By: Alix Cohen
October 31, 2021: Produced by The Mabel Mercer Foundation, The 32nd Annual New York Cabaret Convention packed Rose Hall Wednesday night with savvy fans starved for live music and the sight of those artists they admire. With Artistic Director KT Sullivan regrettably absent due to her husband’s illness, the evening was hosted by vocalist Jeff Harnar with vivacity, sincerity and style. All three hours ran smoothly. The show’s expert ‘house’ band consisted of Jon Weber, Steve Doyle, and Ray Marchica. Managing Director Rick Meadows welcomed us with thanks for supporting the Foundation even when so many of its kind and small businesses are suffering. Several members of Irving Berlin’s family were in the audience.
Jeff Harnar’s “Steppin’ Out,” “Puttin’ On The Ritz,” and “Let Yourself Go” were as bright and jaunty as his jacket, energizing the hall, creating a one-man production number replete with unexpected scat. Even in a venue this size, the artist connected with his audience. As rendered by Natalie Douglas, “You Can Have Him,” was quite beautiful but for an unnecessarily swollen denouement. “When it comes to an Irving Berlin torch song, you’re not completely sure how she feels about the guy that left,” she astutely commented.
Stacy Sullivan and Todd Murray, a match made in cabaret heaven, performed “They Say It’s Wonderful.” Both elegant, the artists have appealing personal and vocal chemistry as well as a sense of theater aesthetics. Their current show, “I’m Glad There Is You…the musical romance of Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee,” will hopefully make it to New York sooner than later.
“Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” and “All By Myself” were played and sung by the inimitable Steve Ross who’s sounding better than ever. Sophisticated with just the right tone, he delivers as Berlin might’ve heartily approved. Another vocalist who inhabits the period in which she delves, Aisha de Haas sang “Harlem On My Mind” first introduced by Ethel Waters in 1933. Languid ragtime tempo with a dash of Mae West brought the song home as authentic and engaging. Swell solo work by Steve Doyle.
Having just completed a one woman Edith Piaf film, Christine Andreas offered a swoony “I Got Lost in His Arms” with that impressively controlled, signature trill. The beloved Sidney Myer (always accurately introduced that way), who’s about to appear at Pangea, performed one of his stand-bys “I’m a Bad, Bad Man.” Myer’s homage to “the great Roy Rogers” had the audience actually giggling. (Piano-Tracy Stark)
Two duets buoyed the stage as Karen Mason and Nicolas King sang “You’re Just in Love” and Klea Blackhurst and Jeff Harnar performed “Old Fashioned Wedding.” Whether the genial argument about keys, solos and timing was staged or not, it epitomized a family feeling pervading this evening’s festivities.
The Julie Wilson Award made possible by Linda and Peter Hanson went to David LaMarr whose “Blue Skies” and “Sittin’ in the Sun” were as brimming with flamboyant personality as his red high-heeled boots. (Piano-Darnell White)
The Mabel Mercer Award was presented to Karen Akers with a list of effusive John Fricke-authored adjectives. Akers chose to meld a favorite Russian Lullaby of her recently deceased mother with Berlin’s own “Russian Lullaby.” The fine arrangement was created by accompanying pianist Alex Rybeck. It was immensely touching.
The Donald F. Smith Award made possible by Adela and Larry Elow was presented to Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano during Monday’s virtual show.
Tonight’s gala closed with Jeff Harnar and previous hosts, Natalie Douglas, Klea Blackhurst, Karen Mason, and Andrea Marcovicci leading the audience in a rousing “God Bless America.” Harnar filmed the sing-along on his cell phone to send to KT Sullivan.
Also featuring: the venerable Sandy Stewart and Bill Charlap; Andrea Marcovicci, with a wonderful anecdote about Berlin’s giving Rudy Vallee the song “What’ll I Do?” to try to rescue the latter’s marriage (it didn’t work); Eric Yves Garcia (regularly at West Bank Cafe) who points out “Irving Berlin is never simplistic, but always simple”; Karen Oberlin’s sassy, swinging “Pack Up Your Sins”; a stirring, low key “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” as interpreted by Amra-Faye Wright with love; a period-perfect “Alexander’s Ragtime band” including trumpet scat by Klea Blackhurst; and, Billy Stritch in hushed Bossa Nova mode.
Also, Karen Mason’s gorgeous “How Deep is The Ocean?” (Look for her new CD soon) Alex Ryback-piano, Nicolas King in tribute to the recent passing of top flight musician Mike Renzi (why not mention him by name?), the outrageous Mark Nadler, and introducing complex harmonies by way of The Moipei Triplets.
Two preceding nights of this year’s Convention, Love is Sweeping the Country and The Future of Cabaret, can be streamed without charge at Mabel Mercer Foundation.
Photos by Richard Termine with thanks
The Mabel Mercer Foundation presents
The Melody Lingers On: A Gala Tribute to Irving Berlin
Hosted by Jeff Harnar
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater, Frederick P. Rose Hall
October 27, 2021
Originally Posted on October 29th on Woman Around Town