Amy Beth Williams: Great Ladies, Great Songs

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Amy Beth Williams

Great Ladies, Great Songs

Don’t Tell Mama, NYC, September 21, 2022

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Amy Beth Williams
Photo: Takako Harkness

It took about three notes of Amy Beth Williams’ first song, “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” delivered in her powerful, full soprano, for the audience at Don’t Tell Mama to know that we were in for a beautifully sung program. As she merged into “I Told Ya I Love You, Now Get Out” and then “Alright Okay You Win,” we were assured that the star could also swing and be as sassy as they come and that Great Ladies, Great Songs would be an evening of unexpected delights. In her tribute to a wide range of the female vocalists who had introduced selections from the Great American Songbook, including Judy Garland, Julie London, Sophie Tucker, and even Phyllis Diller, there was an incredible richness in the music she presented.

Of course, the richness came in part from her musical team: Ian Herman on piano, Ritt Henn on bass, and Don Kelly on drums. The first two also provided backup vocals from time to time. They all, as well as the music arrangements they played, showed tremendous flexibility, given the wide range of styles and songs on display in a song list that covered the years from 1936- 1980. In Judy Garland’s version of “By Myself,” with only their three instruments the musicians seemed to replicate the big band that had supported the late legend—thrilling. There was a lush piano interlude on one of Williams’ highlights, “Fly Me to the Moon,” that enchanted. A  mandolin-and-whistling routine by Henn on “Thank You for Calling” (Cindy Walker) enhanced the Jo Stafford selection.

But it was the charming and very loquacious Williams who was always at the center of the show. Under the assured direction of Tanya Moberly, she chose a varied collection of material that allowed her to display the many sides of her personality. She channeled her inner red-hot mama with “Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love”; showed her natural chanteuse with a lovely version of “I Should Care”; and her antic humor was on display with “I’d Rather Cha Cha Than Eat,” a Murray Grand specialty written for Phyllis Diller’s club act. There was also an exquisite “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and a subtly acted “Guess Who I Saw Today.”

The evening was sheer fun; Williams is not just an excellent singer of the Great American Songbook, but a great hostess for her party. Hopefully, we’ll get another invitation soon.

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."