Fred Barton as a young pup
Fred Barton as a young pup
Twenty years ago, a young man named Fred Barton became the toast of the town in a one-man/woman musical he wrote called Miss Gulch Returns. An endearingly demented look at the woman on the bicycle who tormented little Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, it was clearly a show for the ages. Now it's back and, despite the passage of those 20 years, we laughed ourselves stupid when we attended a recent performance at Dillon's.

In this little treasure of a show, Barton plays Elmira Gulch as a cabaret singer. Falling somewhere between winsome and wacky, Gulch has a score full of sophisticated comedy numbers that would make Cole Porter proud. The music is partly pastiche but the lyrics are so cleverly constructed, the rhyme schemes so elegantly intricate, and, finally, the messages so rich and ripe that they make a mockery of most of today's Broadway show scores. Take for example "Pour Me a Man," a number that the lonely, needy, and surprisingly randy Elmira sings in her cabaret act; there are precious few works of double entendre as hilariously suggestive as this Barton classic.

The songs are character pieces, and Barton sings them that way. The score doesn't call for a pretty voice (which he doesn't have anyway) but it does call for an actor who can bring nuance to bear, and this he does wonderfully well. Barton begins the show as a young man trying to pick up Elmira at a bar and eventually, in a bit of costume legerdemain, he becomes her. After you see this show, you'll never think of the Wicked Witch of the West in the same way again -- and remember that it was written and first performed 20 years before Wicked arrived on Broadway.

There is one more scheduled performance of Miss Gulch Returns at Dillon's on Tuesday, January 27 at 10:30pm. It's being presented that night as a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. There is a rumor that Miss Gulch will return yet again to Dillon's in March. By the way, you can also experience the show via its recording on the Original Cast label. Better by far, however, to see the show live and then listen to the CD, so you can savor the brilliant lyrics with the visual memory of Elmira fresh in your mind.

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Mary Foster Conklin
Mary Foster Conklin
The Jazz Revolution

There's something happening in the jazz world -- something important. Jazz vocalists are banding together to improve their lot in a world that's often dominated by jazz instrumentalists. The new organization is called the Jazz Vocal Coalition and it's making its initial mark in New York with three evenings of shows featuring thirty of its 150 members. We were at the first of these shows at Birdland on Wednesday night (the second was last night at Chez Suzette, and the last is tonight -- Friday, January 23 -- also at Chez Suzette with sets at 8:30pm, 10pm, and 11:30pm).

At Birdland, the highlights included performances by jazz great Mark Murphy, hot new star Kurt Elling, and the sensual sounding, rich voiced Laurie Krauz. Also impressive was the work of Lee Musiker at the piano, but the evening was primarily notable as a touchstone of jazz vocalist camaraderie and support. Birdland was packed for all three sets as member of the jazz community came out to show their support for these singers on a frigid Wednesday night in January.

We talked to a bunch of the folks at Birdland and they had much to say. According to Laurie Krauz, president of the New York chapter, "Our goal is to promote jazz vocalists. We're the only organization that exists solely for that purpose." Judi Silvano, the New York chapter's VP, was particularly pleased that the coalition had already become a networking success: "Singers aren't fighting over the next gig but are helping each other to create new opportunities," she said proudly. Singer Mary Foster Conklin remarked with pride that "The coalition has been carefully inclusive of all jazz singers, from the wordless jazz artists who practice vocalise to the singers who work the Great American Songbook."

Jazz great Kevin Mahogany, who is not a member of the group but was present at Birdland, was guardedly optimistic about the coalition. "I hope the organization can open doors to get more work for its people," he said. Another jazz great, Bob Dorough, said, "I'm glad for what they're doing. The critical question that applies to all of jazz, not just vocalists, is can they help create new opportunities?"

Perhaps coalition member Beth Lane put the need for the group best when noted that "There must be 50 jams per week in this city, but when a singer walks in, the band gets bummed. The way a band plays to support another player is different than the way you support a singer. But if we don't help the jazz vocalists, we are going to lose all these great lyrics. They're an important part of the jazz catalogue and they're being overlooked!" Well, not anymore -- not if the Jazz Vocal Coalition has anything to say about it.

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Nathan Lane in Win a Datewith Tad Hamilton!(Photo © Dreamworks LLC)
Nathan Lane in Win a Date
with Tad Hamilton!

(Photo © Dreamworks LLC)
Even Nathan Can't Save This One

For those of you who aren't able to get your Nathan Lane fix by scoring tix for The Producers, there's another way to catch this gifted actor. He's featured in the film Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!, which opens nationwide today. As you might imagine, Lane is the best thing in this otherwise lame, predictable movie about show business versus "real life"; he plays the Hollywood agent for the famous hunk actor Tad Hamilton and he delivers half a dozen laugh lines that you'd swear he wrote for himself. But there aren't enough of them, or enough of him, in the movie to warrant seeing this painfully obvious formula film. Now, if only it were the Lane character who'd won the date with Tad Hamilton, rather than the insipid actress who plays the female lead, we'd have ourselves a movie!

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[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at siegelentertainment@msn.com.]