Wednesday, October 20, 2004

15th Annual Cabaret Convention

A presentation of the Mabel Mercer Foundation, produced by Donald Smith. Musical director, Forrest Perrin.

Maureen McGovern flew in from North Carolina, where Broadway-bound "Little Women" is in tryouts, to put her playful spin on "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," accompanied by Jay Leonhart's wordless vocal assist and flavorful string bass chords. The Cole Porter classic served to open the 15th Cabaret Convention, the annual Town Hall fete produced by Donald Smith in memory of the doyenne of cabaret song, Mabel Mercer.

Friend and publicist of Mercer, Smith is the executive director of the Mabel Mercer Foundation, which aims to perpetuate the popular American song through the art of cabaret. Once again he has gathered the creme de la creme of Gotham niteries for this weeklong all-star homage.

Barbara Carroll displayed her customary keyboard artistry with a feathery interpretation of Richard Rodgers' "The Sweetest Sounds," laced with touches of Bach and Debussy. Getting a jump on the Harold Arlen centennial year, Carroll sang the plaintively assured romantic resolution "As Long as I Live."

Natalie Douglas announced that "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" was clearly all about sex and underscored her intro by singing the original suggestive Lorenz Hart lyric from "Pal Joey" with saucy allure. Broadway diva Christine Ebersole praised the Garden State with John Pizzarelli's trademark tune "I Like Jersey Best," penned by Joe Cosgriff.

A rare Manhattan appearance by the Page Cavanaugh Trio swept in on a refreshing California breeze. Page was the guy at the piano in those breezy Doris Day musicals of the '40s, and his hip recordings have become collector's items. "Walking My Baby Back Home" was a staple of his repertoire, long before Nat King Cole and Johnnie Ray put their mark on it. A tastefully subtle cocktail pianist and vocalist, Cavanaugh took "After You've Gone" for a spin of rapid changes of chords and tempos.

A glam Stefanie Powers, backed by Cavanaugh, offered a seductively sultry "I've Got a Crush on You" by the Gershwins and the old Ruth Etting dance-hall lament "Ten Cents a Dance." Cavanaugh accompanied Powers as he does on a new Jambo CD, "On the Same Page," adding zestful assist.

A perky Daryl Sherman also revisited "Pal Joey" with an aggressive command, "Do It the Hard Way."

Sherman, who plays the Cole Porter piano at Waldorf's Peacock Alley and is off to London to gig at Pizza in the Park, sang Porter's ardent confessional "I Concentrate on You."

"All in Fun," the Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein ballad which was a staple of Mercer's repertoire, was eloquently framed with reflective heartbreak by Marlene VerPlanck, a singer with an uncommonly perfect sense of pitch, time and passion. Sidney Myer, a popular fixture at Don't Tell Mama and one of cabaret's best friends, brought the crowd cheering to its feet as he rendered some original comic parodies with a Noel Coward bite and delivered his quips with droll comic timing.

Concert concluded with Wesla Whitfield, who sings with poetic grace and wisdom and knows how to involve a listener with musical stories of love requited and unrequited. "You Don't Know What Love Is" may be one of the most telling musical commentaries on the subject of heartbreak. For a world facing troubled times, Whitfield's beautiful was "Lost in the Stars" by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson, a Broadway hymn of comfort and assurance.

Fest continues with Christine Andreas, Karen Mason and Sarah Partridge on tap for today. Tributes to Julie Wilson at 80 is set for Thursday and the late composer Bart Howard on Friday. "A Cabaret for Cole" celebrates the Porter legacy Sunday afternoon.

Lighting, Gemini Prods.; sound, Triton Sound; stage manager, Rick Meadows. Musicians: Jay Leonhart, Phil Mallory, Joe Cohn, Boots Maleson, Mike Greensill, Dan Andrews, David Snyder. Performers: Barbara Carroll, Spencer Day, Natalie Douglas, Christine Ebersole, Allan Harris, Maureen McGovern, Sidney Myer, Stefanie Powers, Page Cavanaugh Trio, Daryl Sherman, Theresa Tova, Marlene VerPlanck, Wesla Whitfield.

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