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Blue Wave Cabaret 2024 – The Community Rises

Blue Wave Cabaret 2024 – The Community Rises

Blue Wave Cabaret fundraisers were initiated by producer Stephen Hanks during the 2018 midterm campaign season. More shows followed in early 2019 and May 2022. Thirty frustrated citizen performers and four musical directors gave of their time and talent. When Hanks relocated to Arizona, we lost a local activist.

Stephen Hanks

On May 24, the self avowed “Proud, Patriotic Progressive” stood before an enthusiastic audience again accompanied by 16 vocalists and  stalwart MD, Tracy Stark, to “support issues we believe in: a woman’s right to control her own body, sensible gun safety laws, free and fair elections, LGBTQ rights, minimizing climate change, human immigration policies, and freedom from tyranny – protecting the Democracy.”

This eleventh Blue Wave Concert is dedicated to the late Sarah Rice who participated in five shows and had committed to this one before she passed.

Sarah Rice

Hanks is convinced that President Biden will be reelected, but in order to keep the worst from happening “Democrats MUST keep the Senate majority AND take back that current clown show that is the House of Representatives. One of the reasons we didn’t take the house in 2022 is that Republicans won district races previously loyal to Biden. Tonight we support candidates in those districts.”

I’ve covered all 11 Blue Wave events. They may be, as Hanks suggests, a kind of exorcism for participants, but they’re also a needed note of hope and community for the rest of us. There’s nothing like a smart, impassioned vocalist to drive the meaning of beliefs.

Remy Block, Lisa Viggiano, Dawn Derow

Remy Block opens the show with “For What It’s Worth” (Stephen Stills-Buffalo Springfield): There’s battle lines being drawn/Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong, she sings, arms and hands rhythmically churning. Stop/Hey, what’s that sound?/Everybody look, what’s going down, the audience responds. Gravitas, pride and alas, apt warning pervade. Stark provides back-up.

“How many people are the same as they were in 2016?” Lisa Viggiano asks. What are the things I didn’t say that needed saying…when will I raise my hand… I’m not too old… she sings. Viggiano and Stark overlap vocals with spirited resolution. A reminder to us all. (“My Story” – Ilene Angel)

Arriving onstage with broad southern accent and a basket-ball sized, ersatz baby bump, Dawn Derow launches into “Barefoot and Pregnant” (Gwen Levey and The Breakdown) What does she do with her college degree?/Throw it out the window with her IUD… That the parody sounds like a collective MAGA voice unnerves. Derow is a hoot. The baby-balloon drops and is angrily popped.

Sandra Bargeman, Meg Flather, Rosemary Loar

“Who here lost a family member or friend to MAGA?” inquires Sandra Bargeman who then tells us her sister became “a full fledged cult member.” “I sing this song for all my sisters including Trump women in the prayerful hope they remember who they are.” Quincy Jones’ “Miss Celie’s Blues” is terrific – control, phrasing and attitude undisputed.

Meg Flather wrote “Reaching Higher” 100 days into quarantine. “Trump is a continual pandemic,” she comments. Flather and Stark duet the roiled song with mantra-like repetition. Reaching for my higher self/Is like climbing up a ladder… Arms out, palms up, we picture walking meditation.

Similar thoughts occurred to singer songwriter Rosemary Loar whose “Higher Standard,” written when Hillary Clinton lost,  takes the concept into a different reality. Women are, in fact, held to higher standards. You can hold my lipstick/ You can hold all my calls for me/But you can’t hold me to a higher standard, she snaps. Flather and Stark back-up. It’s cool, wise and pissed off.

Tracy Stark, Blair Alexis Brown

“America Back,” (Jill Sobule) is performed by Tracy Stark: When they say we want our America back/ Well, what the fuck do they mean?… Life was righteous/Life was clean… We all parrot the chorus. Late night shows are missing out by not featuring this kind of material.

At the piano, Blair Alexis Brown bookends Paul Simon’s “American Tune” with the plaintive notes of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” Looking around and sharing as she sings and plays, the performer brings lyrics to warm life. Eras merge with the universal message. I can’t help it (a small, needful laugh escapes) I wonder what went wrong… Deftly communicated.

Michael Roberts, Lane Bradbury

Lane Bradbury offers her original “We Gotta Stop Him” with collaborator/MD Michael Roberts at the piano: In my dreams, I see him broken and pale/ Locked away in jail…We let freedom sing from every throat/We get on our feet/And we get out to vote… Even forgetting a microphone, Bradbury’s vehemence carries.

“In my other life, I work in court advocacy in the Bronx and every day I see havoc Mayor Adams has wrought,” Karen Oberlin states unconditionally. “We need Yip Harburg now. Hey, orange guy, you think you’re somethin,” prefaces the wry “Napoleon’s a Pastry” about one’s 15 minutes of fame. “Happiness is A Thing Called Joe” follows with some new, clever lyrics. Right on, Karen. (Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg)

Karen Oberlin, Mardie Millit, Margot Sergent

New to Blue Wave, Mardie Millit is the only artist who doesn’t present something in keeping with the evening’s theme. “Tuscaloosa’s Calling Me” (Hank Beebe/Bill Heyer) is chosen “because we live in the greatest city in the world.” It arrives well acted, well and brightly sung, but feels out of place.

Also debuting with Blue Wave, Margot Sergent notes that here from France for 10 years, she’s not yet allowed to vote, but considers this her home. ”I come from a country where health and education are not luxuries and the country keeps a strong economy.” Mitch Leigh/Joe Darion’s “The Impossible Dream” is rendered in emotionally fraught, moving French.

Julie Reyburn, Sierra Rein

“I want to remind us all that love conquers. We need to take care of our mental health,” begins Julie Reyburn. “I’m going to sing a spiritual to raise that frequency and for Sarah…” “His Eye is On the Sparrow” (Civilla D. Martin/ Charles H. Gabriel) emerges as if from the pulpit, with heart and soul. An invisible choir abides.

Rarely heard, Stephen Sondheim’s “The Flag Song” was cut from The Assassins. It’s superbly rendered by Sierra Rein: You can gripe/All you like/You can sneer/”Where are the heroes?”/You can shout about/ How everything’s a lie/Then that flag goes by… Voice and emphatic (not overblown) phrasing do justice to a thrilling lyric.

N’Kenge performs “One Moment in Time” (Albert Hammond/John Bettis) associated with her idol, “the great Whitney Houston.” The song erupts and soars, a shows shopper in the hands of one so striking and skilled, but it would’ve been more interesting to hear something not so identified with another vocalist.

N’Kenge, (Sierra Rein), Janice Hall

Hanks thanks everyone involved beginning with wife Bea and daughter Jean who sit beaming up front, then call-outs to tech, wait staff, and booker Sidney Myer without whom the presentation would neither run so smooth, nor, actually be possible.

“I love doing these shows, but I wish we didn’t have to,” Janice Hall tells us. “There’s a line in the musical Suffs that states, ‘You may not live long enough to see what you’re fighting to achieve, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be fighting.'” With Rein and Stark on back-up, Shaina Taub’s “Sing Again” resonates: After every losing battle/Every desperate place we’ve been/Past every breaking point of no return/Somehow we always sing again… Eyebrows form a point, hands gently pump at her sides. Sing again, sing again, sing again, we repeat. Impact.

Perhaps when  Stephen Hanks moves back, we may hope for more of these. Scheduling prevented some willing participants, others offered after the program had filled. Tonight, mood lifts, people hug, the barricades await.

Photos by Stephen Hanks and Andrew Poretz

Don’t Tell Mama 
343 West 46th Street

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Blue Wave Cabaret 2024 – The Community Rises