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.”
Sometimes when two wildly quirky performers (e.g. Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin) team up, magic happens. In this case, it doesn’t.
Stritch and Blackhurst give competent, generally peppy readings of the material in this collection. If you were a fan before you’ll enjoy the performances, if you weren’t you probably won’t be converted. (Although I have to admit that this is a far better outing than the CD with Christine Ebersole that Stritch released earlier this year.)
There are a bunch of standards everyone loves and some great songs to be discovered. For me, the highlight of the CD are the charming, often witty musical arrangements by Stritch. At the end of Heart and Soul, there is a piano quotation of the slightly-post-Chopsticks version most people play. But I can think of few cabaret CDs where my favorite moments come when the artists aren’t singing.
The Kennedy Center presented an ASCAP-sponsored tribute to songwriter Cy Coleman Tuesday night. The evening was part of the center’s education outreach program and featured Michael Kerker of ASCAP and David Zippel, a Coleman collaborator, talking about Coleman and then various performers singing Coleman songs.
There were even a couple of film clips of Coleman singing his own work. My favorite of these was Coleman singing Witchcraft. I especially love the interlude that I’ve never heard before:
The information given about Coleman and his work seemed fairly basic. The most interesting moments were Zippel describing working with Coleman on City of Angels. And they didn’t even discuss the fact that Coleman killed cabaret legend Sylvia Syms*.
The performances were a mixed bag. The highlights were Billy Stritch with an impassioned version of It Amazes Me, and Lillias White reprising her showstopper from The Life: The World’s Oldest Profession. David Zippel was terrific performing I Know What I Like, a song about musicals from the point of view of an acerbic critic and he re-wrote the lyrics to You’re Nothing Without Me as a trio for Jason Graae, Lillias White and Judy Blazer. Otherwise, as tends to happen at these events, it seemed very clear what songs performers have had in their repertoires and what was specifically learned for the occasion.
Here are the songs that were performed:
- You Fascinate Me So (Jason Graae)
- Nobody Does It Like Me (Judy Blazer)
- Don’t Ask a Lady (Lillias White)
- Museum Song (Jason Graae)
- It Amazes Me (Billy Stritch)
- The World’s Oldest Profession (Lillias White)
- With Ev’ry Breath I Take (Blazer)
- You’re Nothing Without Me (Blazer, White, Graae)
- The Best Is Yet to Come (Stritch)
- I Know What I Like (David Zippel)
- Pleasure of Pain (Blazer, Graae)
- Those Hands (White)
- Hey, Look Me Over (Blazer)
- Real Live Girl (Graae)
- If They Gould See Me Now (Stritch)
- The Colors of My Life (White)
- It’s Not Where You Start (Company)
- It Started With A Dream (Company)
Chris Marlowe served as music director and Billy Stritch accompanied himself on It Amazes Me and The Best Is Yet to Come.
*OK, he didn’t really kill her. But he was int he audience when she had the heart attack onstage at the Algonquin that ended her life.
One of Christine Ebersole’s biggest talents as an actress and cabaret artist is her chameleon-like ability to adapt her formidible talents to the needs of her project at hand. Thus, the glamorous, forthright star of 42nd Street was also the fascinatingly fragile heroine of Grey Gardens.
The downside of this is that when her collaborators aren’t offering first rate work, her work can sufffer as it does on this CD. Ebersole turns in moderately interestingly jazz work to match the moderately interesting jazz work of her collaborator Billy Stritch. The only track where she really shines is an intense reading of Lullabye of Broadway.
10. What’ll I Do
13. Will You
The NYTimes weighs in on the teming of the Grey Gardens star and cabaret pianist/singer: “Despite all the professionalism on display, the show felt like two programs with competing agendas collapsed into something that was neither this nor that.”