|“THE ALGONQUIN SALON”|
Reviewed by Lisa Ferber
Every Sunday evening from 7 till approximately 10pm, performers come out to the lobby of the hotel famous for hosting the literary wits of the Round Table from 1919 till roughly 1929. Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Edna Ferber and a host of other notables gathered here for their luncheons. Now, the crowd gathered includes veteran Broadway stars, and absolute newcomers.
The Salon, with varying co-hosts weekly, is such a hit that it was just nominated for a MAC Award, the honor given by the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs, to be presented May 18. The event is nominated for Best Open Mic, with Janas and Napolitano themselves nominated for Best Song, “Come Home,” performed by MAC nominee for female vocalist Julie Reyburn (who dazzled the crowd the night I was there).
Napolitano explained the show’s organic beginning and return to the Algonquin. “It all began in 2005. This is very much Mark’s vision, he created it and has kept it going and it’s a lot of fun working with him on it. Mark was the musical director of Talk of the Town, produced in the Algonquin’s Oak Room. After the show, Mark and the cast members would hang out in the lobby, and one night Mark played the entire ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ on the grand piano. People in the lobby burst into applause, and cast members started getting up and singing, it was all very impromptu.” When Talk of the Town closed, Janas and pals took their show to the Paris Commune in the West Village for a year and a half. Then Napolitano and Janas met through the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop when seeking musical writing partners. “We started looking for a different venue for the show, and we contacted the Algonquin, and worked things out by March of 2008.”
The show has optional themes, such as “Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll,” “Merry Solstice,” and “Classically Classy,” so it’s not just musical theater. The night I went the theme was “Frank and Frank,” offering a bevy of Sinatra and Loesser, with some original tunes as well.
Veteran performer and lyricist Bobbie Horowitz was one of the vocalists on the night I checked out the show. She performed her song “Entourage,” with lyrics by Ms. Horowitz and Sharon Spector, and music by Judith Richman Sanger. Says Horowitz, “I enjoy just being at the Salon in the Algonquin. It’s magical. Being in that lobby brings me back to my childhood and going to the Algonquin with my Dad and Mom. Surely, I want to get my songs out there to talented performers, but even if I were just in the audience I’d love being there. At the Salon I also get to hear and to befriend incredible talent. I love that everyone roots for everyone. It’s an ideal situation. The participants and originators are the kindest, most talented people one could want to meet.”
While technically the show is an open mic, the crowd here definitely includes big names as well. Says Napolitano, “We’ve had Sarah Rice, the original Johanna in Sweeney Todd with Angela Lansbury. We’ve had Janice Hall from the NYC Opera.”
And of course there are the surprise newcomers. “A lot of people staying at the hotel just walk in and say, can I come and sing? We had a 15-year-old girl who was visiting from Minnesota. She had not sung in public except in high school. She didn’t have her music but she knew ‘Someone Like You,’ from Jekyll and Hyde, and she asks Mark if she can sing it.” Janas agreed. Says Napolitano, “And she sang at the Algonquin Hotel at age 15 and got a standing ovation.”
Napolitano explains, “You’re in a living room setting so there is an impromptu thing that happens. It’s very much a part of the charm of the place. The Algonquin has a wonderful tradition and we are really continuing it into the 21st century.”
Performers are given a 4-minute time limit on their piece and the only rule is no profanity. There is no drink minimum and no cover.
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Sarah Rice and crowd, Mark Janas at Piano. Photo Credit: Jim Cohn
Tanya Moberly and crowd, Bobbie Horowitz (far left). Photo Credit: Jim Cohn
Mark Janas (left) and Peter Napolitano (right). Photo Credit: Jim Cohn