Lina Koutrakos: 2024 Darrell Henline Award Recipient

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Lina Koutrakos

2024 Darrell Henline Award Recipient

The Green Room 42, NYC, June 13, 2024

Reviewed by Alix Cohen

Photos by Conor Weiss

Lina Koutrakos

As was stated by Cabaret Scenes and the American Songbook Association, Lina Koutrakos is the perfect recipient for the Darrell Henline award due to her commitment to the art of cabaret as a performer, director, songwriter, and producer. Her 40-year career was launched with her own rock band in decades-long residencies at legendary venues. Koutrakos garnered multiple pop songwriting awards while simultaneously presenting her cabaret shows at the Metropolitan Room, 54 Below, and the Waldorf Astoria. She has had extensive tours in both genres in St Louis; Chicago; Washington, DC; Paris; Las Vegas; and more.

Her awards began with the Village Voice‘s Best Rock Newcomer and continued to include Best Director and Best Vocalist from the Manhattan Association of Cabarets (MAC), the Backstage Bistro Awards, and France’s Le Petit Piaf.

The Green Room 42 overflowed with familial feeling Thursday night June 13 when Lina received the 2024 Darrell Henline Award from the ASA and Cabaret Scenes. She is admired, respected, and loved; her spirit, savvy, talent, and sense of humor were recognized in the testimonials that where part of each performers introduction, made by host and executive director of the ASA Carolyn Montgomery. The cabaret community had turned out as much to salute Koutrakos as to support the venerable institution that bestowed the award.

Patrick DeGennaro

“My relationship with Lina can be summed up in three words she just said to her husband: Patrick knows everything. I have laughed through almost three decades with her.” Those comments introduced Patrick DeGennaro who opened the show, infectiously grooving on Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” He pumped his right leg and his arms went wide as he massaged the notes. His performance was expressive and fun. (He was backed by Lenny Babbish on piano.)

Beckie Menzie
Shawn Moninger

Chicagoan Beckie Menzie (also at the piano) has conducted international workshops with the honoree. She shared an anecdote about Lina’s wisdom and sense of responsibility. Her unique version of Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris” was lively and emphatic with a ballad-like undertone. Shawn Moninger has known Lina since their meeting at Don’t Tell Mama in 1985. “We both always had great shoes, a good foundation for friendship.” He shared a song by his husband of six weeks, David Friedman, who was at the piano: “I never thought that there could be a love like yours and mine/And now the only thing we really need is time.” “We Live on Borrowed Time” should become a cabaret (and wedding) staple. It was a great song that was delicately rendered by someone who clearly understands.

Charles Busch

Charles Busch told us that he and Lina shared mentors. They got to know one another further at a St. Louis workshop to which he was invited. “She’s lovable, fun, and a glorious person, he observed.” Busch’s rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” was a true theater piece, a scene in one. Partly spoken, partly sung, the song emerged buoyed by a lifetime of experience. Its tender wisdom was immensely moving. Busch was very like Fred Astaire in that the interpretation of any song he sang got to its roots and heart.

John McDaniel

John McDaniel met Lina at the fabled Metropolitan Room. He remembered that “her unique style captured me and we’ve been friends ever since.” The performer sang (and played) Stephen Sondheim’s “Anyone Can Whistle” in a tremulous, unfussy style that perfectly suited its lyric.

Sally Mayes

Sally Mayes and MD/pianist Tedd Firth had apparently whipped up an original tribute song minutes before the show. These two should write together more. The witty ditty began by grousing that “Nothing ‘fucking’ rhymes with Koutrakos/The name just seems to lie there on the page and mock us/She’s talented, she’s smart/Now here’s the gooey part, Lina Koutrakos is my darling friend.” A nifty segue took us into Gretchen Cryer’s and Nancy Ford’s “Old Friend.” Mayes exuded a warmth and suggested the bonds of joint history. (Yasuhiko Fukuoka accompanied on piano.) Nancy Timpanaro-Hogan, who couldn’t be present, celebrated 40 years of friendship with Lina and cited their friends and colleagues who have passed upon whose shoulders the two of them have stood.

Marcus Simeone

Bowing to Lina’s request, Marcus Simeone offered “Lay Me Down” (Sam Cooke). He began a cappella with is eyes closed, accompanied only by an occasional by guitar chord from Sean Harkness. Simeone kneaded the notes (as Dot says in Sunday in the Park with George, “You know, like bread.”) and squeezed out emotion as if the song was coursing through him. If only his eyes weren’t closed.

Kathleen Turner

Actress Kathleen Turner noted that Lina sang with her ex-husband’s band. She decided a water song was appropriate becasue the celebrant is Greek. “William Finn’s “I’d Rather Be Sailing”—”and then come home to you”—was both vocally sandy and invested. (Mark Janus was on piano; Sean Harkness was on guitar.)

Sean Harkness

“In my mind, Lina is a kindred spirit and a rock star, she can’t help it,” commented Sean Harkness. He then presented his original composition “Nastishe” with pristine finger work and successive rhythms that embodied some of the many genres at which he excels.

Keith Meritz

Darrell Henline (1928–2003) was the founder of Cabaret Scenes magazine as well as its original editor and publisher until he passed. Presenter Keith Meritz, an ASA board member, was his life partner and became the publisher after Henline died, and when he stepped down, Peter Leavy took over.  “My first recollection of Lina was at Eighty-Eight’s with her artistic director the late, great Dick Gallagher,” Meritz recalled. “When we heard that sultry voice, we knew we were in for a treat. She cast a wider net in many directions and exemplifies the goals of ASA’s mission.” Meritz then presented Lina with her award.

“When Carolyn (Montgomery) called to tell me about this, I thought, ‘shit, I’m old,’” Koutrakos quipped. “Who am I kidding? I always wanted to be the little girl at the center of attention. My whole life all I’ve ever wanted to do is sing. Not unlike George Bailey (It’s a Wonderful Life), the older I get, the more I think I’m incredibly lucky. My entire life has been filled with voices. I don’t want to die because I’m afraid I’ll come back and in my next lifetime, I won’t get to do this. Thank you for the gold watch.”

Lina Koutrakos

Her take on “I’m Glad There Is You” (Paul Madeira/Jimmy Dorsey) prefaced a deeply memorable Interpretation of “God Bless the Child” (Arthur Herzog, Jr./Billie Holiday). Her back-of-the-throat vibrato and blues timbre created an on-ramp for gospel. Its wrenched phrasing, including a growl, was very much her own. He arms seemingly moved of their own volition. He talent was a vessel. (Gregory Toroian was on piano.)

Clearly Now: Lina, Marcus, Sean

An encore of “Diggin’ My Grave” (Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga) was unleashed by the trio Clearly Now—Lina Koutrakos, Marcus Simeone, Sean Harkness. “Every little lie you tell can’t keep it hid/You’re just another nail on the coffin lid/ Someone else is gettin’ all the love you never gave/Woo (Yeah)/And you’ve been out all night/Diggin’ my grave, yeah.” This iconoclastic choice rocked hot and hard and elicited chair dancing. The evening was a cornucopia of talent and devotion.

Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts, including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of cabaret, she’s also a theater aficionado, a voting member of Drama Desk, The Drama League and of The NY Press Club in addition to MAC. Currently, Alix writes for Cabaret Scenes, Theater Pizzazz and Woman Around Town. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine and Times Square Chronicles. Alix is the recipient of six New York Press Club Awards.