry Kleinbort provided the best kind of direction, both tasteful and invisible.

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."