April 6, 2022 NiteLife Exchange Cabaret Reviews
By Marilyn Lester***Songwriter Jeff Flaster is by far not a newbie to the world of creating music, but he is in the world of cabaret. His singing and performing debut at Don’t Tell Mama can be certifiably stamped “success.” With Take the Moment, Flaster, in his sixth decade, proved it’s never too late to learn new things, go on new adventures and realize dreams. The show was a heart-warming triumph—full of warmth, humor and oodles of multi-layered talent.
There’s a lot of take-away in Take the Moment, but perhaps the over-arching one is that music heals. That’s a concept that’s much bandied about. It’s true of, of course, but Flaster is a grade-A example of it. Through music he overcame a difficult childhood and other problematic episodes in life to transcend and blossom. Through this beautifully constructed narrative, standards and Flaster-written numbers aptly illustrated the text and moved it forward. Take the Moment also presented the possibility of healing for audience members who might very easily relate to his life’s journey. From his own “A New Country” and through a very smart, clever application of classics: a Beethoven medley for solo piano (Symphony #9 in d, Piano Sonata #23 in f, “Appassionata,” Piano Sonata #8 in c, “Pathetique”), to an AM radio medley: “Downtown” (Tony Hatch), “Georgy Girl (Tom Springfield), “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” (Bacharach & David), “Up, Up, and Away (Jimmy Webb), Flaster shared the pain of having a very angry and demeaning mother and the long-term effect it had on him. To his credit, he was able to convey that circumstance (and others) with humor.
In fact, much of the success of Take the Moment came from the humor that elevated the presentation. Comic relief is always a healing part of drama, which Flaster well and wisely knows. He also benefits from a natural grace and charm. His warmth can’t be underestimated, especially in a “story of my life” format of cabaret show, where true success is bound in a good story, intelligently executed. Flaster has ticked all those boxes. Remaining to conquer is vocal range. He’s relative new to singing outside of a choral environment; and while his phrasing and tone are on the money, he strains to transition and achieve and maintain stability on high notes.
Full liberation into music for Flaster, though, came late-ish in life. Both parents were mathematicians and wished for their very bright son to follow in their footsteps. Music wasn’t discouraged, only as a career. So, Flaster dutifully went to MIT and became a mathematician even as he continued to write music, an activity he began in Junior High School. Music was always the salvation, a la “And the Angels Sing” (Mercer & Elman). So was therapy, especially after the shake-up of suicidal thoughts post MIT. At this point he was living alone (and alone for the first time in his life) and realizing he’d bound himself to a day job in mathematics: “Math I Hear You Calling” (Criss, Ezrin, Penridge; alt lyrics by Flaster), “Derivatives (Lennon & McCartney, alt lyrics by Flaster). Music would be taking second fiddle.
Personal happiness soon arrived in the person of Helen, who has been his life partner/wife for thirty-plus years. During this time, Flaster continued to pursue music, but also attained education to become an actuary to better his job/career prospects. In 2009 he attempted to quit the day job, but that didn’t happen until he took a “leap of faith” in 2020 and did the deed. Although he didn’t specify, the effects of the COVID pandemic might have been an understandable influence; plus, in 2017 Flaster took a cabaret class given by the late Collette Black. All of these life moments were reflected, in part, by “Other Voices” (Flaster), “Take the Moment” (Rodgers & Sondheim, additional lyrics and melody by Flaster) and “Finding Wonderland” (Wildhorn & Murphy).
At the piano, music director Mathew Martin Ward did yeoman work with every standard and Flaster original that was part of Take the Moment. More than that, with the many classical pieces in the set, he played with creative lushness and concentrated intensity that brought those works to life vividly. Tanya Moberley directed; a note to work on for both—a more relaxed, fluid movement on stage.
One of the life lessons that Flaster has learned is “don’t fight the world—find a new one.” This he has done courageously and admirably. A single review can’t possibly cover all the ground laid down in a show such as Take the Moment, so to be treated to more of his delightful world, visit www.melodic.com