Ben Dworken: Benny D. and Friends, Volume 2

  • Post author:
  • Reading time:4 mins read

Ben Dworken

Benny D. and Friends, Volume 2

Don’t Tell Mama, NYC, April 14, 2024

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Ben (Benny D) Dworkin assembled a fine group of young musical-theater artists and gave them an excellent showcase in this program at Don’t Tell Mama. It mostly followed the standard format: each performer took the stage for two solos and then surrendered it to the next singer. The level of talent on display was remarkably high, ranging from very good to extraordinary. Dworken proved to be a charming, enthusiastic, and generous host; he introduced each performer with warmth and a story about how they met. If there was any flaw to the program it was a bit of a lack of variety; he placed all of the female singers (who were mostly sopranos) up front, and the male vocalists were grouped together at the end. In the future, more of a mix would be welcomed. Throughout the afternoon, Seth Bisen-Hersh provided fine musical support at the piano and adjusted well to the voices and styles of the singers.

Dworkin kicked off the show with a performance of “Forbidden Fruit” (Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick), complete with a real apple that became a running joke throughout the first part of the program. He has a strong character voice, and he found the humor in the song. He then introduced Kelsey Puttrich, the first of the sopranos on the list. She seemed to be the perfect, traditional ingénue who was born to play all of the Rodgers & Hammerstein heroines. She proved herself to be capable of imbuing her lyrics with specific meanings as she sang “The Beauty Is” (Adam Guettel) and “No One Else” (Dave Malloy). Next was Kelly Brosnan, who possed a dramatic soprano, a powerful belt, and a lot of fire. Her choices were “I’m Not Waiting” (Andrew Lippa) and “See What I Wanna See” (Michael John LaChiusa). The latter gave her the chance to swing and to show off her acting skills as well.

Cassidy Lobb showed herself to be a capable torch singer as she sang “Love Will Come and Find Me Again” (Richard Oberacker/Robert Taylor), and the happier “Climbing Uphill” (Jason Robert Brown). As with most of the afternoon’s participants, she proved that the microphone was nearly unnecessary; vocal strength was not an issue. High soprano Jessica Threet reached further back in time to more classic theater songs with “I Hear Bells” (David Shire/Richard Maltby Jr.), which she joyfully offered using her whole body. Then she transformed herself from soubrette to leading lady with a rich delivery of “So in Love” (Cole Porter), a role she first performed in high school. Megan Magee showed similar versatility, first by celebrating the innocence of first love with “Jimmy” (Jay Thompson) and going very pop with “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (Mike Reid/Allen Shamblin).

Then came Luke Sikora. He took the stage with authority and presented a fully thought-out performance of “Love Doesn’t Happen So Quickly” (Maury Yeston). He used his fine acting instincts and his soaring tenor and reached the final high notes not to show off his range but as a natural extension of the passion of the lyrics—thrilling. He also offered a duet with Threet on “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (Sara Bareilles) from Waitress that was immensely charming. Thomas Krey took the hot stage to sing “It All Fades Away” (Brown), perfectly suited for his smokey tenor and laid-back style. He brought equal passion to “Stranger” (Lippa) from Big Fish. Like so many of the singers in this show, he demonstrated the ability to choose material that suited him well.

Dworkin returned to the stage to offer one final number, the very personal “Corner of the Sky” (Stephen Schwartz), perhaps a bit too quickly. His warmth and joy permeated the show. One final caveat: next time it would be great if each soloist used more of the stage. They all simply stood in front of the mic stand and performed, seemingly not comfortable with disengaging the mic from the stand and using more of the space to add welcome variety. It will certainly be thrilling to see who Dworken brings to the spotlight 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."