SALON Returns to Don’t Tell Mama
by Ricky Pope Aug. 23, 2021
In the 19th century, groups of artists would often gather at the home of an aristocratic patron to discuss literary and artistic themes for the purpose of collective enlightenment. It was a free exchange of ideas between the artistic class and the aristocracy who were their patrons. These evenings involved novelists, poets, dancers, composers, opera singers, and philosophers. These artists would premiere works-in-progress as “at home” entertainment for the delight of their friends and colleagues. They were particularly popular during the Victorian era with its emphasis on home and hearth, which happened to coincide with the romantic era in music with its emphasis on florid displays of pianistic virtuosity. Chopin hosted a regular salon with his lover, the novelist George Sand. In Paris in the 1920s Gertrude Stein was the host of a salon that featured many of the great artists of the age including Picasso, Stravinsky, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Nijinsky. And although it was much less formal, the members of the Algonquin Round Table constituted yet another variation on the salon.
Sixteen years ago, Mark Janas was the musical director of the show Talk of the Town, which was playing the Oak Room of the famous Algonquin. One night after the show, Janas sat down at the grand piano in the hotel lobby and played Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue. “At that moment the idea of SALON was born. Since then, it has been a monthly cabaret tradition, traveling through three venues to arrive at its current home, Don’t Tell Mama. At its heart, it is an open mic for cabaret performers. But like those Victorian salons, it is open to artists of all disciplines. Each month there is a theme to the evening, although strict adherence to it is entirely optional. Performers arrive early to sign up if they wish to perform and give their information to a “Mamette,” that’s a monitor who keeps the order of the evening rolling along. They are called “Mamettes” in honor of Don’t Tell Mama. At the Algonquin, they were called “Gonkettes.” Get it? In addition to Mark Janas, each month features a different co-host. Like those long ago Victorian evenings, SALON is a safe space for cabaret artists to work out new material or simply show off something they love.
Tonight, SALON performed for the first time after sixteen months off. Even the threat of a tropical storm outside didn’t deter a good number of people from celebrating its return. This evening’s theme was threefold: “Welcome Back!,” “Sweet Sixteen” in honor of Salon’s 16th anniversary, and “Bernstein at 103” to celebrate the 103rd birthday of the great Leonard Bernstein. Tonight’s co-host was the much-awarded cabaret artist, Julie Reyburn. Janas and Reyburn kicked off the evening with a special arrangement of Sondheim’s “Putting It Together” with additional lyrics tailored to the art of cabaret. David Ballard added his skills as a flutist to the opening.
What followed was a cavalcade of great talent. It is not fair to review the singers in an open mic, and so I won’t, except to say everyone was amazingly talented and entertaining. There were many original tunes and familiar standards by not only Bernstein and Sondheim but also by William Finn, Rodgers & Hart, David Zippel, Cy Coleman, Lerner & Loewe, Janeanne Tesori, Bock & Harnick, and Comden & Green. Although I am not specifically reviewing these singers, I will mention them by name as many of them have upcoming shows that you all should see. We heard beautiful performances from Sierra Rein, Michael Colby, Matthew Martin Ward, Annie Lebeaux, Scott Ranieri, Lorelle Michelle, Erin Cronican, Adam Shapiro, David Ballard, and Steve Bustamante.
I will mention a few numbers that were not part of the official open mic. Julie Reyburn sang a particularly touching version of Sondheim’s “Move On,” again accompanied by Mark Janas with help from David Ballard. Ms. Reyburn also gave great passion to “A Boy Like That/I Have a Love” in which she was joined by Tanya Moberly, who has been the producer of SALON for the past 13 years. Ms. Reyburn also put a tender finale on the show with one of Bernstein’s great songs, “Some Other Time” from On the Town. She was joined by AdamShapiro and Sierra Rein. Mark Janas also joined the quartet from his seat at the piano. Mr. Janas also added to the celebration of this anniversary by playing the entirety of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” just as he did on the day SALON was created.