Marianne Glass Miller on Susan Werner

March 31, 2009

Choices, choices!  Ron and I decided to see In Full Light at Germano’s Friday night.  Thankfully for all of us, Marianne Glass Miller was at Susan Werner’s concert at WolfTrap and filed this report:

I’m a big Susan Werner fan, as some of you may know.  And, as much as I love her CD’s, from the folk rock of Last of the Good Straight Girls to the neo-Great American Songbook style of I Can’t Be New, they pale in comparison with her live performances.  Onstage, she is utterly relaxed, engaging, and very funny (think wry wit), but what draws me back to her live concerts is how in command she is of her musical gifts.

Her concert at the Barns at Wolf Trap last Friday night was a treat.  Werner launched into her show with “Hey Hey” (I believe this is a brand new song), then straight into a mini-set of tunes from The Gospel Truth, her 2007 album described by critics as “agnostic gospel” (and by Werner herself as “secular hell-bound material”).   She was accompanied by her excellent percussionist, Trina Hamlin, and by a new bass player, Julia Biber.  At first, there was something a bit tentative about Biber’s playing and I was missing Werner’s long-time bass player, Greg Holt.  Later, it became clear why Biber was part of the band.  Werner has just released a new CD called Classics in which she covers pop songs from the 60’s and 70’s with arrangements for string quartet and classical instruments.  During the last portion of the show when Werner showcased several of these new songs, Biber’s playing lost its tentativeness and her accompaniment was rich and beautiful.  There was even a funny bit in which Biber mimicked other classical cellists’ playing styles and facial expressions, including Yo-Yo Ma’s.

Werner’s voice is rich and supple, and she uses it to best serve her material, whether it’s the smooth lounge style of “I Can’t Be New” or the sardonic folk sensibility of “Probably Not.”  She is equally masterful on guitar and piano.  Her songs encompass so many different musical styles, it would be limiting to call her a cabaret or folk singer.  I think she is truly a great musical communicator.  Don’t miss her the next time she’s in town.

Here’s the set list:

  • Hey Hey
  • Why Is Your Heaven So Small
  • Thy Kingdom Come
  • Sunday Mornings
  • Did Trouble Me
  • Probably Not
  • Time Between Trains
  • Give Me Chicago Any Day
  • I Can’t Be New
  • May I Suggest
  • The Movie of My Life
  • Lonely People
  • Mercy Me
  • I Listen to the Wind
  • Hazy Shade of Winter
  • Help Somebody

Caramel corn

March 29, 2009

There’s the saying” too much of a good thing can be … wonderful.”  But often in performance, I think constantly repeating a “good thing” too much can be a trying experience for an audience.  And I think of it as being like caramel corn.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a box of freshly-made caramel corn at a carnival or a circus.  But when you put that first bite in your mouth it is heavenly and ambrosial.  But the law of diminishing returns takes effect rapidly, and by the end of a box, I’ve sworn off caramel corn for life.

And as performers, it can be easy to become that caramel corn. 

I remember a performer I saw who did a 5 song set.  And the first number blew me away with all the ideas, content, and talent that was packed into it.  And the second number, using much the same skill set, was also impressive.  But by the fifth number, having been hammered with the same things from the performer I was really, really ready to leave.

Part of the problem as cabaret performers is that we tend to develop material one song at a time.  So it is a natural thing for us to want to make each number the best we can, using everything we know.  However, that poses the danger of giving much of our repertoire a feeling of sameness when we perform a bunch of it together.  (It’s my first-hand experience. At the first pass, I structure nearly every song as spoken intro, rubato opening, tempo chorus, big finish)

But I think it’s more effective when a performer judiciously doles out different talents over the course of an evening.  So they become like jewels strung on a necklace rather than handfuls of rocks constantly thrown at the audience.

A lotta entertainment for $5

March 29, 2009

We went to VoixDeVille at Indigo last night, taking advantage of a special for a $5 entertainment cover.  And there was a lot of show.  Highlights included magician Karen Beriss, a musical saw/guitar duet between Mark Jaster and host Scott Burgess, Joshua Rich’s piano stylings, and Rich Potter’s clowning.

I love the low key atmosphere that Scott Burgess brings to the enterprise, and I love the way the Indigo room makes everyone feel like they’re hanging out in someone’s living room.  And I think that part of the appeal of that comes from the fact that the performers are hanging out and enjoying the show, too, not frretting away in some backstage area.

Scott Burgess said that they are intending to run the series at least through the end of May. 

More information 

In Full Light at Germano’s

March 28, 2009

fulll light pixRon and I went up to see In Full Light at Germano’s last night, featuring Justin Ritchie, Terri Allen, and Lonny Smith.

It was really great to see the show again.  And it’s always especially nice to see a piece like this after the performers had the ability to get the show “in their skin” where they seem to be able to re-direct that bit of energy that worries about things like what song is next, what’s the patter, what will the pianist be doing, to giving a performance and connecting with the audience.  It especially showed in efforts like Terri Allen’s more focused take on Misery and Happiness and Lonny Smith’s I Could Be in Love with Someone.*

The three performers pretty much kept the same song order that they had in the two previous incarnations of the show, adding the We Can Make It (Justin) / Maybe This Time (Lonny) / Isn’t This Better (Terri) trio from And the World Goes Round as an encore.  And of course, Mary Sugar’s music direction made the venue’s upright sound like an entire Broadway pit band.

Germano’s remains a terrific venue, and Cyd Wolf who runs the cabaret series does an amazing job at making audience members welcome (and booking a pretty terrific series with local talent).  Oh, and the food is terrific.

*I’ve gotten feedback that this review seems negative about Justin by omission — he was terrific!

Stephen Holden on Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley

March 27, 2009

The NYTimes on the Broadway couple who recently appeared at the Kennedy Center:  “The display of stamina and discipline exhibited by Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley in “Opposite You,” their high-flying evening of theatrical songs for couples at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency, is something to behold. This showcase for these two Broadway stars, married for 11 years, is not exactly a new creation, having originated at Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series in 2002. But it is the kind of airtight entertainment that should be a personal franchise; with minimal tweaking, it could serve them for the next two decades.”

Maureen McGovern at Arena

March 26, 2009

Previews for Maureen McGovern’s  show A Long and Winding Road at Arena-Stage-in-Exile- in-Crystal-City begin Friday night.  The show runs through April 12.

Crowns comes back again* to Arena-Stage-in-Exile-on-U-Street with previews starting Friday.

And for another hat trick, it looks like a third Arena project might be Broadway bound — Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking might be joining Next to Normal and 33 Variations on the Great White Way.

*I wanted to use the joke about this being “Arena’s hat hat trick” but decided to deploy the joke the other way instead.  Decisions, decisions!

Two reminders for the weekend

March 26, 2009

In Full Light

Featuring Terri Allen, Justin Ritchie, and Lonny Smith on Friday at Germano’s, Friday night.


Featuring Scott Burgess, Joshua Rich, and Karen Beriss at Indigo at the Atlas Theater, Saturday night.

Stephen Holden on K.T. Sullivan

March 26, 2009

The NYTimes raves about the chanteuse at the Algonquin: “The ability to convey a sense of continual surprise and discovery while singing almost any standard is one of Ms. Sullivan’s many gifts. That her light-operatic voice is as supple today as ever is her ace in the hole. A virtuoso at multiple styles of musical comedy who has refined a hundred variations of the double take, Ms. Sullivan can turn on a dime and deliver a formal rendition of “Dancing in the Dark” in which her luscious middle and lower registers supply serious drama. “

I have Wikipedia, too

March 25, 2009

I’ve recently seen a bunch of cabaret presentations that attempt in some way or another to give background information about a song, writer, or event.  Here are some observations I’ve picked up along the way:

Know your audience – Yes, blindingly obvious.  But like mistakes people have pointed out to me in the headlines on posts, easily overlooked.  One often ignored factor is that many cabaret performers are younger than their audiences.  So it may be worthwhile to have a certain humility and realize that what is interesting, fresh information to you may be very old hat to your audience.  Someone who deals brilliantly with this, of course, is Andrea Marcovicci, who is terrific at separating “reminders” to her audience from things that she is presenting as new information.

What else is out there? – For example the quote by Jerome Kern “Irving Berlin has no place in American music. He is American music.” seems to turn up in every damn discussion of Irving Berlin for obvious reasons.  And while I groan every time someone uses it, I find it even more suspect when someone doesn’t (i.e. I Love a Piano at Arena).  Similarly, I asked Andrea Marcovicci* about her decision not to reference the famous Dorothy Parker quote about Astaire/Rodgers (“She gave him sex appeal; he gave her class.”) in her Astaire show. She commented that while she thought the quote was clever, she thought that Astaire had plenty of sex appeal and that Ginger Rodgers was already pretty classy.

I have Wikipedia too, so tell me YOUR spin on the facts – Just telling me that Irving Berlin was born as Israel Baline in Belarus does little for me.  But the observation that this most American of songwriters was born outside of the country (and implications for immigration policy) really gives me something to think about.  And if it’s done as a patter break in the middle of God Bless America, well that’s a home run.  Also, are there any facts covered in the song that may be unintelligible for a modern audience (e.g. Reno as a code word for divorce?)

*As far as I’m concerned nobody does historical/instructional patter better.

Stephen Holden Profiles Judith Owen

March 24, 2009

The NYTimes profiles a singer I’ve never heard of before: ”

Ten years ago Judith Owen seemed on the verge of becoming the next in a singer-songwriter lineage that runs from Joni Mitchell through Annie Lennox. Ms. Owen, who is 42 and of Welsh ancestry, had just completed her major-label debut for Java Records, a Capitol subsidiary run by Glen Ballard, the songwriting producer of Alanis Morissette’s 1995 blockbuster, “Jagged Little Pill.” The machinery was in gear for a major promotional campaign.”