Ali Webb: Be Anything

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Ali Webb

Be Anything

Don’t Tell Mama, NYC, January 21, 2024

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Ali Webb

Sometime being surprised at a cabaret show can be a very good thing. First of all, Ali Webb was making her New York cabaret debut—though she had lived in the city some decades ago—so it was a bit of a guess as to how well she would sing. The fact that she was working with top-notch music director Wells Hanley offered some promise, but nothing prepared us for the singer’s strong, flexible voice and secure jazz vocals. She launched the show with the welcomed standards as “When You’re Smiling” and “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” offering a great deal of warmth as she skimmed across the songs. Another surprise came when she proved herself to be an able and surprising songwriter. Paying tribute to her grandfather who created a special product, she delivered her song “Spam” with a twist so that melodically it also paid tribute to Antonio Carlos Jobim. A second number was a clever take on an old topic, the jilted and vengeful woman; entitled “Eventually,” it was wisely partnered with the oldie, “Goody Goody.”

Then the show took a surprising turn as it became very personal. Webb began to share stories of her life, both hysterical (her 1970’s employment in a notorious NYC “adult toy” shop) and moving (her nurturing her two autistic children), which led to touching renditions of “Be Anything” for her son and “My Funny Valentine” for her daughter. There was also her lengthy tale of the search for the son she had given up at birth, which was intended to be charming but bordered on stalkerish. All of this added up to a very intimate show.

On the musical side, Webb exhibited great chemistry with her musicians: Hanley on piano, Randall Pharr on bass, and Brian Caputo on drums. The strong sense of teamwork highlighted such great numbers as “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever”; “I’ve Got the World on a String”; and most surprisingly of all, the theme from the TV show The Flintstones. Each song was given a swinging interpretation. There was also the absolute simplicity of the lovely ballad “I’ll Be Seeing You,” delivered with just piano accompaniment. Hopefully, Webb will return to New York to surprise her audiences once again.

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."