by Rob Lester
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jan 7, 2020
While the calendar and life
experience tell us that the year is unpredictable and new, the old
tried-and-true traditions of cabaret and concert events and proven talents make
predicting worthy upcoming shows pretty easy. Here, month-by-month, are some
coming attractions for music in Manhattan.
JANUARY — The concert series Lyrics and Lyricists at the 92nd Street Y celebrates its landmark 50th anniversary this month. Talk about a proven commodity! And the new season begins just the way its very first program did in 1970 with a salute to wordsmith E.Y. Harburg (Jan. 25-27). We’ll get numbers from “The Wizard of Oz,” “Finian’s Rainbow,” and much more. It looks like a smart start for this venerable program that entertains and helps us really appreciate the craft of songwriting and popular music history. As time marches on, we’ve had to face losing more veteran songwriters – like Jerry Herman, who passed away at the very end of 2019. But he’ll be the subject of the L&L tribute at the Y the next month.
FEBRUARY — Groundhog Day (Feb. 2) is
always a day we need something warm and cheerful in case that animal’s shadow
sighting gives us more weeks of cold winter reality. So what could be better
than more of the happy, snappy songs of Jerry Herman at Feinstein’s/54
Below that night. While this is not a repeat event, it’s being put together by
a savvy and very frequent presenter at the venue, Scott Siegel. His
multi-performer salutes to “Broadway’s Greatest Hits,” Frank
Sinatra’s have been populating their calendar each month for years. (There are
two of each just in February, and it’s the shortest month of the year and his
“warm up to February” events this month end with January 31’s return
of tireless Siegel’s “Broadway Ballyhoo” series from years ago at
Feinstein’s East side spot.)
These concert nights are curated with songs and returning artists from the world of musical theatre and cabaret that the series’ past audiences have especially enjoyed. On some of Mr. Siegel’s “nights off,” February will also find the club hosting Broadway-experienced stars in their own solo shows — Christine Andreas, Tovah Feldshuh, Jeremy Jordan and a night focused on “Yank!,” a satisfying and moving musical about a World War II soldier dealing with his gay feelings.
MARCH — I’m happy to see that the ever wry and daring entertainer Molly Pope has taken up a monthly residency at The Duplex, that Greenwich Village landmark. She calls the series “Molly, Pope, a Gay Man, and a Piano,” and will find her with various guys taking turns at the keyboard. Her March march into mayhem and merry is on the 26th.
APRIL — April will be like other
months, if you look at each final Friday for midtown musical fun at Don’t Tell
Mama. Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway finds the award-winning acerbic
host/pianist grinning and spinning tales, tidbits, and trivia, sampling (or
trampling) Broadway scores. It’s lots of breezy fun, the selections different
each time, with a kind of semi-repertory company of frequently reappearing
talents, including the club’s longtime booking manager/godfather — audience
favorite, Sidney Myer, master of show biz panache.
MAY — This year marks Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday. Feinstein’s/54 Below continues with its regular Sondheim Unplugged shows most months, and, while the celebration at Symphony Space may not be monthly, it’s mid-May one-day hip-hooray event is scheduled to last most of the day (an eight-hour music marathon on the 16th). There’s a parade in town — a parade of artist after artist in Wall to Wall Sondheim. I was there when they did this concept the first time when they did this (and did it so well); it was a full twelve hours that time! And the whole thing is free, but that also makes seats tough to get if you’re not patiently in line.
JUNE — If monthly shows aren’t enough to hook you as a regular for what’s offered, how about a weekly event? Birdland’s open mic, Jim Caruso’s Cast Party on Mondays attracts many locally-based returnees of all stripes as well as singers and musicians passing through town or previewing something new. It’s a decidedly upbeat affair, with canny Caruso’s quips keeping it lively til late.
A graphic for the “Bound for Broadway” event
JULY — The Green Room 42 has a
series called “An Evening with…” where today’s singers pay
tribute to longtime music legends. It happens on six out of of the new year’s
months. In July, for example, you must wait til the last day of the month, but the
songs of the great Nina Simone are worth the wait and the weight. Things begin
in January with the only male singer chosen for a musical tip of the hat —
Frank Sinatra. The night saluting Julie Andrews falls on the lady’s actual
birthday of October 1, so that one should feel super-special. But all are
superstars with super-memorable songbooks: the others are Dolly Parton,
Rosemary Clooney, and Judy Garland.
AUGUST — Although some clubs haven’t yet listed events for the later months of the year, the website for West End Lounge uptown indicates that its long-running events will keep going and going and going throughout the year. The weekly So You Think You Can Belt singing competition stays loud and proud, Bound for Broadway singer showcase is bound to last forever, in addition to drag shows that will happily drag out til year’s end and beyond.
SEPTEMBER — For some, September means Back To School time, but if you’re especially interested in cabaret, especially as a performer, MAC, the cabaret organization is especially helpful then. They do their annual Mac To School series of workshops and seminars.
OCTOBER — The biggest October event
for cabaret-lovers is an annual one, taking up several nights: the Cabaret
Convention. At Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater, the Mabel Mercer
Foundation, headed by KT Sullivan (a dazzling cabaret artist herself), presents
dozens of splendid vocalists, with some themed nights focused on songwriters or
icons of the past. This year’s classy evenings, marking the 30th anniversary of
the programs, offered many splendid moments, with awards presented to veteran
artists Christine Andreas and Sandy Stewart, as well as Hannah Jane Peterson,
recently out of high school, with a bright future assured. The 2020 themes and
honorees won’t be announced for a while, but it’s a safe bet that this coming
October will follow in the tradition of bringing together a whole lot of talent
embracing the Great American Songbook.
NOVEMBER — Come November, singer Tanya Moberly will be coming close to wrapping up a year of doing her once-a-month cabaret presentations — but it’s six different shows, each with a different musical director, focused on the repertoire of different singers and/or songwriters. Most are from the pop world, ending with Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman (Extra points to you if you know that one Mr. N. made an album of the other Mr. N’s songs,) This all happens at Don’t Tell Mama, where Miss Moberly also produces the ongoing open mic called the Salon and recently added booking manager to her resume.
Darius de Haas
DECEMBER — The safest bet for the
whole year is a no-brainer about 2020’s final month: December will, as always,
be stuffed (like Christmas stockings) with holiday-themed shows. Let me mention
a few such events that made my recent Christmas merrier. Look out for these
artists dipping into non-holiday fare during 2020 or coming back with the
Yuletide stuff when we wonder how the new year flew by as quickly as Santa’s
Darius de Haas at Birdland brought his soulfully velvet voice to burnish Christmas favorites from different musical genres. His phrasing and arrangements made event those ghosts of Christmas past sound woke and wonderful. With a strong connection to the audience and band, it was a richly entertaining evening. Also including less familiar things that were eye-openers and ear-openers, like the emotional “Let Me Carry You This Christmas,” “Snowbound,” and two numbers he did on TV’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” he was consistently engaging. Chatty reminiscences of his family’s traditions and his obvious love of the season and its songs made things especially cozy. There was nothing cloying or condescending or automatic pilot in his sincere deliveries. Determined to get past the challenges of some acknowledged vexing temporary throat issues, he navigated well through any problems, making the gloriously sweet high tones especially appreciated. Gracious and grateful in his comments about and to fans and friends and colleagues present for the occasion, the magnetic Mr. de Haas was embraced by the crowd. The applause was well deserved.
Andrea McArdle was full of spice and spunk with her show at The Green Room 42 in Yotel for Yuletide that mixed Broadway and Christmas classics. Down to earth and evidencing a life of reality checks about perceived Broadway glamour, she retains notable bemusement about events in her impressive long career, especially the star-making time as Broadway’s original “Annie,” treating us to a couple of still-sounding-fresh numbers from that score. Several people in the happy crowd were also veterans of that famous show, making the night feel like a reunion without shutting out the rest of us in the audience. Her big belt voice remains solid and secure and exciting to hear live. She invested it to great effect on musical theatre classics such as “Broadway Baby” and a few numbers associated with Judy Garland, whom she portrayed as a teen in a TV movie. Music director Steve Marzulo on piano ably kept the pizzazz going. Andrea McArdle wears her stardom confidently but casually, her powerful but not overpowering strong voice ringing clearly like the best of pealing, appealing Christmas bells.
Lillias White was probably on both of Santa’s lists: Naughty and Nice.
She showed her sweet nature and her risque sides in her holiday show at The
Green Room 42. Sunny and sassy, she strutted through her set with some less
familiar (and arguably less distinguished) Christmas material from the
pop/R&B worlds as well as old standbys like “Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
Let It Snow!.” Some venting, audience interaction (flirting her way
through many a man in the crowd with an over-ripe “Santa Baby”), and
sing-along choruses went on too long for those of us underwhelmed by such
exchanges. But many seemed tickled and egged her on appreciated how she
celebrated, pontificated, and gyrated. Loose and loving, Lillias seemed
party-ready from the moment she entered with a colorful Christmas tree garland
wrapped around her like a boa, her million-dollar big smile and bright eyes
lighting up the room. She sailed through “My Favorite Things” and
wailed through “Silent Night,” ever the eager, entrenched
entertainer. Thoughtfully unspooling Marlyn and Alan Bergman’s tender lyric to
“Through the Eyes of a Child,” she gave us our best serious musical
moment. James Sampliner on piano was her musical director, gratefully
acknowledged, as he shifted from style to style. The never-uptight, sometimes
wild Miss White brought energy and vigor to the cabaret room, as she has done
in musical theatre productions. Even if some effects seem forced or force-fed,
she is undeniably a force of nature.
The new year holds much musical promise… so I’ve heard.
ROB LESTER returns to Edge in 2019 after several years of being otherwise occupied writing and directing musical theatre shows, working as a dramaturg, arts consultant, and contributing articles and reviews to various outlets. His long-running “Sound Advice” column covering cast albums and vocal CDs has been running regularly at www.TalkinBroadway.com for almost 15 years.