M. Can Yasar: A Turkish Rhapsody

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M. Can Yasar

A Turkish Rhapsody

Don’t Tell Mama, NYC, March 30, 2024

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

M. Can Yasar

Can Yasar made an impressive cabaret debut with his biographical program, A Turkish Rhapsody, which was filled with humor and emotion. Having already established himself as an award-winning writer/performer/songwriter in solo theater performances, he has happily now turned to cabaret, where he seems to be a natural. As a member of the Muslim, queer, and immigrant communities, he has quite a personal story to share, and he shared it really well. His strong support team of director Lennie Watts, music director/pianist Tracy Stark, drummer Don Kelly, and bassist Matt Sharfglass gave the show a professional polish that allowed the audience to relax and enjoy the evening.

Yasar began the show with a pop/rock delivery of “American Life” (Madonna), which showed off his powerful voice as well as his over-reliance on his vibrato. There was too much reverb in the sound system that was overwhelming in such a small space. However, things soon settled down when he spoke about his name and the problems it caused in the United States. “Can” is actually pronounced “John,” as he happily explained by singing the melody of “Liza with a Z” (Kander & Ebb) using appropriately adapted lyrics. Then there was the issue of his given first name, “Muhammad,” which has led to issues with aviation security guards as he recounted in a special, expressed in an extremely funny version of “Maria” (Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim) that used special lyrics. Despite these issues, he decided to “Make Your Own Kind of Music” (Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil), and indeed he did.

Tales of leaving his large family behind in Turkey led to a touching delivery of “Far from the Home I Love” (Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick), one of several wisely chosen theater numbers he used to illustrate his story. That was followed by one of Yasar’s original songs, “Turkish Delight,” a bawdy tale recounting of his romantic and sexual adventures in the States as an “exotic” choice for gay men. But he did find love, which led to his boyfriend Daniel Shevlin of the group Well Strung joining him on stage for an outrageously over-the-top but wonderfully sung duet on “Let Me Be Your Star” (Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman). To balance this sweet silliness came another of his compositions, “When I Was…,” a touching remembrance of early crushes during a closeted childhood.

Other stories he shared were about his early work at Coney Island and being circumcised at the age of seven (evidently a Turkish tradition). He told about that in an hysterical style that somehow led into a full-out delivery of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (Jule Styne/Bob Merrill). Bizarre? Yes, but also, somehow perfectly appropriate given the overall tone of the show. Such wide-ranging material as “Creep” (Radiohead), performed as a powerful torch song, and “Let It Go” (Kristen Anderson-Lopez/Robert Lopez), sung in Turkish, all fit well into this very personal program. For an encore, Yasar brought up fellow cabaret artist Marcia Roney for another of his original songs, the very touching “Only Place I Belong.” There was left no doubt that Yasar belongs on our cabaret stages.

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."