By William Wolf
CHRISTINA BIANCO AS HERSELF AND HER IMPERSONATION TARGETS AT BIRDLAND Send This Review to a Friend
I have seen the immensely talented Christina Bianco do acts in variety shows, and I enjoyed her as the lead in a play. But I have never seen her do a whole cabaret show, a deficiency remedied April 3 at New York’s attractive and important jazz club Birdland. My admiration for her soared even higher. Bianco was absolutely terrific.
Although she wows an audience with her uncanny ability to imitate a wide range of singers, as the thousands who have seen her on YouTube know, what I also appreciated was how vibrant and likable she is holding the stage as a personable entertainer.
Bianco is the real deal. She is a bundle of fun and joy, with enthusiasm that strikes a chord with an audience. From the minute she took the stage, backed by a five-piece band, she was dynamite. She kidded herself singing “Short People,” bemoaning what it is like to be short (4’11”). Later in the show, after regaling us with her impressions, she showed how appealing she can be as herself when she sang “Down With Love.” It is important to recognize that even if she dropped her impersonations, Bianco could win us over in her own right.
But who would want her to do that? She is a marvel of precision as she sings in the manner of Barbra Streisand, Julie Andrews, Whitney Houston, Gwen Stefani, Celine Dión, Christina Aguilera, Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, and others whom she perfectly nails.
One of my favorites in her act stemmed from her game of having people call out songs and then the name of someone whose style would be applied. One suggested Madonna’s “Material Girl,” and then as the singer to interpret that song, the name of Edith Piaf rang through the room. When Bianco proceeded to sing as Piaf doing “Material Girl,” the result was spectacular.
She also did a range of impressions from television shows, and most appealingly she did her bit reading from Barbra Streisand’s book about designing her home. Perfectly imitating Streisand’s voice and speech manner, Bianco hilariously captured the pretentiousness of the passages she read,
Much, much more was packed into her effervescent 90-minute show. And yes, she concluded it with her famous YouTube medley of singing voices that can leave one flabbergasted at her vocal rage, sharp ear for performer nuances and amusing facial expressions to go with the lyrics. All of this was cleverly packaged to flow smoothly, further evidence of what a savvy and accomplished entertainer Bianco has become. At Birdland, 315 West 44th Street. Phone: 212-581-3080. Reviewed April 5, 2017,
ADRIENNE HAAN ROCKS WITH FRENCH CHANSONS Send This Review to a Friend
International chanteuse Adrienne Haan likes to try something different and has the skill for such explorations. As she explained to her Metropolitan Room audience last night (March 28), she grew up loving the classic French chansons, which have a place in her much-praised performance repertoire. But she also grew up during the age of rock, which she liked too. So it occurred to her to try merging both, something she says that to the best of her knowledge nobody else has done.
The result is her new “Rock Le Cabaret!” show, which I viewed last night. Here’s how it works: She takes songs like the traditional “Padam Padam” and “La Vie en Rose” and gives them a rock interpretation, enhanced resoundingly in arrangements played by a talented musical group consisting of Karen Dryer, musical director and pianist, Mike Campenni on drums, Adam Kabak on electric bass, Branden Palmer on electric guitar and Kyle Schweizer on tenor sax, flute and keyboards.
Mighty rock crescendos filled the room as Haan applied her strong voice, sometimes in competition with the power of the excellent band. Haan fulfilled her goal of merging the elements with resounding success in the context what she was attempting.
Will it please every taste? That depends on one’s affection for rock. Those who favor it should get a kick at what Haan has accomplished. As usual, she is a polished performer who dominates a stage and communicates intimately with her audience. As I have said before, I consider her one of the best of contemporary cabaret artists.
Unlike Haan, I did not grow up in the age of enthusiasm for rock. I’m more of a traditionalist. When she sang Jacques Brel’s “Le Port D’Amsterdam” in a more customary way at first, it was greatly to my liking and an example of what Haan usually does with such material. However, that was not the point of the evening.
Haan, dressed more like a rocker than in the sophisticated outfits she usually wears, impressively built her concept to the fullest and succeeded in involving the audience to the point of getting people on their feet and clapping to the rhythm. Her selections included, among others, “Milord,” “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” “Sous Le Ciel de Paris,” “La Bohème,” “La Chanson Des Vieux Amants,” and for her encore a rousing, rock “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.”
She definitely achieved her designed heights in this inventive, exploratory merger. Let’s just say the joint rocked. (Haan returns to the Metropolitan Room on May 3 for her tribute to the great American songbook.) At the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street. Phone: 212-206-0440. Reviewed March 29, 2017.
ADRIENNE HAAN SINGS LESSONS FROM THE WEIMAR REPUBLIC Send This Review to a Friend
With her customary flair and style, Adrienne Haan created a Weimar Republic atmosphere at Feinstein’s/54 Below last night (February 22) in a new show telegraphing warnings from the past about similarities of what has begun to happen in the age of President Trump. With sardonic comment embracing her repertoire, Adrienne flashed a wicked smile in denying any comparisons. The songs spoke for themselves in her program titled “Between Fire and Ice: A Diabolical Weimar Berlin Cabaret.”
Haan appeared strikingly in a smartly tailored, claret-colored suit minus blouse or bra, the outfit accenting her tall, slim figure. As well as having a dynamic, well-trained voice, Haan is also an effervescent entertainer and actress who can mesmerize an audience. Whether on stage or wandering around the room fluffing a man’s hair and demanding a kiss, she flashes personality plus. I find her one of the best cabaret artists working today.
Talking about songs that captivated her as a youngster, she calls upon her German background to delve into musical history and what was going on in the cabaret world during the Weimer years before the rise of Hitler and Nazism destroyed the post-World War I democracy. She has the advantage of singing both in English and German.
Leading with the sarcastic “It’s All a Swindle,” she followed with a “German Cabaret Medley,” and also included a feisty “Medley of Women’s Emancipation.” In a particularly pertinent song on the same day when the Trump Administration backed off from protection of transgender students, Haan sang the sprightly “Masculine-Feminine,” an amusing celebration of gender-bending.
In singing “Pirate Jenny” from “The Threepenny Opera,” Haan emphasized the women’s revolt inherent in the lyrics. She pointed out that “Tonight or Never,” which concluded her regular program, was written just before the Weimar Republic ended.
Not all of Haan’s song list was political, as exemplified by her singing “Falling in Love Again,” her passionate and sensitive rendition of “Alone in a Big City,” “Naughty Lola,” “Nanna’s Song” and “Johnny.” For an encore she sang “Lili Marlene,” which she noted was an anthem among troops in World War II.
A highlight of the evening was the piano accompaniment by Music Director Howard Breitbart, who stepped in on emergency notice after Haan’s scheduled musical director had surgery. The result was an ultra-smooth pairing, with Breitbart impressively mastering the complex, extensive repertoire. At Feinstein’s/54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, Phone: 646-476-3551. Reviewed February 23, 2017.
ADRIENNE HAAN’S CABARET FRANÇAIS Send This Review to a Friend
The world of French songs was brought to the Metropolitan Room last night (December 6, 2016) by international singer Adrienne Haan, who is a dynamic artist above and beyond her frequent cabaret performances. Her “Cabaret Française” show demonstrated her vocal expertise befitting a concert stage, and indeed she has done such appearances in New York and on her international tours.
Haan, also an experienced actress, exudes sparkle in her ability to connect with an audience. On this occasion she made an especially elegant appearance in a red strapless gown and a hairdo that accented sophistication. As is her practice, she gave the audience tidbits about her background, including growing up in Germany, Luxembourg and France and influences on her life and career.
Beginning dramatically with a French medley, she moved on to interpreting works of composers, not necessarily French, but whose songs have thrived in France and internationally, such as works by Kurt Weil.
Two of her most dramatic numbers were by Jacques Brel—“Le Port D’Amsterdam” and “Ne Me Quitte Pas.” With the former, Haan injected vigor and power into the lyrics with a force that virtually shook the room. With "Ne Me Quitte Pas,” she evoked intense emotion with the lyrics dramatizing a lover’s poignant pleading.
No such program would be complete without homage to Édith Piaf, and Haan delivered a Piaf medley. Wisely, she made no attempt to imitate Piaf, but gave her own vibrant treatment to some of the most famous Piaf songs.
Haan likes to get audience involvement, whether she tours the room and sings romantically to a partiular guy, or gets an audience clapping or singing along, as with her rousing “Padam Padam,” about a melody that keeps on haunting, with music by Norbert Glanzberg and words by Henri Contet. Haan was accompanied by Richard Danley on piano and Mike Campenni on drums.
One suggestion that might help those in an audience who don’t know French would be brief introductory summaries by Haan in English of what songs say. Although that might interrupt the smooth flow of her vocal delivery, it would be useful if done compactly.
Haan is due back at the Metropolitan Room in the spring. Whatever her theme the next time around, audiences can be assured of pleasure. At the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street. Phone: 212-206-0440. Reviewed December 7, 2016.
THE 27TH NEW YORK CABARET CONVENTION OPENING NIGHT Send This Review to a Friend
I find it impossible to go to the New York Cabaret Convention held in Rose Hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center without thinking of its congenial founder, the late Donald F. Smith, the cabaret visionary who originally launched the convention under the auspices of the Mabel Mercer Foundation. Time moves on, and now the annual host is the Foundation’s artistic director, the renowned singer KT Sullivan, who launched this year’s series, starting with the gala opening (October 18, 2016) and followed by performances Oct. 19, 20 and 21.
Sullivan, known for her finery and especially her great hat collection, made a flashy appearance in one outfit, intriguing chapeau included, and then for the second act, she appeared in another outfit and hat change. The audience has by now become accustomed to KT as the face of the convention and, judging by the applause, enjoys her fashion introduction each year. After taking her bow, she also sang impressively.
The nearly three-hour concert was richly endowed with an array of performers, seasoned and new. Two of my favorites were among them.
Christina Bianco is not only a cabaret treasure but she has achieved international fame thanks to her uncanny ability to impersonate woman entertainers with dead-on accuracy. On YouTube she has been watched by thousands upon thousands. For her convention appearance she took the song “Cabaret” and demonstrated satirically how various singers would perform it, starting with an amazing imitation of Barbra Streisand in both voice and style. She was also spot-on with Judy Garland, Patti LuPone, Kristin Chenoweth, Bernadette Peters and others. Bianco, also an actress, is a showstopper, as she was on this occasion.
Another of my favorites is superbly talented Carole J. Bufford, who looked great in a clinging dress that if it were any tighter would have sueezed her out of it. Her song of the night was “St. James Infirmary,” and I’ve never heard it sung like that before. She got real funky, southern and bluesy, and tore into the lyrics with low-down passion, sometimes at high decibels. Bufford was a knockout, vocally and visually.
I also always enjoy Barbara Fasano, who as often is the case, was accompanied by Eric Comstock, terrific at the piano in his own right. (They are also married). She sang her pleasing interpretation of the number “Old Photographs.”
The most impressive among newcomers was Josephine Bianco, who at only the age of 15, wowed the crowd with her rendition of “People.” Given its difinitive performance by Barbra Streisand and efforts by so many others, for a singer so young to try it was indeed a challenge. But Bianco brought something new to the number, reaching deeply into it to find the feelings within the lyrics and music and the result was intense sensitivity. Her talent was especially impressive-- a highllght of the night.
There’s nobody quite like the veteran Vivian Reed, who burned up the stage with her “Believe in Yourself” from the musical “The Wiz.” Maureen McGovern is an icon who also knows how to put over a song with beauty and individuality, as she demonstrated with the well-worn “Over the Rainbow.” She sang it without a mike, and the lyrics left her lips with perfection and strength in the large, hushed hall.
On the jam-packed program were Matt Baker, Natalie Douglas, Karen Oberlin, Stacy Sullivan (KT’s sister), Stefan Bednarczyk, T. Oliver Reid, Eric Yves Garcia, Kim David Smith and others.
Each year awards are given, and this time the Mabel Mercer Award was presented by KT Sullivan to Maureen McGovern and the Donald F. Smith Award to Natalie Douglas. At Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Ceenter. Reviewed October 20, 2016.
ADRIENNE HAAN CELEBRATES KURT WEILL Send This Review to a Friend
When you go to a performance by attractive international chanteuse Adrienne Haan, you can count on a dynamic night. She was aiming especially high in her most recent show at the Metropolitan Room last night (September 28, 2016). This time, in singing numbers of composer Kurt Weill (1900-1950), she had a six-member musical aggregation, large for the size of the venue, but perfectly balanced between Haan and back-up. In any event, it would be hard to drown out Haan when she gives a song her all in interpretations that demonstrate her prowess as an actress as well as singer.
The place was jam-packed, with an unfulfilled waiting list, with the result that a repeat performance has been scheduled at the Metropolitan Room at 7 p.m. on Sunday, October 30. Haan justifiably has her following as a result of her enthusiastically received performances here and abroad.
On this occasion the show, smartly directed by Barry Kleinbort, with music direction by Richard Danley, also at the piano, included a variety of numbers composed by Weill, with lyrics in both German and in English. Haan grew up in Germany, so Weill’s work with Bertolt Brecht is a natural for her. When she sinks her teeth into “Pirate Jenny” from “The Threepenny Opera,” it becomes a major theatrical performance, laced with savage desire for revenge as Haan underlines lyrics with hate.
On the other hand, she injects bubbly fun into Weill’s and Ira Gershwin’s “The Saga of Jenny” from the Broadway show “Lady in the Dark.” From Weill’s Broadway period she also sang “My Ship” from “Lady in the Dark” and “Speak Low” from “One Touch of Venus.” Her selections also dug into lesser know Weil numbers written during his career.
Haan is also a story teller, recounting growing up memories and at first cringing at the idea of having to study Brecht at school. She gives biographical information on Weill and his escaping from the growing menace of Nazism in Germany and his efforts to become solidly American to the point of Americanizing the the pronunciation of his name.
She also has a sharp taste for satire. She prefaced singing the 1930 “Alabama Song,” another of Weill’s collaborations with Brecht, with a note of her own visit to Alabama in the U.S., toying with an American accent of Alabaaaama. She then sang the number with an amusing comedic tone, and strolled through the audience getting members to chip in with the refrain.
But Haan is especially memorable for such potent numbers as “Surabaya Johnny” from “Happy End,” in German by Brecht, and in English by Herbert Hartig, with her own adaptation. She delivers an original style to the famous “The Ballad of Mack, The Knife.”
It is something to see the way Haan can captivate an audience from the moment she starts. She projects drama in just about everything she sings, accented with broad body movement, and where called for, shrieks of agony. Her over-sized personality permeates the room, but the key is that it is backed by an always-effective singing voice that justifies her histrionics.
Her repertoire was enhanced by the backup musicianship and arrangements of Julian Ritter. In addition to her long-time musical director Richard Danley’s leadership at the piano, there was the Novembergruppe Quintet, with members Dan Levinson on clarinet and alto saxophone; Jonathan David Russell, violin; Vinny Raniolo, guitar and banjo; Jared Engel, bass and tuba, and Mike Campenni, drums. The larger-than-usual musical contingent for the room definitely added to the perspective and solidity of the show. At the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street. Phone: 212-206-0440. Reviewed September 29, 2016.
ANN DAWSON'S LIFE THROUGH SONG Send This Review to a Friend
After a long career, Ann Dawson tells about her life with song selections that mark her professional and emotional journey in her lively, super-friendly show titled “Traveling Solo” at the Metropolitan Room, which I attended last night (September 6). She’ll perform there again at 7 p.m. on October 5.
To see and hear Dawson is a revelation. Although petite, she is a gale force of vocal power when reaching musical high points. Going for her is an effervescent personality enabling her to make an audience quickly warm to her. She also puts maximum feelings into her lyrics, enabling us to grasp every word and nuance. Her reddish hair, offset by a black two-piece outfit, helps make her a visual standout.
Dawson, rather than hide that she has been working at her craft for quite a while (think appearances on the Johnny Carson TV show and early Borscht Belt experience), she emphasizes it with often humorous tales about her life. She also has assembled a broad repertoire reflecting past work. One of her achievements of which she is obviously particularly proud was being in a production of “Funny Girl,” and she gives us a strong sample singing “I’m the Greatest Star” from that show.
Dawson opens with “But Alive,” revealing her still-with-it spirit. She does a tender job with “It Had to Be You,” and movingly sings of regret with “Where Was I When They Passed Out Luck?” Dawson sets an especially romantic mood with “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.”
She amuses with an account of in the early days wanting to inject comedy into her performances but was pressed to stick to music, exemplified by the number “Don’t Talk, Just Sing.” One of the songs into which she evidences particular enthusiasm is “Broadway Baby,” which could in a sense be her anthem.
In the latter part of her show, she reveals very personal feelings of regret about not having found enduring romance in her life, but asserting that the big affair she feels strongest about is her audience, and that performing is from which she derives her greatest satisfaction. That portion can get a bit maudlin, and yet it adds to the overall impression of sincerity reflected in virtually every song she sings. Dawson is very likable, and is someone who can be enjoyed for her enduring talent, her sense of humor about life and her admirable desire to keep on entertaining. Dawson is accompanied on piano by her musical director Tedd Firth and on bass by Robert Renino. The director of the show is Barry Kleinbort. At the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street. Phone: 212-206-0440. Reviewed September 7, 2016.
MAD JENNY SINGS ABOUT 'LOVE AND GREED' Send This Review to a Friend
The cabaret entertainer Mad Jenny comes across as an intelligent, serious performer who can blend comedy into topicality. She has opened a regular monthly gig at the East Village suppr club Pangea, where her “Weimar Cabaret” show will be performed on Mondays, April 4, May 2, and June 6, all at 7 p.m. I caught Mad Jenny on her opening night, March 7 (2016).
An attractive woman, Mad Jenny sings in German a good part of the performance (English translations, of course), a language she picked up when living and traveling in Germany (she comes from New York) and it suits her well when plunging into numbers from the Weimar era.
She opens with the cynical “Life's a Swindle,” emanating from 1931 Berlin. Some of her material is by Hanns Eisler and Betolt Brecht, as with “There’s Nothing Quite Like Money” and their very bitter “Abortion is Illegal.” A defiantly amusing song, with music by Friedrich Hollaender and lyrics by Claire Waldoff, with English lyrics by Jeremy Lawrence, is “Chuck All the Men,” dating to 1926 Berlin.
Mad Jenny can get very serious too, with numbers recalling the Nazi period and the infamous Terezin concentration camp. She is assisted throughout by Maria Dessena on piano, who is also credited with arrangements. Dessena has an accordion solo too, and the other skillful musicians are Ric Becker on trombone and Jerry DeVore on bass.
An offbeat part of the program is the appearance of Miss Exaterina, an exotic dancer who parades around the room scantily clad with pasties covering her nipples. It seems an unnecessary diversion from the substance of what Mad Jenny is presenting, although it may be meant to evoke Weimar cabaret decadence.
Jenny takes time for costume changes, a mistake, since it interrupts the mood she establishes. One easy costume change is done on stage as she strips away some of what she is wearing to reveal partly a red outfit, and partly the remains of her tuxedo, aiding her in contortions to resemble a couple embracing and dancing, a clichéd shtick.
Mad Jenny’s strength, in addition to her voice, striking looks, likability and her acting and directing experience, is her take on an era and beyond and the smarts with which she approaches her varied material. But her show, somewhat overlong, would benefit from tightening and keeping the focus on herself and her songs without extraneous detractions. At Pangea, 178 Second Avenue (between 1lth and 12th Streets). Phone: 212-995-0900. Reviewed March 9, 2016.
SIN TWISTERS ANITA GILLETTE AND PENNY FULLER Send This Review to a Friend
When you see the cabaret act by Anita Gillette and Penny Fuller you are guaranteed double pleasure. In “Sin Twisters, Too!,” which enlivened Feinstein’s/54 Below February 24 and March 2, 2016, these show business veterans strutted their stuff with a wide range of songs, edgy comedy and playful demonstrations of what a great fit they are as a team. The show contained some of what they had done in a previous stint, but was enhanced by other numbers and patter that entertainingly displayed their skills and effervescent personalities. In short, they know how to turn on a room.
The tone was set with their opening numbers, “Friends” and “We Got Us.” They underscored their united approach with “Sistah,” sung with exactly the right flair.
These gals are great with stories. Gillette recalls how she showed up for an audition with a skirt torn in the back as she sang “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” and “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” when she could not avoid exposing the rip. Very funny! Fuller told how she sang “A Wonderful Guy” in her quest for success.
There was a lot of their show biz history covered in their anecdotes, as each has played major roles on stage. They also got mileage out of mentioning men in their lives, and making up some experiences strictly for gags. Their comic timing is superb, and Gillette knows how to use plenty of body language and acting chops to get her humor across. Gillette and Fuller were also amusing in faking competitiveness.
None of this would be as effective if the voices weren’t there to score points. Both have excellent, well-trained voices, which showed time and time again. They impressed with “Make the Man Love Me” from “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” and the ballad “Once Upon a Time.” Fuller was especially good with the difficult “Finishing the Hat” by Stephen Sondheim.
The program was chock full of fun songs, such as Irving Berlin’s “Pack Up Your Sins and Go to the Devil,” A highlight was their medley from “Cabaret,” with each getting to show off assorted skills that made them natural fits for that hit.
When they encored with “You’re the Top,” they added very funny topical lyrics. The show was directed by Barry Kleinbort, with Paul Greenwood as musical director and pianist, and Ritt Henn on bass. Follow the Gillette-Fuller combination whenever they may turn up for a good-time evening of cabaret at its best. At FeinsteIn’s/54 Below, 254 West 54th Street. Phone: 646-655-9480. Reviewed March 3, 2016.
CABARET HALL OF FAME LAUNCHED AT FESTIVAL Send This Review to a Friend
With limited cabaret venues in New York and a wide pool of talent available, promoters of cabaret are always looking for ways to boost interest. What was billed as the first International Cabaret Festival was held in New York (February 17-21), and the icing on the cake, in addition to an array of performers entertaining at various night spots in the city, was the creation of a Cabaret Hall of Fame and announcement of the first group of inductees.
The festival was sponsored by Cabaret Scenes, a publication devoted to the art form. The Cabaret Hall of Fame was the idea of Bernie Furshpan and Joseph Macchia of the Metropolitan Room, so it as appropriate that announcement on February 17 of the first notables given membership took place at the Metropolitan Room.
Those inducted were a mix of current performers and others who are no longer with us. The distinguished list includes Bobby Short, Julie Wilson, Nancy LaMott, Jan Wallman, Barbara Carroll, Steve Ross, Marilyn Maye, and Andrea Marcovicci.
In honor of the occasion, a hefty program unfolded that first festival night. Anita Gillette, an actress as well as a cabaret star, persistently turns on audiences with her effervescent song interpretations and veteran show biz pizzazz. She entertained the Metropolitan Room crowd with “Can’t Be Bothered Now,” “Happy Go Lucky” and “Shall We Dance.” Gillette stamps all of her work with individuality, as she did on this occasion.
Another highlight was internationally renowned singer-pianist Steve Ross, who was there to accept his induction. Of course, he also showed his stuff by performing in his inimitable manner. Also on hand to accept personally was the show’s topper, cabaret icon Andrea Marcovicci, who is a wizard at establishing audience rapport with her personality, anecdotes and song choices.
Marcovicci sang “On Such a Night as This,” “Umbrella Man,” and the emotional “The Kind of Love You Never Recover From.” She spoke of her admiration for the late Julie Wilson, and she paid tribute to Donald Smith, the late dedicated promoter of cabaret, asserting, “Without Donald Smith I wouldn’t be here.”
Others on the bill included JayCee Driesen, who powerfully gives a song her all, as she did with “I’ve Finally Arrived” and “This is the Moment.” Jean Brassard sang “Edith” and “C’est Si Bon” with flair. And Frans Bloom showed special strength with “Nature Boy,” “Padam Padam” and “I Have Lived,” the latter an impassioned number by Charles Aznavour. At the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street. Reviewed February 20, 2016.