By: Paulanne Simmons
Cabaret performer Barbara Porteus, who grew up in a small house outside Hartford Connecticut, says she never got the opportunity to go up on the roof until she moved to New York City in 1975. Nevertheless, Up on the Roof is the title of the show she premiered at Don’t Tell Mama and brought back to the Metropolitan Room as the June installment of Stephen Hanks’ monthly series, New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits.
“Up on the Roof,” as anyone familiar with the music of the 60s knows, is the hit song Gerry Goffin and Carole King wrote for The Drifters. The song’s iconic lyrics – “When this old world starts getting me down/And people are just too much for me to face/I climb way up to the top of the stairs/And all my cares just drift right into space”
– once filled the airwaves with urban romance and hope.
Surely that kind of mellow contentment ran through much of what the sultry-voiced Porteus sang on June 13. Backed by an all-string band with Jack Cavari as musical director, arranger and lead guitarist; Larry Saltzman on guitar; and Zev Katz on bass, Porteus began the evening with “Stone Soul Picnic” and “Sweet Blindness” by Laura Nyro and Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning.” The soft, liquid sound of the guitars was the perfect backup to the breezy music and sunny lyrics of these songs.
Then, after a medley of Beatles’ songs, Porteus ventured into the darker side of life with Matchbox Twenty’s “Unwell” and Wardell Gray and Annie Ross’s “Twisted.” And now the hint of a parting lover in “Chelsea Morning” becomes reality in Mitchell’s “Help Me,” where her lover is a “rambler and a gambler and a sweet-talking ladies man.”
All this Porteus understands and expresses in song as she travels through 40 years of pop music. Porteus might have ended the show with James Taylor’s uplifting “The Secret of Life,” but her sense of irony and her eclectic spirit wouldn’t let her. And so her final message comes with Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years,” when she sings with subtle power and delicious restraint, “And I ain’t no fool for love songs/That whisper in my ears.”
New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits continues on July 13 with Maureen Taylor, at the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22 Street.