Steven Zumbo: Let Me Entertain You!

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Steven Zumbo

Let Me Entertain You!

Don’t Tell Mama, NYC, December 14, 2023

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Steven Zumbo

Returning for another happy mix of music, stories, and just a bit of camp, Steven Zumbo was back at Don’t Tell Mama for another delightful evening. He started off by asking the audience to “Let Me Entertain You” (mixed with “There’s No Business Like Show Business”), and then he followed up on that promise for the rest of the show. Working with music director/pianist and long-time collaborator Gerry Diffenbach, he brought the audience along on a journey of memories and experiences, from a subtly acted “I’m Always Drunk in San Francisco” to a powerful and personal medley of “I Happen to Like New York” and “Theme from New York, New York.”

Nearly all the numbers selected were either a surprise in themselves or had a surprise within them. “Nessuno” was delivered in Italian (with Diffenbach kindly “consenting to play in Italian” for Zumbo). The classic Rodgers and Hart “I’ll Tell the Man in the Street” was slowed down a great deal and given a bittersweet taste. “The Very Thought of You,” the singer’s mother’s favorite song, was given an emotionally satisfying delivery with aching purity. The theme of the evening offered different perspectives, and the creativity and approach shown throughout reinforced this approach.

Some of the songs were surprising in themselves. Zumbo relied on a numer of selections from the golden age of Broadway, but unlike many performers, he chose from flop shows. “You’ve Got Possibilities” (from It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman), “Shakespeare Lied” from How Now Dow Jones), and “I Got Everything I Want” (from I Had a Ball) were all presented as lost gems, which indeed they were. Another barely known delight was Peter Mills’ “Way Ahead of My Time,” which was filled with wit and a distinct, if unconventional, perspective. Bravo for the team’s research in unearthing these numbers. Of course, “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” is far better known, but here it was refreshed with a truly joyous rendition. Hopefully, Zumbo and Diffenbach will soon return with another spritely evening to surprise the audience once more.

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."