Those familiar with the “Cast Party” Jim Caruso stages at Birdland on Monday nights will know how many top entertainers perform during the open-mike series, as well as “and others,” humorously referenced by Caruso as the not-so-top participants. This 2012 edition at The Town Hall (February 23, 2012), a benefit for the Actors Fund presented by Scott Siegel, spared the audience the others. Those on the bill were the cream of the crop.
Marilyn Maye knocked ‘em dead singing “Lazy Afternoon” and “Country Boy.”
Liz Mikel, defining what is meant by hot mama, raised the roof with the rich-in-double-entendres “If I Can’t Sell It, I’ll Keep Sittin’on It.”
Linda Levin gave an exquisite rendition of “It Might as Well Be Spring.”
Paulo Szot closed the show with a rousing “This Nearly Was Mine.” He used a mike, but it was superfluous.
That’s a glimpse of what went on for more than three hours. The evening could have been a bit shorter if gracious host Jim Caruso and musical director and pianist Billy Stritch didn’t spend so much time bantering at the outset, save for their “When Duke Was King.”
Here is what else the audience was treated to during the evening:
Janis Siegel was in full blast with “Cornet Man,” including her skill at vocally imitating musical instruments. David Ippolito was enjoyable singing “A Different Cowboy’s Lament.” Veteran singer Holly Near, with John Bucchino at the piano, tenderly sang “If I Ever Say I’m Over You.” Marcus Monroe dazzled with his vaudeville style juggling, especially when he started tossing about sharp knives.
Filthy-mouthed comic Lisa Lampanelli lived up to her reputation, topping her verbal thrusts by singing “I Don’t Wanna Show Off,” during which she showed off plenty with more raunchiness. Singer Julia Murney summoned memories of Betty Hutton’s style when she tore into “Murder He Says.”
Violinist par excellence Aaron Weinstein ripped into “Just One of Those Things” so energetically that the strings on his bow kept getting loose. Jim Caruso, an entertainer at heart, sang “I Love a Violin.” Erich Bergen was another highlight with the hilarious “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman.” Dynamic Stephanie J. Block, with Paul Loesel on piano, sang “Invention.” (She’s due to go into the show “Anything Goes.”)
The funniest sight of the evening occurred when Rudi Macaggi showed up in a fat suit and mimed to a recording in an imitation of Luciano Pavarotti. That was funny enough, but when he started doing somersaults in the fat suit and odd dance steps, the effect was even funnier. I would have preferred him to stop there, as I was less enchanted by his trick of swallowing a long blown up balloon and showing how he could lick one of his nipples.
Jane Monheit creatively provided originality and skill in interpreting “Some Other Time.” The energy level soared anew when Terri Klausner poured power into “Hit Me With a High Note.” Superb tap dancer Andrew J. Nemr and Cats Paying Dues joined in a tap tribute to the late Gregory Hines.
Composer Frank Wildhorn took a seat at the piano to accompany charming Laura Osnes as she sang “Someone Like You.” Wildhorn regularly gets blasted by critics, but his recent “Bonnie and Clyde” deserved a longer run than it had. Block and Murney returned together to sing to each other an impassioned “I Will Never Leave You.”
Could anyone ask for more?
In addition to Stritch at the piano, Tom Hubbard was on bass and Daniel Glass was on drums. The show was directed by Rick Hinkson and staged managed by Jennifer Marie Russo.