Amy Beth Williams: Sings Leiber & Stoller

  • Post author:
  • Reading time:3 mins read

Amy Beth Williams

Sings Leiber & Stoller

Don’t Tell Mama, NYC, March 24, 2024

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Amy Beth Williams
Photo: Takako Harkness

In her search for the song “Humphrey Bogart” that she had heard in a cabaret show, Amy Beth Williams discovered an album featuring pianist William Bolcom and singer Joan Morris that paid tribute to songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The record featured some of Leiber and Stoller’s lesser-known works, a collection of art songs in various styles and genres. Intrigued, she decided to build an entire evening around them, and her instincts were right on target. The songs made for an engaging program, and Williams displayed of her natural warmth and excellent diction as she delved into the lyrics.

Adding a great deal to the effectiveness of the program was the first-rate musical team of Ian Herman on piano, Ritt Henn on bass, Peter Calo on guitar, and Ray Marchica on drums; each displayed fine flexibility in capturing the shifting rhythms of the material. Credit also goes to director Tanya Moberly, whose contribution cannot be underestimated. Still, it was Williams who was at the center of the stage, and whether it was a tango, a country-western selection, or a fragile mood piece, she met each one full on with a great sensitivity. When she reached a section of the set list reserved for some of Leiber & Stoller’s standards—“Spanish Harlem” (with Phil Spector) and “Love Potion No. 9,” among others—she brought a freshness and a sense of discovery to them.

Some of the highlights of the program included the slightly over-the-top sly humor of “Reckless” arranged in a Latin rhythm and “I Ain’t Here,” which had a country flair. Then came the sheer fun of the honky-tonk “I’ve Got Them Feelin’ Too Good Today Blues” and the dreamy romance of “I Remember” (delicately supported with just piano accompaniment). The Kurt Weill-ish-inspired “Let’s Bring Back World War I” shifted between spoken word and high-soprano waltz, and it was a fascinating discovery. Its shifting vocal styles were reminiscent of the better-known “Is That All There Is,” which Williams beautifully acted, capturing the absurdly jaded spirit of the words. Her original approach was displayed in her half-spoken, half-sung “Hound Dog” and in the quiet dignity she brought to “Stand by Me” (written with Ben E. King). Williams offered a truly original program, one that made the audience wonder what she will create the next time.

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."