John Burns: Sock It to Me: John Burns Sings the ’60s

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John Burns

Sock It to Me: John Burns Sings the 60s

Don’t Tell Mama, NYC, October 10, 2023

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

John Burns

Sock It to Me, John Burns Sings the ’60s was a surprising show. Surprising because some of it was so smart and surprising because some of it was so miscalculated.

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Certainly, everyone on stage (and there were quite a few people on stage) seemed to be having a great time, and the vocal arrangements by Michael Holland were thrilling, especially for several lengthy medleys that fully utilized the assembled talent. He doubled, or perhaps quadrupled, as music director, pianist, guitarist, and vocalist, and joined in with back-up singer Brooke Shapiro and bassist Matt Scharfglass, who also provided some vocals. Farah Alvin directed the evening and provided a good pace and a good frame for the featured star, John Burns.
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Burns has a powerful voice that, happily, he knew how to use, and he also showed enviable clarity in the way he handled lyrics. Adding to the fun, he gave a pretty handy Elvis impersonation on “Viva Las Vegas.” Unfortunately, something he doesn’t seem to possess is dramatic ability, so the songs often had little any emotional impact. He did occasionally connect with his material, such as in a lengthy medley of Burt Bacharach and Hal David songs in a beautiful version of Bobbie Gentry’s “Fancy.” But a major mistake was his take on “Unchained Melody,” on which he showed a very nice falsetto. It started well and then inexplicably trailed off into a tiresome running joke about his supposed extramarital affair with a female audience member while his husband was across the room. He played it with growing hysteria, but it yielded diminishing returns.

Late in the show came a rewarding medley of Jimmy Webb songs. Again, the entire company pitched in on an outstanding arrangement for an excellent musical effect and for sweet nostalgia. For an encore, Burns offered a fun and very campy “Goldfinger,” complete with a feather boa that he slung around. Hopefully, in the future he will take more time to develop a relationship with his music and spend less time on unrewarding, over-extended comedy bits that weren’t particularly funny to begin with.

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."