Forty-five years ago cabaret icons Mabel Mercer and Bobby Short appeared in a much-revered concert at The Town Hall. History has come full circle. In the very same venue the Mabel Mercer Foundation staged an anniversary concert (May 16, 2013) paying tribute to Mercer and Short with an array of cabaret stars performing mostly songs associated with the honorees in an impressive three-hour concert.
Host of the event was KT Sullivan, who has stepped into the breach left by the death of Donald Smith and become the Artistic Director of the Foundation. Sullivan, always a walking fashion statement, was flamboyantly bedecked in a black and white motif. She launched the evening spiritedly singing “Throwin' a Ball Tonight” and “You Are Not My First Love.”
The tribute’s chief story teller was critic Rex Reed, who entertainingly name-dropped with tales of experiences involving celebrities and Mercer and Short. The printed program included liner notes that Reed had written for the celebrated Mercer-Short concert recording. In addition to spinning amusing anecdotes, Reed took to the mike himself, tenderly singing “Some Fine Day.”
An emotional highlight was the appearance of beloved cabaret star Julie Wilson, who sang “But Beautiful.” At this stage the elderly first lady of cabaret recites lyrics more than sings them, but she still displays the clarity and feeling that has been part of her trademark and her mere appearance recalls the glamour of the world of cabaret as it once existed. She received an enthusiastic standing ovation upon arriving on stage.
There were numerous highlights in the program. Andrea Marcovicci was especially lively as she sauntered around the stage interacting with the audience. Her songs: “Did You Ever Cross Over to Snedens?” and, adding a note of cute sensuality, “Isn’t He Adorable!”
I especially enjoyed Larry Woodard with his expertise at the piano, singing “Why Did I Choose You?” I’m used to seeing Tamara Tunie on TV in the “Law and Order” episodes—“in scrubs” as she put it—so it was gratifying to hear her pensively sing “Ballad of a Sad Young Man,” related to soldiers back from war and demonstrating the show biz side of her talent.
Lauren Fox performs with her own distinctive clarity and fine voice, and her interpretation of “Both Sides Now” held the crowd spellbound. Natalie Douglas packs power, as shown in her rendition of “Down in the Depths on the 90th Floor,” another of the event’s highlights.
No such program would be complete without the veteran cabaret star Steve Ross, who played piano in high style while singing “That Black and White Baby of Mine,” and then more delicately delivering “How Do You Say Auf Wiedersehen?
Other memorable moments included Joyce Breach singing “Carry Me Back to Manhattan;” Iris Williams putting much feeling in “Folks That Live on the Hill,” Eric Yves Garcia performing “I Can’t Get Started With You,” cabaret and stage star Karen Mason singing “Time Heals Everything,” Karen Oberlin giving her all with “Something to Live For;” dynamic Clint Holmes, who has done a program in tribute to Bobby Short, singing “Just One of Those Things” and “Losing My Mind,” and Barbara Fasano performing “Remind Me,” with Eric Comstock at the piano and also singing “Looking at You.”
There was a lot more, participants also including T. Oliver Reid, Marissa Mulder, Spider Saloff and Rickey Ritzel, Lumiri Tubo, Catherine Russell, Tanya Holt and the entire company leading the audience in “Here’s to Us.”
Musicians taking part at various points during the evening included pianists Jon Weber, Mike Renzi, Bill Zeffiro, Mark Hummel, Art Weiss, James Followell, Jeffrey Neiman, Rick Jensen and Mark Hartman; on bass Ritt Henn and on drums Michael Croiter. At the Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Reviewed May 17, 2013.