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Intimate Nights: The Golden Age of Cabaret

Dedicated to “The First Lady of The American Keyboard” Barbara Carroll (1925-2017)

This Third night of Mabel Mercer Foundation’s 28th annual New York Cabaret Convention was billed as a celebration of the genre’s Golden Age: “Tonight we’re going to time travel…from the late 1930s to the early 1960s, when cabaret helped make New York a magical world of discovery and unknowns were plucked out of little clubs run by people with a keen eye for talent to become stars…” The art form, “…which unites a room of strangers in the dark, was a haven for misfits and, distinctly color blind…” James Gavin

The good news is that author/host James Gavin was as entertaining and illuminating at the podium as he is a writer. History was affectionate, colorful, and selective. Gavin’s devotion and long time exposure to his subject was palpable. The bad news was that the evening, with few exceptions, turned out to be a variety show featuring several artists who seemed out of place.


Two old guard pianist/vocalists reminded us they can still stylishly deliver. The ageless  Ronny Whyte offered four numbers including a jaunty, while wistfully tempered “Hooray  for Love” and an urbane “Slummin’ on Park Avenue.” The artist continues to make lyrics sound personal, imbuing them with vintage warmth. His interpretations are chic. (Jon Burr-bass, Dave Sillman-drums)

Charles Cochran performed the eclectic “Miss Johnson Phoned Again,” a well mannered lyric with streetwise arrangement. Popularized by Jeri Southern, the song manifests a secretary putting off her boss’s girl. Cochran had the perfect wry tone and pianistic light touch. Almost as unknown, “Do You Miss New York?” (Jon Martino-piano, Jon Burr-bass) exemplifies the sentimentality and economy of its era. Adroit.

Ronny Whyte; Charles Cochran

“I Love to Love” and “Stormy Weather” were offered by a tasteful Natalie Douglas. …You’ve got to Romeo me/Make me feel that I’m Salome…she sang in the first with modulated bounce and flirt. The second selection emerged surprisingly sad and quiet,  rather than wailing against the winds…until the very last. Effective. (Mark Hartman-piano, Jon Burr-bass, Dave Sillman-drums)

Sidney Myer sang two novel songs that fit his splendid, unique idiom like pieces in a puzzle, but it was a finale rendition of “This Moment” that brought home the performer’s ability to reach inside us. (Tracy Stark-piano, Jon Burr-bass,                    Dave Sillman-drums)

Natalie Douglas; Sidney Myer

A conversation with Charles Busch about drag performers covered: “femme mimics” in the 1920s, “the pansy craze” represented by Burt Savoy and depicted in Broadway’s The Nance, 1950s- including Mr. Lynn Carter who would duplicate Kay Thompson’s shows in drag just doors away from her own performance, Charles Pierce, and Busch himself. The multifaceted artist then sang (in parlando) “Those Were the Days” from his current show at Feinstein’s/54Below. The number was cottony, emotionally on target/completely believable. (Tom Judson-piano)

Inclusion of a long stand-up routine by Bruce Vilanch, sometimes crass, sometimes funny, felt totally inappropriate. Though cabaret venues were mentioned, jokes steered this segment making one feel the next “act” might be a juggler or magician. Neither Carol Lipnik’s tribal theatrics nor Nellie McKay’s original material were at all reflective of the Golden Age.

Artists entered late or didn’t know where to exit. A microphone stand blocked several piano performances, a introduction was missing, a lengthy, miscalculated finale forced performers to struggle across the cluttered stage… The untimed show ran over incurring appreciable extra expense to a foundation trying as much to secure funds as celebrate the genre. (Director Kevin Malony)

Also featuring: Barbara Brussell, Laura Kenyon, an extremely brief appearance by the formidable Lilianne Montevecchi, John DiMartino’s haunting, painterly instrumental of “Lonely Town,” Maude Maggart (whose nervous smile pops up inappropriately clouding a lovely vocal styling), Molly Pope, Ricky Ritzel, and Spider Saloff.

Photos  by Maryann Lopinto
Opening: Charles Busch, James Gavin

The book–James Gavin- Intimate Nights: The Golden Age of New York Cabaret

The 28th New York Cabaret Convention presents
Intimate Nights: The Golden Age of Cabaret
Hosted by James Gavin
October 18, 2017
Rose Hall at Time Warner Center

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Intimate Nights: The Golden Age of Cabaret


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