Michael Rider: This Ol’ House: Stories of a City Bear, Country Queen

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Michael Rider

This Ol’ House: Stories of a City Bear, Country Queen

The Green Room 42, NYC, May 21, 2024

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Michael Rider

Decked out in a powder-blue tux and plenty of bling, Michael Rider, the love child of Dolly Parton and Paul Lynde, returned to the stage to tell the story of his life in a reprise of his debut show, This Ol’ House: Stories of a City Bear, Country Queen. The title vividly described this biographical show in which he told of growing up in central Pennsylvania on a farm, being a member of a family country-western band, and being an opening gay man thriving in New York City. Under the always-expected smooth and detailed direction of Lina Koutrakos and the terrific and melodic support of music director/pianist Tracy Stark, Rider charmed the audience with his creativity.

He kicked off the show with Stark’s snazzy arrangement of the folk tune “Old MacDonald Had A Farm.” He began slowly and gradually increased it to top speed. What made it special was his total lack of irony or condescension. Then came the theme-song medley of title tunes from the television shows he watched as a chicld. This idea has become a cliché in cabaret. most often with the singer racing through as many tunes as possible in the shortest amount of time. That’s not what happened here. Each song was presented in full, and each was tied to Rider’s specific memories as he was growing up. Some of these tunes were well-known and some have almost been forgotten, which added to the freshness of the moment. Among them were “Eight is Enough” (Molly-Ann Leikin/Lee Holdridge); “Theme from The Dukes of Hazard (Good Ol’ Boys)” (Waylon Jennings), which referenced his early crush on both of the boys; and “The Facts of Life” (Al Burton/Gloria Loring & Alan Thicke), which related to his learning about his own facts of life.

Despite his love for the country, which was celebrated with a lovely, gentle blending of “Moon River” (Johnny Mercer/Henry Mancini) and “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress” (Jimmy Webb), Rider decided it was time to move to the Big Apple. And, becasue “everybody needs a theme song when making a big life change,” the transition was acted out with the accompaniment of “Flight” (Craig Carnelia). His love for his new life was commemorated with “What More Do I Need” (Stephen Sondheim) and a riotous “The Girl in 14G” (Jeanne Tesori/Dick Scanlan), which beame a true showstopper in his more-than-capable hands and voice.

Adding to the musical side of the program were bassist Skip Ward, guitarist Mike Rosengarten, and drummer David Silliman, all of whom adapted to the show’s many musical styles. Michael Orland contributed additional musical arrangements. But Rider remained at the center of the show as he once again celebrated his roots in a beautiful mix of nostalgia, bittersweet emotions, and celebration in “This Ole House” (Stuart Hamblen). This mix of approaches was the key to the success of his show.

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."

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