It was thoroughly fitting that the opening night of the 24th New York Cabaret Convention presented by the Mabel Mercer Foundation took place on October 7, 2013. That was the birth date of the late Donald F. Smith, founder of the convention and deeply missed. But his memory was served by the array of talent taking part on the stage of Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center. The opening was hosted by cabaret star KT Sullivan, who became Artistic Director of the foundation after Smith died, and who, of course, led with a song—her interpretation of “It’s DeLovely.”
I sampled the first two of the four nights of the convention that ran from Oct.7-10. As with any collection, there were highlights in the Oct. 7th and 8th shows that epitomized the best in the world of cabaret.
Hearing Barbara Carroll at the piano is always a memorable treat. She continues to dazzle with her vibrant and creative interpretations. And what more is there to say about Marilyn Maye? She is cabaret personified, as especially demonstrated when, accompanied by Billy Stritch on piano, she sang “Walkin’ Happy” with customary gusto.
Among the new generation of stars, Carole Bufford was a show-stealer sending shivers through the theater with “House of the Rising Sun” and “Can’t Help Loving That Man of Mine.”
One veteran attraction in the series was the appearance of singer Jack Jones on the night (Oct. 8) devoted to the songs of Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen. Jones, his shock of white hair adding to his dignity, was almost a program by himself. His numbers included “To Love and Be Loved,” “Call Me Irresponsible” and “All the Way,” each in a cozy, intimate style connecting with his admirers in the audience. What would Sinatra have thought?
Other favorites in the impressive conglomeration included:
Shana Farr jazzing it up bouncily with “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Tony DeSare singing “Come on Strong” and “Only the Lonely,” Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano taking turns and singing together as an example of their popular act and rich-voiced Allan Harris delivering “The Tender Trap” and “The Second Time Around.”
Violinist Aaron Weinstein is in a category by himself. He is a demon on the instrument, in this case riffing on Gershwin. But he also has a comic flair. He introduced his performance with fanciful past references such as playing way back with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Unlike comedian Jack Benny in his routine, Weinstein doesn’t scratch on the instrument. He makes it sing.
Not many realize that the legendary play “Our Town” was the inspiration for a musical accompaniment performed publicly only once in connection with a television show. Introduced by critic Will Friedwald of the Wall Street Journal, it was reprised by a trio consisting of Sigali Hamberger, Nick Ziobro and Marissa Mulder.
One surprise was the repertoire of Charles Busch, usually thought of for his outrageous comedy and acting female roles. Here he was completely serious singing “My Ship” and “Those Were the Days.”
Another unusual twist was having former television broadcaster Bill Boggs as host one night. He joked around affably and obviously enjoyed recounting incidents.
As has become the custom, the Mabel Mercer Foundation presents awards. On the nights I attended the Margaret Whiting Award was presented to Eric Yves Garcia, who also sang “My Ideal” and “Allez Vous En.”
The Doanld F. Smith Award was presented to excellent singer Karen Oberlin, who performed “Remind Me” and a medley of “I Don’t care,” “I’ve Still Got My Health” and “The Lady is a Tramp.”
Jack Jones didn’t leave empty-handed. He was the recipient of the Mabel Mercer Award,
Of the nights I didn’t attend, October 9th was devoted to the songs of Rodgers & Hart and hosted by Andrea Marcovicci and Jeff Harnar, who also sang. Among the many scheduled performers were Karen Akers, Christine Andreas, Anna Bergman, Liz Callaway, Lauren Fox, Eric Michael Gillett, Clint Holmes and Steve Ross.
The show on Oct. 10, dubbed “Before the Parade Passes By,” was hosted by Klea Blackhurst. Among the many artists scheduled were Sally Mayes, Sidney Myer, Mark Nadler and Nick Ziobro, Kevin Dozier and Tanya Holt. Reviewed October 12, 2013.