Put the seductive songs by the prolific George Gershwin together with talented performers and how can you go wrong? Evidence of the sublime combination was entertainingly apparent on the second night of this year’s New York Cabaret Convention (October 17) titled “S’Wonderful: The Music of George Gershwin.” An appealing array of expertise smoothly presented kept the program flowing at a merry pace.
Co-hosts for the evening at Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center, were Andrea Marcovicci and Jeff Harnar, who also performed. They didn’t have to say all that much, as the format had each performer introducing the one to follow, which helped keep things moving at a good clip.
I inevitably had my favorites. One of the most original entertainers working today is violinist and humorist Aaron Weinstein. Sardonically recounting his personal contacts with Gershwin (long before Weinstein was born), he spun a narrative in an avalanche of double talk that earned him applause, then showing his talent on the violin, launched into a fabulous arrangement and riff playing “Somebody Loves Me.”
I get great pleasure every time I hear the combined talents of Eric Comstock and his wife Barbara Fasano. On this occasion Comstock excelled at the piano with “Who Cares?” and “Things Are Looking Up,” and Fasano gave an absolutely exquisite rendition of “Love Walked In.”
Anna Bergman is gifted with a wonderful soprano voice, which she demonstrated yet again singing “By Strauss.” Karen Akers and Celia Berk revved up the fun with their duet “What Are We Here For” Then Akers, left to her own devices, injected fresh meaning into “How Long Has This been Going On?” with her mellow voice and sophisticated delivery.
Marcovicci and Harnar performed in both the first and second acts, initially teaming on “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” Later, they sang ‘’S’Wonderful” together. Marcovicci soloed with “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “The Man I Love.” Harnar had further vocal input, singing “Treat Me Rough,” an amusing and unusual (for Gershwin) number laced with masochism. He teamed with Shauna Hicks on “I’ve Got Rhythm” and with her and James Followell at the piano for “Bidin’ My Time.”
Mark Nadler is a demon genius at the piano, and he brought a fiery close to the first act by sailing into “S’Wonderful” and “Rhapsody in Blue” with dazzling, complex virtuosity. He dependably creates a spellbinding effect, and wows an audience with his talent and commanding presence.
Jon Weber not only excels as an accompanist to various singers, but when given the spotlight, he can show his own talent, as he did with his solo “Piano Playin’ Jazzbo Brown.” Steve Ross, an institution in the world of cabaret, is another superb pianist and a congenial singer to boot. He entertained with his interpretation of “Stairway to Paradise.”
The sexiest performance of the evening was given by Marissa Mulder, who sauntered on stage in a tight fitting dress and in intimate, breathless tones invitingly sang “Do It Again.”
One surprise was the zany combination of British visitors Dominic Feress, also at the piano, and Martin Milnes, who proved that they could pack a medley of 30 Gershwin songs into six minutes of stage time. They were a laugh riot with their wacky routine.
Others on the program also merit applause for their assorted contributions, including Stearns Matthews, T. Oliver Reid, Deborah Silver, Nicolas King, Gabrielle Stravelli, and Jennifer Sheehan, the latter a discovery of Marcovicci when Sheehan was a teenager. She has matured beautifully as a performer, evidenced by her lovely renditions of “A Foggy Day” and “Love Walked In.”
Coming up: Tonight, 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;” and tomorrow, Oct. 19th: “Two Marvelous for Words/Stardust, The Music of Hoagy Carmichael & Richard Whiting,” hosted by Klea Blackhurst.
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 18, 2017.