There is a risk in starting a cabaret convention opening night with Marilyn Maye, introduced by KT Sullivan, host and Director of the Mabel Mercer Foundation, with an explanation of wanting to begin with a legend in honor of legendary Barbara Carroll, who died this past year. How do you successfully follow Maye, still a super-dynamic song interpreter and in powerful voice at the age of 89?
There she was, the opening act of the 28th consecutive New York Cabaret Convention (October 16-19) produced by the Mabel Mercer Foundation at the Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincon Center. Maye, terrific as usual, treated the appreciative audience to numbers that included “A Most Unusual Day,” “Day In, Day Out,” “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby," and “Come Rain or Come Shine.” She set a very high bar for the rest of the performers on the gala first night bill.
But the assembly of talent that followed proved to be worthy. Carole J. Bufford, for example, came through with an intimate, teasing version of “Chicago,” enhanced with some snappy flapper dance steps while Ian Herman soloed at the piano. Then she emotionally delivered her own brand of “The Man I Love.” KT Sullivan surprised her with the Donald F. Smith award, given in honor of the late founder of the Mercer Foundation. Smith, who inaugurated the annual Cabaret Convention, was a champion of cabaret as a vital art form.
In the comedy department, Adam Shapiro entertained singing “Bennies From Heaven,” about a soldier who has been away for years finding his wife with a kid named Benny and the explanation that he came from heaven. He also scored with “Bei Mir Bist Schoen.”
Statuesque Luba Mason, wearing a dazzling blue and white gown, sang a “Croation Folk Song” followed by a poignant rendition of “Love for Sale.” Alan Harris, expert with his accompanying guitar, presented an easy-going rendition of ‘It Was a Very Good Year.”
Karen Oberlin entertained with “Hamlet,” the kooky riff on Shakespeare, then grew serious with the combination of “Night and Day” and “The Night We Called It a Day.” KT also took her turn in the spotlight with “After You” “So in Love” and the lilting “Wunderbar.”
The closing spot went to Vivian Reed, after she was presented with the Mabel Mercer Award. In her signature style, she zoomed around the stage stomping and whooping it up as she regaled the crowd with “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and “Higher and Higher.”
Leading up to that strong finish were varied examples pf talent shown off in the packed program. The artists highlighted include Lyric Peterson, Danny Bacher, Corinna Sowers Adler, Joshua Lance Dixon, Tanya Moberly, Jacob Storm and Tommy J. Dose.
Coming up: Oct. 17th: “S’Wonderful: The Music of George Gershwin,” hosted by Jeff Harnar and Andrea Marcovicci; Oct. 18th: “Intimate Nights: The Golden Age of Cabaret,” hosted by james Gavin and dedicated to Barbara Carroll, “The First Lady of the American Keyboard;” Oct. 19th: “Two Marvelous for Words/Stardust, The Music of Hoagy Carmichael & Richard Whiting,” hosted by Klea Blackhurst.
Other awards scheduled to be presented are The Margaret Whiting Award and the Julie Wilson Award. At Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Broadway and 60th Street. Tickets at the box office or through CenterCharge, 212-721-6500. Reviewed October 17, 2017.