In the Spotlight: The J2 Cabaret Series:You’re Nothing Without Me: The Songs of Marvin Hamlisch and David Zippel

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In the Spotlight: The J2 Cabaret Series

You’re Nothing Without Me:
The Songs of Marvin Hamlisch and David Zippel

Theater Row, NYC, May 16, 2023

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

In a rebound from a disappointing second edition of this series, the final evening of The J2 Cabaret Series was a fitting tribute to the works of composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist David Zippel. (The main stage production of The Goodbye Girl was an equally exciting conclusion for its third year of fully staged neglected musicals.)  This tight 90-minute program of songs written together or independently by the two celebrated songwriters, it provided a comprehensive sampling of works from Broadway, from Hollywood, and even from projects that faded in workshop. The always-informed Charles Hirsch hosted the evening with charm and presented fascinating trivia. Curiously, no director was credited but Griffin Strout provided yeoman work as music director for the show.

The evening began with a lively delivery by Timmy Lewis and Alaina Mills of the title number from They’re Playing Our Song (lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager; music by Marvin Hamlisch). Following that, the first half of the program was devoted to the works of Zippel (who was in attendance). Several numbers from the lyricist’s biggest stage hit, City of Angels (music by Cy Coleman), were featured, including a terrific “You Can Always Count on Me” delivered by Molly Stilliens, “You’re Nothing Without Me” was effectively performed up by Andrew Leggien, and Andres Felipe who then had great fun with the very nasty “All You Have to Do Is Wait.” Melody Munitz glided happily through “The Ingenue” (written with Wally Harper), which was special material written for the very special Barbara Cook. More obscure songs included a comic trio on “What a Drag” (from Princess: The Musical; music by Matthew Wilder), sung by Dani Apple, Taylor Erin Wade, and Maggie Bera. This was followed by Ayana Francois’ torching of the cabaret favorite “Another Mr. Right” (from Going Hollywood; music by Jonathan Sheffer). Logan Lee delivered the Disney hit, “Go the Distance” (from Hercules; music by Alan Menken).

Kicking off the second half of the program devoted to Hamlisch, cabaret and concert veteran Valerie Lemon beautifully sang a true rarity, the touching “A Mother’s Voice” (lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman). Jake Urban also did a nice job with another unknown piece, “Stella” (lyrics by Rupert Holmes), from The Nutty Professor. Then Bobbi Doherty performed the touching “Disneyland” (lyrics by Howard Ashman) from Smile. Stephanie Israelson delivered the hit movie theme “Through the Eyes of Love” (lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager) from Ice Castles. Barbra Streisand tribute artist Steven Brinberg (in mufti) offered two very different versions of “The Way We Were” (lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman) with subtle emotion as he summoned up the diva’s voice. Then Eric Michael Gillett took the stage to share memories of the development of the musical Sweet Smell of Success (he was there from the beginning) before offering a dynamic “At the Fountain” (lyrics by Craig Carnelia). The satisfying evening was brought to a close by cabaret headliner Mark William as he delivered the almost inevitable “What I Did for Love” (from A Chorus Line; lyrics by Edward Kleban).

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."