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.”

Ten Great Tips

June 6, 2012

AuditionTrax is a great service — you send Tom the sheet music and he’ll send you an MP3 of the track. With or without the melody line.

Tom also provides tips from esteemed experts*.  The current one from voice teacher and performance coach Pat Whiteman has several pieces of advice that are great for life, singing or not:

  • Stop Singing In Someone Else’s Voice
  • Progress, Not Perfection
  • Stop Worrying, Excusing, Freaking Out, Controlling
  • Show Up
  • Experiment
  • Let Go
  •  Cultivate Your Best Attribute

 Definitely worth a read!


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.”

Donald Smith Tribute

May 29, 2012


The cabaret world lost one of its greats earlier this year when Donald Smith passed away.  Smith was one of the great impressarios.  He helped launch the careers of so many top artists like Andrea Marcovicci, KT Sullivan.  And he was responsible for founding the Mabel Mercer Foundation and for launching the Cabaret Convention in New York.  (Those of you who have those great videos of Mercer can see Smith front and center appreciating every moment.)

Playbill has a terrific write-up of a memorial concert for Smith that was recently held at Town Hall.

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.

You have to believe it is magic…

May 24, 2012


I saw Xanadu at Signature on Sunday.  I’ll be doing an official Cabaret Scenes review of the piece, but I have to say that it is an enormously entertaining hour and a half at the theater.

The script is so slight as to almost be self-erasing.  But Douglas Carter Beane has imbued the book with a cheeky self-awareness and some genuinely funny moments.  And the production is infused with the most exuberant singing and dancing in recent memory.

The cast is all top-notch (special kudos to Sherri Edelen for seeming to be able to do anything in the musical theater).  And as much as Peter Marks’s raves about Erin Weaver are well-deserved, he neglected to give a shout-out to her hair, which gives a Helen Hayes-worthy performance of its own.

More info.


Erin Weaver (center, as Kira) with her Greek Muses (from left to right) Nickolas Vaughan, Kellee Knighten Hough, Nova Y. Payton, Sherri L. Edelen, Mark Chandler, and Jamie Eacker. The musical comedy “Xanadu” plays at Virginia’s Signature Theatre through July 1, 2012. Photo: Scott Suchman.


Dada Returns !!! (20 years later…)

May 24, 2012

I’m currently appearing in Dada Returns, an evening of Dada pieces featuring the Tristan Zara play The Handkerchief of Clouds and Manifestival, a curtain raiser featuring the writings of various Dadists.  We’re doing six weeks at DCAC in Adams Morgan and 6 dates in the DC Fringe Festival.

This is actually a re-mount of a piece we did 20 years ago and features 4 of the 6 original cast members.  It’s fascinating re-visiting the material from a different place in life.

I have deliberately avoided looking at the video of the previous production or reviewing my previous script and notes.  (Which makes me wonder why I am keeping those shelves of previous scripts and notes.)


More info on Dada Returns.


Photo by James Martin

Andrea Marcovicci Videos

May 22, 2012

Here are two recent videos by the great Andrea Marcovicci.  Here’s a lesson to ponder — after she had special material material written about the Algonquin — they closed the Oak Room.

Must-read article in the New Yorker…

May 20, 2012

The Song Machine in the New Yorker strikes me as a must-read article on the state of the Ester Dean, center, has written smash hooks for Rihanna and Nicki Minaj.commercial music-generating industry.

The material in it is probably no surprise to any 14 year-old know but fascinated me.    It seems that we are no longer in a world of songwriters but  of producers and “top-liners.”

There is interesting fodder for discussion here about music as commercial product v. art.  However, it strikes me that every age maximizes the technology and marketing tools that it has in order to create and promote products.  (Really, there was no reason for an attractive cover on the piece of sheet music except to sell it.)