Meg Flather, Karen Mack, Rosemary Loar, and Tracy Stark

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Meg Flather, Karen Mack, Rosemary Loar, and Tracy Stark

A Soft Opening of a Potential New Cabaret Venue

Central Park Café, NYC, March 9, 2024

Reviewed by Alix Cohen

Karen Mack, Rosemary Loar, Meg Flather, Tracy Stark

Central Park Café is a humble coffee shop half a block from Carnegie Hall. It’s the kind of comfortable, old-fashioned place where regulars are greeted and the kitchen pings when a dish is ready. The menu is varied and reasonably priced and has many Italian entrées. In hopes of increasing its clientele, the venue is attempting to add a once-a-week cabaret to the menu. As yet, they’re not physically set up for this. For the initial offering, the performers—all cabaret veterans—brought their own piano and equipment (the sound was fine) and there is no stage light; the room just dims.

Meg Flather, Karen Mack, Rosemary Loar, and Tracy Stark, “three Aquarians and a Taurus,” each performed for half an hour and offered fine entertainment for that rainy (or any other) night. Stark played the piano and sang her usual skilled back-up. The opening song, an apt and cool “Coffee,” was her original.

Flather, who only seems to get increasingly better, began with Janis Ian’s “When the Party’s Over” as the warmth of the 1960s pervaded. Three selections by Rodgers and Hammerstein followed. These songs were delivered more slowly and less bouncy than they are often rendered, which brought out the meaning of their lyrics. Flather makes her material personal. A little patter about her work with the Home Shopping Network led to “Keep Young and Beautiful” (Harry Warren/Al Dubin). Part parlando, part patter, part song, it was charming. “Remember no shipping and handling!” Stark’s low-key arrangement of “She Works Hard for The Money” (Donna Summer/Michael Omartian) haunted rather than pounded. A reference to not being able to make music in front of people during the pandemic prefaced “Make Your Own Kind of Music” (Barry Mann/Cynthia Weill), which was palpably grateful and happy.

Mack is self-contained. She started with Dave Cantor’s “Baby Talk” styled in an eezee, flirty jazz. Vein. Notes seemed to shimmer out of her. “Seven Years” (Lee Alexander) was evocative sway music: “a little girl with nothin’ wrong and she’s alone” Mack quietly conjured. “No More Blues” (Antonio Carlos Jobim/Vinicius de Moraes, English lyrics by John Hendricks) was rhythmic and had shorter, sharper phrasing. It ended with fading scat singing as if dancing away—more please. “Why Try to Change Me Now?” (Cy Coleman/Joseph McCarthy) went down like smooth whiskey and it was almost torchy. “Last Go Round” (Dave Cantor) seemed to be a story song. Having been told by a psychic about many lives, a woman learns that this is her last. “It’s now or never, darling,” Mack sang, selling it. Only the John Lennon/Paul McCartney “Can’t Buy Me Love” didn’t work despite Stark’s solid duetting; it just seemed awkward.

Loar is a vessel for music; it courses through, visibly using her body as a puppet. Her jazz renditions produced elastic vocals. She introduced “Show Me” (Alan Jay Lerner/Frederick Loewe) with a reference to; most of us could relate to that. Her version featured repetition and melisma. “Harmless Little Sin” (Loar) was theatrical and sexy. “I turned myself on writing that,” she chuckled. Stark showed the keyboard who’s boss. In a sassy “Ain’t Got Nothin’ but the Blues” (Duke Ellington/Don George) she kneaded the phrases as though they were bread. She bent forward, wheeled around, and cut through the air with an arm. Her tone changed completely on Nellie McKay’s “I Wanna Get Married.” Loar appeared sincere and hopeful—a bit of a kewpie doll. Her own “All I Could Do Was Sigh” (with Flather) was a ready-for-prime-time pop hit. In contrast, the iconic “Angel Eyes” beautifully exorcised emotion with a tuneful wail. The set ended with two songs written decades apart that delivered the same message, one tender, one wry. Good choices.

If this venue gets it together, it will be an additional, low key, affordable (I’m told $25.00 cover, no minimum) place to casually hear good music.

Central Park Café 910 Seventh Avenue

Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts, including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of cabaret, she’s also a theater aficionado, a voting member of Drama Desk, The Drama League and of The NY Press Club in addition to MAC. Currently, Alix writes for Cabaret Scenes, Theater Pizzazz and Woman Around Town. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine and Times Square Chronicles. Alix is the recipient of six New York Press Club Awards.