When you have the music and lyrics of Noël Coward and an array of top talent, what could be bad? The 21st New York Cabaret Convention, staged by that indefatigable cabaret devotee Donald Smith on behalf of the Mabel Mercer Foundation, honored Coward on the night I attended (October 8, 2010). The huge Jazz at Lincoln Center Rose Theater was alive with wit and talent reflecting what we remember about Coward’s wide-ranging contributions to our culture.
There was relatively new talent as well as the established pros. The Noël Coward Foundation in London made possible the presentation of the first Noël Coward Cabaret Award to Jennifer Sheehan, an especially attractive looking singer, whose renditions of “Mad About the Boy” and “Here and Now” showed why.
Young Nicholas King, at age 19 runner-up for the award, sang “You Were There” in a delicate rendition that revealed his penchant for emulating a Sinatra-like style. As for the third place honoree, Sidney Myer, his presence on any show is guaranteed to enliven the event. Myer is gifted with exquisite timing, and his ability to project an attitude of supreme sophistication with a built-in control makes a willing audience complicit in his high style. His “Men About Town” is a gem, and so is his “Bar on the Piccola Marina,” about a woman who kicks up her heels after her husband dies.
KT Sullivan, always a favorite, turned up in a shimmering green gown, and delivered a great “World Weary” rendition. Later, in a smashing looking wine-colored gown with enormously puffed sleeves, she sang “If Love Were All” and was joined in a duet with Craig Rubano, closing out the show fittingly with “I’ll See You Again.”
Class was also added by stunning Christine Ebersole, whose series of numbers included an impressive version of “Matelot.” Ebersole has a lovely voice, as does Sara Rice, who pleased the crowd with “I’ll Follow My Secret Heart” and “Zigeuner.”
Simon Green, in from London and known for his interpretation of songs by Coward, was particularly effective with “Sail Away,” one of the better songs from the Coward musical that was staged on Broadway. The Coward sprit was also epitomized by Gregg Edelman with his “Alice is at It Again.” Steve Ross, the elegant cabaret icon and another devotee of Coward works, was engaging at the piano as he sang and treated the audience to a series of Coward goodies including “Mrs. Worthington” (“Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington”) and “Where Are the Songs We Sang?”
What more can one say about the delightful, versatile Nancy Anderson. She practically did an entire show herself, as she rampaged dramatically through a Coward medley, including “The Coconut Girl,” about a woman loved for her coconuts, which later prompted Sidney Myer to ask, “What’s wrong with loving a girl for her coconuts?”
Accompanying pianists for various artists during the evening included, Mike Renzi, Larry Yurman, James Followell, Christopher Denny, Eric Sedgwick, Jared Egan, Ross Patterson, Nate Buccieri and David Shrubsole. This was one of three performance that made up the Cabaret convention, which, thanks to Donald Smith, has become an institution that celebrates the continuing of cabaret as an important art form.