Jo Brisbane: Mod Hollywood! Tunes from a Town Without Pity

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Jo Brisbane

Mod Hollywood! Tunes from a Town Without Pity

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

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Jo Brisbane
Photo: Gene Reed Photography

Visualize the classic Doris Day charm song “Que Sera, Sera” delivered as if sung by a succession of perfectly honed characters, from an annoying innocent to a world-weary school teacher to a brand new child sounding a great deal like Baby Snooks. With that hysterical beginning, Jo Brisbane kicked off her delightful tour of films of the 1950s and ’60s, from sex farces to beach parties to Grand Guignol descents featuring failing golden-age divas. Mod Hollywood! Tunes from a Town Without Pity included them all, along with some true classics. With her rich voice, fine jaded humor, and a delicate approach toward lyrics, the singer established herself as a force to be reckoned with in the New York cabaret world.

Brisbane was aided by the excellent team of director Lennie Watts, who provided deft staging that used all the space on the stage (which led to Brisbane’s announcement “and now I’m going to try and mount the piano), and music director Tracy Stark, who also provided backup vocals and a delightful arrangement for a medley of songs from the beach-movie genre. Even Brisbane added to the evening beyond her vocals with her hysterical new lyrics for the melody from A Man and A Woman as a tribute (?) to Claudine Longet.

But it was not all silliness and camp.

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To such beautifully crafted lyrics as those for “Alfie,” “Charade,” and “Days of Wine and Roses,” Brisbane brought a fine intelligence and deep emotion to her delivery. Each number was terrific, as she exposed the subtle meanings within the poetic words. Even such genre numbers as “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte” and “River of No Return” were treated as worthy compositions with true meaning. Of course, “What’s New Pussycat?” and “Goldfinger” (sung to an Oscar facsimile) received the wonderfully campy delivery they deserved.

The evening was fast-paced and smoothly directed. It will be interesting to see what theme this team comes up with next to entertain their audience. Brisbane will certainly be welcome whatever theme she devises.

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."