Cabaret and musical theater lovers are used to going to the 92nd Street "Y" to catch the various entries in the famous Lyrics & Lyricists series. Now, thanks to ASCAP's Michael Kerker and Eileen Solomon of the "Y," there's something new to draw those same fans to Manhattan's Upper East Side. Kerker and Solomon have established a new cabaret space devoted to creative couplings of songwriters and singers in a series titled Cabaret Uptown. The shows on hand aren't just uptown, they're upstairs, and their presentation in a more intimate space on a higher floor at the "Y" is to be applauded. This experiment is an obvious success: The shows have two performances each, both on the same night, and they already have a reputation for selling out. Such was the case for the perfect pairing in February of songwriter David Friedman with the powerhouse singer Alix Korey.
Friedman, a composer with a rough and ready singing voice, has become an amiable and heartfelt interpreter of his own tunes. There are others who sing his material better than he does--Alix Korey is one of them--but Friedman gets by. He also provides sincere, open-souled explanations of why certain songs were written. It's fascinating to hear him impart, for instance, that the late Laurie Beechman asked him to write one of his greatest songs, "We Live on Borrowed Time," but it hit so close to home for the cancer-stricken singer that she could not bring herself to perform it. Later, of course, that song became a signature item for yet another artist who died far too young, Nancy LaMott. Once you know the story behind these songs, Friedman can break your heart with his renditions of them, as he does with the tender, tear-stained ballad "Only My Pillow Knows." In recent years, however, he has tended toward writing anthems like "Trust the Wind," which has a lovely, sweeping melody but a rather untrustworthy lyric.
There is nothing else in the David Friedman canon like "My Simple Christmas Wish," the brilliant, hilarious piece of special material he wrote for Alix Korey. Lots of performers try it, but nobody comes even close to generating the laughs that this woman gets from this number. As many times as we've heard her do it--and we've heard it often!--it never fails. Nor were we the only ones rolling in the aisles when Korey ripped through the song at the "Y"; the rest of the audience was laughing hard enough to be heard down the block.
Friedman and Korey have a long history together, and their comfortable camaraderie on stage added to the warmth of the evening. For her part of the show, Korey moved beyond the Friedman catalogue, offering songs by the likes of William Finn and Jeff Harris. She did sing Friedman's "We Can Be Kind," and the pair finished the evening with a duet of a song they wrote together, the poignant "You're There."
There is one more program planned for this year's Cabaret Uptown series. It will bring together one of America's greatest contemporary composers-lyricists, Craig Carnelia (who, with Marvin Hamlisch, is responsible for the upcoming Broadway musical Sweet Smell of Success) and cabaret/musical theater diva Karen Mason. Their two shows will take place on March 17.