Lisa Viggiano & Wells Hanley: These Things First

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Lisa Viggiano & Wells Hanley

These Things First

Chelsea Table & Stage, NYC, March 3, 2024

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Lisa Viggiano

Vocalist Lisa Viggiano and music director/pianist Wells Hanley, under the direction of Gerry Geddes, made an excellent team as they blended their musical talents to create a charmed evening. Viggiano presented a lovely, relaxed persona that blended well with her strong musical talents. With her first number, “One of These Things First” (Nick Drake) she established two things: that she had a strong ability to reach out to her audience, and that she had the ability to listen to her pianist and connect with the music. With her second selection, Andrew Lippa’s “Leap,” she showed a talent for seemingly discovering the lyrics as they came out of her. She also was able to logically build a song based on the drama within it.

All of these talents came together in the classic “I Thought About You” (Johnny Mercer/Jimmy Van Heusen). This song showed off Viggiano artistry, and it was a special moment for Hanley, both as an arranger and as a solo pianist; I it he created a gorgeous experience. Hanley further proved his versatility by contributing two lovely songs of his own—the moving “I Am a Song” and the wistful “Indian Summer.” Another surprising contribution to the song list, courtesy of director Geddes’ constant search for material, was the lushly romantic “How You Loved You on Mars” (Josh Nelson & Kathleen Grace).

Combining Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” with Sondheim’s “Being Alive” was an original concept to freshen up the latter song, which has quickly become overused in the cabaret world. More spritely was the delivery of “I’ve Got Them Feelin’ Today Day Blues” (Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller), during which Viggiano showed her talent on the kazoo. She also had fun with the arch “What Did You Do to Your Face” (Susan Werner) which she presented in a straightforward delivery. The intimate evening concluded with a passionate delivery of “I Sing the Body Electric” (Dean Pitchford/Michael Gore from Fame) which was intermingled with the Walt Whitman’s poem of the same name. Hopefully this musical partnership will team up again for a future show, and Viggiano will continue to display some more fabulously sparkly boots as well.

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."