Holiday CDs: The Classics

November 30, 2008

Christmas! Christmas! Christmas!Karen Mason’s recording, Chistmas! Christmas! Christmas!, is probably the one CD I have to play every holiday season.  Mason is famous for the tradition of a live show, and this wraps up amazing humor, heart and singing into one glorious gift package.  And before Mason, I never knew that We Three Kings was a torch song or an eleven-o’clock number!

Just in Time for ChristmasLaMott combines her melted-chocolate sound with a great mix of standards and then-new material.  I don’t understand why more people don’t do the holiday lyric to Stay With Me, and the unexpected medley of I Saw Three Ships and Bring a Torch Jeanette Isabella combines two holiday songs that I never really understood into a lovely coherent package.

My Christmas Song For YouMarcovicci delivers a selection of holiday classics informed by Shelly Markham’s terrific big band-flavored arrangments.  My favorite selection here is Blue Champagne with a 3am on New Year’s Day feel.

This ChristmasCallaway’s jazz-infused vocals give a peppery dash to the holiday season.  In addition to an amazing vocal to Carol of the Bells, the CD features two terrific songs penned by Callaway, This Christmas and God Bless My Family (joined by her sister Liz Callaway).

A Cabaret Christmas This CD has a variety of artists performing holiday standards.  Highlights including Margaret Whiting’s Christmas Waltz and Dorothy Loudon’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.  Barbara Cook’s track here of White Christmas defines “sublime.”

Count Your BlessingsCook delivers fairly standard fare with her standardly excellent vocals and lovely, lovely Wally Harper orchestrations.  The really amazing moment on this CD is a gospel-tinged version of He’s Got The Whole World in His Hands accompanied by banjo and harmonica that feels like one is visiting a small Georgia church on Christmas Eve. (Interestingly, I prefer the Cabaret Christmas version of her singing White Christmas accompanied only by Wally Harper on piano over the lushly orchestrated version on this CD.)

Visit the Low Country with Lina Koutrakos!

November 29, 2008

The Low Country Plus DVD

It always amazes me that one of top director/coaches in the world of cabaret, who guides her charges into amazing interpretations of Gershwin, Porter, Berlin, et. al., is at heart a Southern-rocker singer/songwriter.*

Lina Koutrakos’s new CD, The Low Country, showcases the artist as the full, expressive force-of-nature that she is.  Performances on the CD present her as questioner, priestess, emotional audience, and comforter of acute insight, intelligence and heart.**  All the material has been penned by Koutrakos, who clearly supports her strengths as a performer and human with a story to tell.

One of the things Ron and I always say about cabaret is that it is hard to really “get” a performer without seeing them  As a special bonus, this CD comes with a DVD with an interview with Koutrakos and clips of her doing a couple of the numbers.

1 Southern Rain
2 What Am I Gonna Do
3 Without a Trace
4 Hold
5 Lighting
6 Love Will Save the Day
7 Fly Away
8 For Now
9 Here I Am
10 Matia Mou
11 Love Grows Here
12 Bury Me Deep


*Those following the NY cabaret scene know that Koutrakos recently combined the two strains of her work to great acclaim with her recent show Torch.

**Actually, it’s the same combination that make her an awesome instructor.

Stephen Holden on Christine Ebersole & Billy Stritch

November 29, 2008

The NYTimes on the pair appearing at Birdland: “Midway through “Winter Wonderland,” the amiable new holiday show that Christine Ebersole and Billy Stritch brought to Birdland on Wednesday evening, the madcap nightingale locked inside Ms. Ebersole stole out of its cage. That exotic bird has a high soprano with a spinning vibrato that is one part gramophone voice and two parts light operatic ingénue; its sound is beautiful and weird.”

Self Promotion Is Good

November 28, 2008

Well, the right amount is, anyway. 

When I’m at Trudi Mann’s Fabulous Open Mic for Singers, performers regularly appear there when they have NY gigs forthcoming.  And they always mention the show while they’re up, and they always have promo materials to distribute.  And this goes for some heavy-hitters such as Marilyn Maye, Karen Obermiller, and Barb Jungr.

I recently saw a couple of people with a forthcoming show performing to a room of people they didn’t know.  There was no distribution of cards.  Even worse, if one didn’t know the performers, one would have no idea what their individual names were.

A lot of people shy away from “self promotion.”  But in the end, I feel that this does a disservice to the artist, the audience, and the genre.  If an audience is interested in your work, they deserve the easiest possible avenue of getting more information about it ! (Because we are doing work that people want to see more of, aren’t we?)  If an artist doesn’t attact their rightful audience, then that really does a disservice to the artist’s work.  And if artists and audiences do not connect, cabaret will really be a dead duck!

And another marketing tip:  I felt so sorry for an artist whose postcard I received in the mail the other day.  She had taken a great deal of effort to write a personal note at the bottom of the card.  (I had no clue who she was, and she was New York-based, so obviously she was mailing extensively.)  However the post office’s zip code sticker made her handwritten message illegible.  Always do a test mailing to yourself of your postcard!

John Miller

November 27, 2008

John Miller Takes on BroadwayJohn Miller is a pre-eminent musical contractor in New York as well as a freelance bassist.  He was also Tony nominated as part of the band in I Love My Wife. This CD has him presenting music from the theater in a variety of contemporary pop styles.

As an excercise, I think this recording is fascinating and adept.  Classics from the Broadway songbook are given arrangements that would befit artists as varied as Jimmy Buffet, Willie Nelson, or Elvis Costello.  The musicianship is superb.  And on each track one feels the sense of what Miller is trying to accomplish.

Still, the whole venture left me incredibly cold.  I can’t say that after listening to this CD I got any more of a sense of Miller than a very capable musician/singer who can adapt material to a lot of styles.  It would be good as the background for a dinner party, though.

  1. Why Can’t You Behave?

  2. Wouldn’t it Be Lovely?

  3. Hey There

  4. Ol’ Man River

  5. I Won’t Grow Up

  6. Fugue for Tinhorns

  7. Real Live Girl

  8. I Can’t Say No

  9. Hernando’s Hideaway

10. We Kiss in a Shadow

11. Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’

12. Secret Love

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

November 27, 2008

I hope everyone has a wonderful Turkey Day, and that everyone indeed does have much to be thankful for!

Note to songwriters, there really aren’t any obvious Thanksgivcing songs out there except Over the River… (and no one in this household can even remember the song past the first 8 bars without going to Wikipedia).  So here’s the next best thing, John Bucchino’s song Grateful as sung by the talented Michael Vitaly Sazonov*

I always say that the Shelly Markham/Judith Viorst song,”The Sweetest of Nights,” is the perfect “occasion” song.  Here’s a version I find oddly moving.  And , as always, I wish my loyal “tens of readers” the sweetest of nights and the finest of days!

*In a video made by a friend that Ron and I are grateful to have in our lives — the lovely and not-celebrating-Thanksgiving-today-because-she’s-living-in-Toronto-with-her-husband

Next to Normal at Arena

November 26, 2008

I just got back from seeing Next to Normal at Arena Stage , and I’m on the horns of a dilemma.  According to the Washington Post, the creative team behind this mounting of the show is taking their work seriously and using  time in front of an audience to re-tool the show.  As such, they’ve requested that critics not view the show until mid-December.

I certainly don’t want to give Chad Bauman, the very diligent Communications Manager at Arena, another situation that he feels he needs to manage.  However, I did pay for a ticket and have some notions to share, so I’ll try to limit my discussion accordingly.

The show is a fascinating portrayal of a woman with mental illness trying to cope and find her way out of the mire.  It has a six person ensemble doing protean work, led by the amazing Alice Ripley.  After having adored the song in her Kennedy Center concert earlier this season, it was thrilling to seeing Ripley sing I Miss the Mountains in the context of the show (clip of the song). And cabaret singers, especially under-40 female belters who want something contemporary with an edge, should be mining this score for material!

Ron, who isn’t on my Arena subscription, came with me tonight due to the Arena Stage $25 ticket sale.  He was seated in row B on the side and said that he couldn’t see most of the action that happened on the second and third level of the stage.  I was in row F in the center and had a great view.  As this is a problem that I don’t see being resolved no matter how many changes the creative team makes, people who payed full price and are seated close, be warned — you might want to change your seat.* And speaking of Arena’s ticket sale, I was a little surprised to see the number of empty seats that remained in the house, presumably  due to the combination of Tuesday night and Thanksgiving week.  (According to today’s Post, Arena sold 6,661 tix during the sale.)

*In the one item of the show that I pray gets re-thought, people in the center section, rows B through D, seem to be getting an eyeful of the leading lady’s nether areas while she’s sitting in a chair in an above-the-knee, A-line skirt.  Or was it the costume department trying to viscerally demonstrate her vulnerability?

Stephen Holden on Mary Testa and Alison Fraser

November 26, 2008

The NYTimes actually knows where the Laurie Beechman Theater is!  (Who knew?) 

“As Ms. Testa and Ms. Fraser, joined late on Monday by Annie Golden, performed the show’s 15 numbers, a mood of joshing sisterhood prevailed. Ms. Testa, with her mostly untapped reserves of Ethel Merman brassiness, and Ms. Fraser, whose voice is light and idiosyncratic, may be a harmonic mismatch, but in their patter they displayed the comfort of a seasoned comic team amusing its friends.”

Variety on a Saturday Night

November 25, 2008

Burgess Guitar & Fork

Ron and I caught the second installment of the VoixDeVille series at Indigo at the Atlas Theater Saturday night.  Scott Burgess (left) is the emcee and put together a terrific lineup for the evening.

After Burgess played and sang a couple of numbers, Vijai Nathan, a terrific storyteller did a piece about trying, as an Indian-American girl, to adapt to her Jewish fiance’s family.  Mark Jaster and Sabrina Mandell of Happenstance Theater did a lovely set of early 20th century songs.  Later Jaster played the musical saw accompanied by Burgess on guitar.  Karen Bariss did some delightfully un-slick magic*, and Terri Allen, Lonny Smith, and Justin Ritchie performed selections from their forthcoming show (which at present seems to be titled In Full Light), accompanied by Alex Tang.

Burgess has expressed the fact that he was influenced by Ed Sullivan as a child and it clearly shows in the variety of the assembled talents.  And of course, the best part is that if an act isn’t to your taste it will soon be over and something new will be up.** A series like this ultimately depends on the taste of the booker, and from what I saw, this venture seems to be off to a good start.

J L T shot1
If I can ever get a link to promotional Web site or a contact e-mail address, I will happily provide it so that the show can find an audience (which is always difficult if an audience can’t find the show).The one disappointing aspect of the evening was the food/beverage service in the room itself.  I can understand being out of the cheese plate and not making coffee/tea available but NO DIET COKE????!!!!  After Ron tried ordering 3 reasonably common drinks and being told they weren’t available, he settled for bottled water, and he never got the cheesecake he ordered.  On an economic front, I hardly begrudge a room a $10 minimum per person; but I find it irksome when the offerings are this limited and scattershot.

* I am long-inured to the fact that if I want to see stage magic, I have to go without Ron.  However, he really enjoyed her act.

** I always think of Charlene James-Duguid saying that in the bygone days of the Source Theater Festival she could always get her husband Jim to the evenings of ten-minute plays for this very reason. 

Two* More Holiday CDs

November 24, 2008


Kristen Chenoweth has released a holiday CD.  I have mixed feelings about this disc.  Everything on this recording is beautifully arranged and sung. It’s all very lovely, but I feel that Chenoweth is going for a someone bland, mass-market sound.  It will certainly be a CD that will be lovely to have on as you’re opening the presents round the tree.

However Chenoweth is an artist with such amazing gifts and point of view, that I’m personally disappointed that more didn’t come through.  Thankfully, at least a duet of Sleigh Ride and Marshmallow World with John Pizarelli has a little personality showing through.  But it also makes one wonder what this CD might have been.


The annual Carols for a Cure CD from Broadway Cares /Equity Fights AIDS has the opposite poroblem.  For this annual collection, casts of the year’s various Broadway shows conceptualize and record a holiday song for the compilation.  Sometimes the results are expected (an African-tinged Carol of the Bells from the cast of the Lion King), sometimes not (a basso choir version of O Tannenbaum from the cast of Young Frankenstein).

The results are inevitably a mixed bag, but there is certainly something for everyone in the collection.  My personal favorite this year is from the Avenue Q crew with a song called The Eight Loneliest Nights of the Year featuring the lyric “My heart’s burning up like a shiny menorah, I only hold hands when I’m dancing the hora.”

For this year’s collection, BC/EFA has supplemented this year’s material with added tracks from previous years to make this a 2-disc collection*.

*So this post really should be titled “Three More Holiday CDs.”  But then everyone would have wondered why I omitted the 3rd CD.  You know, title writing isn’t as easy as it looks!