Donald Smith is gone, but the New York Cabaret Convention that he founded and nurtured is moving forward with new energy, as exemplified in the three days of programming in the Convention’s 23rd edition (October 17-19, 2012,) presented by the Mabel Mercer Foundation at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center. This year’s event was dedicated to Smith, who died in March, and his spirit was reflected in the homage paid him by many of the artists who appreciated his persistent efforts to keep the art of cabaret alive and flourishing. He sure would have enjoyed the tributes.
In addition to the all-star roster of performers who displayed their respective talents over the three-night sessions, awards were given. The tone was set by host KT Sullivan, cabaret artist extraordinaire and the new Artistic Director of the Mabel Mercer Foundation. Sullivan stepped into the void left by Smith’s death, a very natural selection, given her prominence in the cabaret world and her closeness to Smith.
The third annual Noël Coward Award was presented to Jeff Harnar, the popular singer. The Julie Wilson Award was presented to Shana Farr, with the revered Ms. Wilson doing the honors. The attractive Ms. Farr has a most appealing voice, as she demonstrated on the occasion.
In addition to attending opening night, I also went to the second night, which was a salute to Cole Porter, whose songs constitute an important part of the American Songbook and material for cabaret artists everywhere. The array of talent in the sessions I observed underscores the need for cabaret venues in which they can perform, a long-time cause of Smith’s. New York has lost the cherished Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, and Michael Feinstein has to find other headquarters than the Regency Hotel. But there has been one prominent new gain with the opening of the stunning 54 Below.
For example. on opening night we were entertained by the great pianist Barbara Carroll, who at 87 still dispenses the keyboard magic for which she is known. The audience was held especially spellbound by newcomer Lauren Fox singing “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. I also enjoyed singer-pianist Tony DeSare, playing and singing “I Love a Piano.” He has it all--looks, talent and a manner that connects with an audience. Emily Bergl injected some cut-up fun singing “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” It was kind of odd when Tim Sullivan, KT’s brother, showed up with his guitar and his western style, to sing “This Land is Your Land,” in which the prodded audience joined in. Not traditional cabaret material, but the turn was enjoyable.
Others on the opening program included Amanda McBroom, and as the closer, Mark Nadler, who in his commanding style, dipped into Weill and Brecht, and in mellow contrast sang: “Love is Here to Stay.” Opening night made one want to return for more.
And more there was in the inviting Cole Porter program, this one co-hosted by Andrea Marcovicci and Jeff Harnar. Marcovicci had to depart at intermission in order to make her gig at the Café Carlyle, where she has settled in after the closing of the Oak Room, with which she had a 25-year association. Harnar carried on congenially.
The array that night (Oct. 18) featured Marilyn Maye, and in her eighties, she displayed the youthful vibrancy that has made her a recent favorite in a new phase of her career. Pity those who have to follow her. Others singing Porter included a list that would have made Donald Smith proud—Karen Akers, Anna Bergman, Ann Hampton Callaway, Clint Holmes, Maude Maggart, Steve Ross, Jennifer Sheehan and Billy Stritch, and that represented just part of the performing entourage.
No worry, Donald. Your New York Cabaret Convention is in good hands. Reviewed October 21, 2012.