Bob O’Hare: It’s a New World: A Celebration of Ira Gershwin

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Bob O’Hare

It’s a New World: A Celebration of Ira Gershwin

Don’t Tell Mama, NYC, November 11, 2022

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Bob O’Hare

A Bob O’Hare cabaret show is guaranteed to contain excellent music, a fine exploration of lyrics, a few musical surprises, a major dose of wit, and an immense amount of charm. Add the talent of The Tom Nelson Trio—Nelson (music director and pianist), Tom Kirchmer (bassist), and Peter Grant (drummer)—which provided excellent musical support, and the extra- special appearance by director Eric Michael Gillett, and you have a very special evening, indeed. It’s a New World: A Celebration of Ira Gershwin was designed as a tribute to one of our finest lyricists. Although somewhat overshadowed by his brother and often collaborator George, Ira had a much longer career working with many composers. He also had a marvelous ability to find just the right words for the moment, which led to his nickname as “The Jeweler.”

O’Hare, forced to stay seated throughout the show because of some physical issues, kicked off the program with a set of songs created for dancing: “Shall We Dance” (music by George Gershwin), “Fidgety Feet” (G. Gershwin), “I Got Rhythm” (G. Gershwin), and “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” (Buddy DeSylva/G. Gershwin). This was a way for O’Hare to acknowledge his situation and to prove that he could soar above it and give the audience a feeling of joy. “Sweet and Lowdown” was given an appropriately swinging rendition, and the over-the-top “By Strauss” (G. Gershwin) was celebrated with great cheer and a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor. The intelligence behind the organization of the show was evident throughout, such as going from the intensity of the pairing of “It’s a New World” and “Here’s What I’m Here For” (both with music by Harold Arlen) to the unbridled joy of the following two: “’S Wonderful” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It.” (both with G. Gershwin).

The star yielded the stage to his director, Gillett, who offered up a trio of Gershwin delights, “How Long Has This Been Going On,” “Do-Do-Do,” and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” (all with G. Gershwin). With his delivery of the lyrics, his finding the passion and depth of emotion embedded in the words and music, and the subtle physicality of his interpretation, Gillett gave a master class in cabaret performance. He should be seen more often in New York rooms.

There were more happy surprises throughout the show.

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O’Hare delivered the only non-Gershwin lyrics of the evening, an untitled song that was written but not completed for the film Blues in the Night with lyrics by Johnny Mercer and a haunting melody by Arlen. A few years later, the composer rediscovered the sheet music and offered it to the lyricist celebrated this evening who then penned the words for “The Man That Got Away.” Everyone was happy except for Mercer.

O’Hare showed off his admiration of Gershwin’s humorous wordplay in such songs as “I Love to Rhyme” (G. Gershwin) and “A Rhyme for Angela” (Kurt Weill), and he demonstrated his vocal agility and pristine diction with the highly challenging “Tchaikovsky (and Other Russians)” (Weill). He brought the evening to a close with two songs: a heartfelt “He Loves and She Loves” (G. Gershwin) in a wonderful musical arrangement that seamlessly incorporated other George Gershwin melodies into the mix, as well as the perfect “Long Ago (and Far Away)” (Jerome Kern).

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Hopefully O’Hare won’t stay away too long and far away from the cabaret stage.

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."