Stephen Holden on Maud Maggart

June 8, 2012

The NYTimes reviews the current Maud Maggart outing at Feinstein’s:

As the show goes along, Ms. Maggart’s perspective widens. What could be more contemporary than George M. Cohan’s bluntly cynical, “Life’s a Funny Proposition After All,” written in 1904? “We’re born to die, but don’t know why, or what it’s all about/And the more we try to learn the less we know,” the song recalls. The showstopper is a medley of “I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star,” which Oscar Hammerstein II reportedly sang to Jerome Kern on his deathbed, and an ethereal rendition of “All the Things You Are” infused with the intensity of a prayer.”

Stephen Holden gets cranky at Lincoln Center

June 8, 2012

The NYTimes does not seem to have enjoyed the recent program “Sweet & Low Down: How Popular Standards Became Jazz Classics,” the Jazz at Lincoln Center concert at the Allen Room:

“A fundamental problem was the concert’s basic quartet. The players (the musical director Tedd Firth on piano, Andy Farber on saxophones, Tom Kennedy on bass and Mark McLean on drums) are all first-rate. But Mr. Firth’s notion of pop versus jazz was simply a matter of picking up the tempo for jazz.

“There was no serious attempt to reharmonize a song or to experiment with time signatures. Nor did Mr. Feinstein’s remarks address such matters. Instead, he larded the show with interstitial shtick.

“The result was a concert that was unenlightening, middling entertainment: nonjazz for dummies.”

Stephen Holden on the Pizzarellis

June 1, 2012

The NYTimes reviewer continues his trend of gushing over the work of John Pizzarelli and his family: “This friendly musical palaver made for an enthralling evening of serious jazz comedy at the quartet’s Tuesday opening-night performance at Café Carlyle, where Bucky sat in as an honored guest….Pure joy reigned.”

Christine Ebersole in Baltimore

May 27, 2012

I got to see Christine Ebersole last month at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s Night of the Stars benefit.  Only after agreeing to attend the event did I find that Cabaret Scenes has a policy of not reviewing benefit performances.

So here’s what my review would have been:

Christine Ebersole’s star power was in full force at her appearance at the Night of the Stars benefit in Baltimore. Her stage persona is charming and snappy, and she delivers zingers with a keen wit and concentrated energy.

She is a dynamic, supple singer who can nimbly deliver a song in a great many styles.  She can swing with the best in a number like “Strike Up the Band.”  She can project a sophisticated wit on the Coward song “What’s Going to Happen to the Tots?” And she can bring a wistful smile with “Right as the Rain.”

Every individual moment of her show was charming and entertaining.  Unfortunately, despite direction from Scott Whitman, the show as a whole was surprisingly unfocused with occasionally jarring non-sequiturs.  For example a funny story about Ebersole sending her husband off to brain surgery with the sentiment “If you die, I’ll kill you” was followed by a serious rendition of “I Loves You, Porgy.”

Ebersole also has the enviable problem that she is such a competent and versatile vocalist, that when presented with the generic arrangements that music director John Oddo provided she fit into the needs and mood of each particular arrangement.  Unfortunately the adeptness of her versatility meant that her musical persona was far less interesting and less consistent than her patter persona, giving the evening an all-over-the-map feeling to it.

Stephen Holden on Bill Charlap and Sandy Stewart and Maureen McGovern

November 10, 2011

THe NYTimes on cabaret’s top mother/son team:“The singer Sandy Stewart is the queen of calm. In a world in which everyone is shouting to be heard, Ms. Stewart — appearing with her son, the world-class jazz pianist Bill Charlap, at the Algonquin Hotel’s Oak Room — is a voice of reflection. As she and Mr. Charlap performed standards on Wednesday, you had the feeling of being in the presence of an empathic sibyl gently reminding you that life goes on.”

As to Maureen McGovern’s stand at Birdland: “Vocally Ms. McGovern, now 62, is a pop-jazz embodiment of that ideal. Unfailingly demure, unabashedly romantic, with a voice as strong and flexible as Barbra Streisand’s, she can go anywhere she pleases. It is a voice especially well suited to songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein and Alan and Marilyn Bergman.”

Stephen Holden on Audra MacDonald

October 25, 2011

Is it just me or is there just something incredibly New York-centric about someone chastising a performer for making a (presumably) hefty paycheck on a TV series?

The whole review is worth reading.

Audra McDonald at the Kennedy Center

October 5, 2011

Sitting through Audra McDonald’s show at the Kennedy Center last night, I really tried to parse what makes her the phenom that she is. Certainly she has a sound. Her pitches are accurate. She’s a passionate storyteller. She tends to have very good taste in material. And she has musical technique for days and days and days.

However, after a while I gave up and enjoyed the show. Really enjoyed the show. For anyone knowing McDonald’s body of work, the song list below pretty much tells the story. I will say that she had an openness with the audience that was lovely. And even though her patter was occasionally scattered, it was certainly spontaneous which I far prefer to pitch-perfect and canned.

Two things that the song list don’t tell you are that she accompanied herself at the piano on the Adam Guettel piece. Afterward, she explained that she had been inspired to do so by her late father who had expressed a desire that she play the piano in concert more. Also, the most emotional moment of the concert was the song, I’ll Be Here by Adam Gwon (composed of The Boy Detective Fails at Signature). It tells the story of a romance interrupted by 9/11. Sadly there is no YouTube version of McDonald singing the song. And when I saw the other (very competent) versions, they just didn’t hold up. And still my query from the first paragraph.

I have to admit that the objective observer in me sensed that McDonald didn’t seem to have an outside director for the show. I felt that there were a few opportunities missed in terms of staging and a few questions about song choice and line-up that could have been explored. Music director Andy Einhorn understands McDonald’s needs and artistic goals and support both brilliantly along with drummer Gene Lewin and Mark Vanderpoel. That said, Einhorn doesn’t necessarily provide any distinctive musical takes or insights with his arrangements. (i.e. It would be tough to accuse someone of singing Audra McDonald’s version of any song.) These quibbles notwithstanding, I have to admit that if the show were any more amazing I don’t know if I could have survived.

  • When Did I Fall in Love?
  • Stars and the Moon
  • It Might as Well Be Spring / Hurry, It’s Lovely Here
  • My Buddy
  • I Double Dare You
  • Moonshine Lullaby
  • Moments in the Woods
  • He Loves and She Loves
  • We Sail Upon the Water*
  • Dear Friend
  • Whose Angry Little Man? /Baby Mine
  • I Could Have Danced All Night**
  • Go Back Home
  • I Can’t Stop Talking About Him
  • I’ll Be Here
  • Make Someone Happy
  • Ain’t It the Truth
  • Somedays

*Guessing at this title. The song is by Adam Guettel  **I don’t actually remember where in the show this came.

Stephen Holden on Howard McGillin

September 17, 2011

The NYTimes weighs in on the ever-boyish McGillin: “Mr. McGillin’s attitude of ardent courtliness was established early on with a medley of “All the Things You Are” and “Isn’t It Romantic?” And “A Foggy Day” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” accompanied his starry-eyed recollection of visiting London and performing for the royal family.”

Erin Driscoll at Signature

August 7, 2011

I saw Erin Driscoll’s show Coming Into Focus on Friday night. It was a really fun hour largely propelled by Driscoll’s enormous personal charm.

Driscoll tackled an interestingly varied selection of songs all done with great individuality and conviction. My personal favorite was the song Running by Adam Gwon whose show The Boy Detective Fails is part of Signature’s line-up for next season; in the song she gives an account of the excitement and exhaustion of struggling as a performer in a New York. A song unfamiliar to me that I’m listing below as Play Me Tonight describes the usually unspoken feeling most signers have toward their pianists. (OTOH, how can one not have a pash on the magnificent Howard Breitbard when he’s at the keys?) And her closing medley, dedicating the William Finn song Any Time to her birth mother was powerfully moving.

Not to diminish Driscoll’s considerable charm and talent, but I have to say that the mechanics of the show packaged her brilliantly. There was a great flow to the evening. Her stories effectively endeared her to the audience. Guest artists were deployed to add variety at appropriate times without stealing focus. And in addition to obvious vocal and interpretive talent, Driscoll had a sense of control and purpose on stage that was wonderful to see.

Here’s her set list:

  • Where Am I Going?
  • Bein’ Green
  • Much More
  • Wide Open Spaces
  • Frank Mills
  • If
  • Play Me Tonight (?)
  • Running
  • I Will Never Leave You (with Lauren Williams)
  • Someone to Watch Over Me
  • Something (with James Gardiner)
  • I Have Confidence / Any Time (I Am There)
  • You’ll Never Walk Alone (encore)

What About Bob? at Signature

August 2, 2011

I saw What About Bob? Favorites and Friends as part of the Sizzlin’ Summer Cabaret series at Signature Saturday night.  The title said it all (and more) — local musical theater notable Bob MacDonald offered a selection of songs, concentrating on his past theatrical roles and raft of guest artists.  MacDonald is a genial presence and took the audience through a well-sung tour of theatrical bari-tenor standards such as I Won’t Send Roses, Unusual Way, and Mama a Rainbow.  Guests included the always-superb Sherri Edelen reprising her Mrs. Lovett, duetting on A Little Priest and fellow members of the U.S. Army Chorus that closed the show with a rousing, if random, medley of Broadway showstoppers (New York, New York, Luck Be a Lady, Memory…).  The highlight of the evening was the appearance of Albert Coia recreating two moments from the Bull and Bush music halls which featured him and MacDonald at the Old Vat Room.

I had a raft of Cabaret 101 issues with the show: the decision not to use a microphone, telling what a song is about before it’s sung, not milking the fact that his mother was in the audience before or after Mama a Rainbow, well-played but standard/generic arrangements by John Touchton, loads of schmacting, a slight ungraciousness with his guest artists, the feeling that the entire show came from either his audition book or The Musical Theater Singer’s Anthology: Baritone/Bass Edition.  On the other hand, there are far worse experiences than sitting through a more-than-competent performer prettily singing some of the best songs from the musical theater.  And the rest of the audience certainly loved the show, for good reason.

But it was disheartening to see the waste of talent.  And with MacDonald slipping into quasi-character for each number performing standard arrangements, one never got a sense of what MacDonald was like, other than a genial, talented performer with a moderately-impressive local resume.  This enigma in the center of the proceeding made the evening’s title, What About Bob? oddly prescient.

  • I Won’t Send Roses
  • The Road You Didn’t Take
  • Pretty Women
  • A Little Priest
  • Unusual Way
  • Mama a Rainbow
  • Anyone Can Whistle
  • Someone is Waiting
  • Sonny Boy
  • The Night I Appeared…
  • Proud Lady
  • Broadway Medley