Niki Haris: Grown Ass Woman Show

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Niki Haris

Grown Ass Woman Show

The Green Room 42, NYC, April 6, 2024

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Niki Haris

Niki Haris is perhaps best known for her long career as one of Madonna’s back-up singers, but she proved that she has much more to offer in her return to The Green Room 42 with her Grown Ass Woman Show. To put it simply, she is a terrific interpreter of the Great American Songbook, and she brought her personal power to the works of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and George and Ira Gershwin, among others. She also discovered some lesser-known writers from the same period, such as Joe Burke and Edgar Leslie (“Getting Some Fun Out of Life”) and Andy Razaf and Don Redman (“Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You”). She ventured a bit further afield with the mesmerizing “Dreams” by Stevie Nicks because she wanted to include a number written from a female perspective; it blended in beautifully with the rest of the show.

As wonderful as her singing was, Haris’ personality was even more enchanting. Her warmth, her sense of fun, and her pure joy in performing this material was evident throughout. The chemistry between her and her audience was palpable, and when she discovered a pre-teen boy who was clearly enchanted by her and her music, her interplay with him and her gratitude to the child’s mother for exposing him to this classic music touched the audience’s collective heart. For him, she offered an incredibly touching “Where Is Love” (Lionel Bart), completely free of any cloying sentimentality.

The apparent symbiotic relationship between her and her music director Ben Stivers on piano brought out the best in both of them. “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” (Porter) allowed Stivers to show off his jazz chops, after which Haris stepped forward with a hypnotic delivery that was both cool and hot. Stivers also got to show off his down-and-dirty playing with the aforementioned “Gee Baby.” As good as he was, the star of the show was definitely Haris, with her flexible voice and confident delivery.

Another highlight was her rendition of “I’m Beginning to See the Light” (Duke Ellington/Johnny Hodges/Harry James & Don George). It began with some idiomatic phrasing and some improvised lyric changes (not the only sign of the influence of the one-and-only Pearl Bailey). She then launched into an almost revival-like attack on the song proper, which was appropriately intertwined with the classic spiritual “This Little Light of Mine.” Then came her rendition of the torchy “The Man I Love” (the Gershwins) which was simply thrilling. Near the end of the evening, she was joined on stage by her nephew Tony Haris, and they shared “Killing Me Softly with His Song” (Charles Fox/Norman Gimbel). Talent definitely runs in the family.

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."