Night Life Exchange
Review by MARILYN LESTER
Assembling a roster of A-list cabaret talent and crafting a variety evening to showcase them in is no small task. Happily, such a success was achieved with a nonpareil evening of entertainment to benefit Cabaret Scenes, the magazine that’s dedicated solely to the art of cabaret (and the companion website, www.cabaretscenes.org). Joseph Macchia produced the show at NYC’s Metropolitan Room, aided by Cabaret Scenes’ editor-in-chief Frank Dain, who hosted it with his trademark charm and ease. Music director Yasuhiko Fukuoka wielded a mighty piano with highly attuned artistry. It was simply a fabulous evening, filled with high energy, good spirits and, of course, tremendous talent.
Left to right: Yasuhiko Fukuoka, Karen Mason, Frank Dain, Publisher Peter Leavy, Eric Comstock, Barbara Fasano, Carolyn Montgomery-Forant, Joshua Lance Dixon, CeliaBerk, Amorika Amoroso
Who better to open the festivities than the accomplished, polished and highly entertaining husband-and-wife team of Barbara Fasano and Eric Comstock. Musically, the duo fits together like hand in glove. Her fine singing, along with his skillful piano playing and vocalizations, plus the right touch of humor, yield creative combinations of musicality, as illustrated by one of their numbers, mixing “Broadway” (Teddy McRae/ Bill Bird/ Henri Wood) integrated with a bit of “Crazy Rhythm” (Irving Caesar/ Joseph Meyer/ Roger Wolfe Kahn), the whole thing set up with “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” from Hello, Dolly!. In counterpoint to the brightness of Fasano/Comstock, there was drama, with Eric Michael Gillett in especially strong and powerful voice. He offered “I Was Here” (Stephen Flaherty/ Lynn Ahrens) (with Daniel Lincoln at the piano) with plenty of conviction and perfect diction and phrasing.
In the realm of the sincerely heartfelt, Frank Dain put on his performer’s hat for “A Certain Smile” (Sammy Fain/ Paul Francis Webster). And for downright grit there was Kim David Smith, the most intense of performers with a driving presence, who powered through “Song of Black Max (As Told by the de Kooning Boys)” (William Bolcom/ Arnold Weinstein). This offbeat composition is modern (1978), but— like Smith– has the essence of being teleported in a TARDIS from naughty, decadent 1920s Berlin.
Kim David Smith (piano: Yasuhiko Fukuoka)
On the lighter side, there were several musical diversions. Carolyn Montgomery-Forant, dedicating the performance to “our children in these dark times,” performed “The Babysitter’s Here” (Dar Williams) in the persona of a child, communicating perfectly the juxtaposition of the worshipful vision of the babysitter against the realism of the sitter’s life, as revealed in the clever lyric. (She was accompanied by Jeff Cubeta.) Clever lyrics were also the territory of Tanya Moberly, with a fierce delivery of material that seemed to be written just for her, the crafty “Haiku” (Mary Liz McNamara). For sheer amusement coupled with artistry, Celia Berk, displaying her awesome range from pop singer to opera diva, delivered Irving Berlin’s 1911 novelty number, “Yiddisha Nightingale” combined with a translation of “O Mio Babbino Caro” into Yiddish, “Oy, Veh, Mayn Liber Tate” (Binyumen Schaechter), which in Berk’s hands was delightfully kooky.
If a blues can be considered happy,” Amorika Amoroso certainly proved the point with “Dr. Feelgood (Love Is a Serious Business)” by Aretha Franklin and her onetime husband/manager Ted White. Amoroso drove it home with her red-hot-mama voice and the dedication of her performance as an antidote to “uncertain times.” Also qualifying for power voice of the evening was Joshua Lance Dixon, whose stage presence, vocal talent and interpretive artistry add up to star quality. In his medley of “Experiment” (Cole Porter) and “White Rabbit” (Grace Slick) the two pieces glided smartly and seamlessly into each other and out again.
Wrapping up this special evening of talent was the crème-de-la-crème diva herself, Karen Mason, who with characteristic charm, wit, talent, charisma, enthusiasm and mega-volt energy aced “As If We Never Said Goodbye” (Don Black/ Christopher Hampton/ Andrew Lloyd Webber). By the time the last note of music faded into the night, it was apparent why the art form of cabaret will always attract those who love it and support it on both sides of the curtain.
Editor’s Note: All the above vocalists have been written about, in feature stories and reviews, in the magazine and its website www.cabaretscenes.org, with past reviews and some articles archived. All but one have been featured on the cover. Joshua Lance Dixon’s cover story is in the current issue, available at cabaret venues in NYC and across the country and by mail with membership in the not-profit Cabaret Foundation. The upcoming issue’s cover story is on Karen Mason, written by Ms. Lester.
Photos by NATASHA CASTILLO