Kenny Karen: Kenny Karen Rides Again

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Kenny Karen

Kenny Karen Rides Again

Don’t Tell Mama, NYC, June 26, 2024

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Kenny Karen

Kenny Karen is a show-biz veteran who has worked in the recording studios for advertising jingles, in the Borscht Belt as an opening act the hysterical Totie Fields, among others, and obviously in cabarets. Although he has semi-retired to Florida, he still writes a new song every day. Periodically, he returns to Don’t Tell Mama to share his works, new and old, with an adoring audience of family, friends, and the occasional stranger. He charms them all with his wit and his warmth. His material touches on his family with great affection and on show biz with a slightly jaded eye.

Seated at the piano, he introduced each song with some appropriate, and often humorous, comments about what inspired it. This gave the show a static quality by allowing little variation and movement. If had stood during some of his longer chats it would have helped. As it was, he had only his personality to balance this issue, and it was certainly a lovely personality. His melodies showed many influences from Billy Joel to Kander and Ebb to Charles Aznavour—not bad influences at all.

Paying tribute to his family took up a good deal of the program. “Marni’s Garden” was a lovely, heartfelt salute to “the mother of my sons” that included the imagery of “shades of apricot and gray.” Another emotional highlight was a portrait of his “Tateniu” (his father). In a more lighthearted but still deeply felt number, he quoted his doting cousin Lennie with wry humor who once advised him to “Eat the French Fries, Kenny,” which led to a happy family singalong.

Other numbers included clever comments on various aspects of his life, including political satire as he confessed in “I Hate the Fed”; it was filled with clever rhymes of the title such as “die in bed” and “overhead.” More black humor was found in his description of the Florida senior-citizen community where he lives where the “average age released is ‘Deceased’.” His neighbors might not be amused by that one, but the audience certainly was. Then there was “Shtick,” a celebration of his time entertaining in the Catskill Mountains that included tongue-twisting lists of the names of the performers there (shades of Ira Gershwin’s lyrics for “Tchaikovsky”) interrupted by a stream of deliciously bad jokes. Karen had immense charm and wit, and he happily shared it with his audience during this lovely evening.

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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