The 30th annual New York Cabaret Convention presented by the Mabel Mercer Foundation started with opening night panache (October 28), featuring dazzling performances of songs geared to “The Sunny Side of the Street” theme of celebrating Dorothy Fields and great women songwriters. The show was written and hosted by Deborah Grace Winer, who was introduced by KT Sullivan, Mercer Foundation Artistic Director, smartly dressed as usual and wearing one of her signature hats.
Winer turned out to be one of the best MCs I have seen. She was very well-prepared with her script, spoke with admirable clarity, and introduced the artists with detail and enthusiasm. She made a letter-perfect and attractive host, who kept the evening going in grand style. During her comments she made repeated references to iconic Broadway lyricist Betty Comden, who was a good friend.
The convention, started 30 years ago by the late Donald Smith, runs through Thursday (October 31) with a different theme each night. It takes place in Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center. The performers mostly had a number in the first act and then returned with one in the second act.
Particularly memorable was the appearance of Christine Andreas, who seemed to be surprised when presented with the annual Donald Smith Award in honor of the founder. Her first selection was a brilliant and moving rendition of “The Summer Knows” (lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman), and her later selection closing the program was an exuberant “I’m Flying” from “Peter Pan” (Carolyn Leigh, Comden).
Linda Purl opened with a jazzy take on “I Feel a Song Coming On” (lyrics by Fields). Purl puts her own spin on numbers, as with her second song, an unusual rendition of “Just the Way You Look Tonight”(Fields).
Welcome humor was introduced by James Naughton with “Westport,” cleverly detailing sexual goings-on in that Connecticut community. For his second number he did a spellbinding “Witchcraft” (Leigh).
And so it went. Songs chosen were mainly ones reflecting the contributions by various women. Stacy Sullivan, one of the best of current cabaret singers, scored with “I Love Being Here With You,” and opened the second act with a rousing “Big Spender.” Darius de Haas delivered the back to back combination of “Sunny Side of the Street” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and returned in the second act with “Some Other Time.”
Tom Wopat, with his Broadway experience, was solid with his two numbers, “Look Around” and “I Won’t Dance.” Debby Boone clicked with “I’m Waiting Just for You” and “Where Do You Start.” La Tanya Hall, extra smooth, made a major impression with “The Best is Yet to Come” and “A Case of You.”
Other memorable contributions came from Karrin Allyson’s “Bye, Bye Country Boy” and “Some of That Sunshine;” Margo Seibert’s rousing “A Natural Woman” and the Latin beat “The Boy from Ipanema;” and Nicolas King’s “Make Someone Happy “ and “You Must Remember Spring.” At Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Broadway and 60th Street. Reviewed October 30, 2019.