We also learned that pop legend Neil Sedaka, the special guest star of the event, is Jewish. We grew up listening to his hits ("Breaking Up is Hard to Do," "Calendar Girl," etc.) and we always thought he was Italian. It turns out that Sedaka means "charity" and this personable performer certainly gave mightily of himself on behalf of the Folksbiene. (By the way, we also learned that one of Sedaka's cousins is Eydie Gormé, but that was just icing on the cake.)
The evening had its share of speeches, including an appearance by Mayor Bloomberg. Other performers included The Klezmatics, Hershey Felder, Mal Z. Lawrence, Claire Barry (of the Barry Sisters), and the New Yiddish Chorale. And then there was Sedaka, who sang traditional Yiddish songs as well as some of his hits. He was in terrific voice, his high notes still pristine. At one point, a montage of photos of Sedaka and his family was projected during one of the Yiddish songs on that very subject; it was a brilliant stroke that celebrated his roots as well as stressing the universality of the music.
For the benefit's moving finale, the Carnegie Hall stage was flooded with young children who sang with Sedaka in Yiddish, proving that this is by no means a dead language.
Sailing with Ailing
In his recent cabaret act, performed for one night only at The Duplex, Scott Ailing sang "Good Thing Going" from Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along. The tune's title pretty much encapsulated the event but an even more accurate description would be "Great Thing Going." This was a show so accomplished and exciting that we immediately advised the club's booker to try and get Ailing back for a full run. We rarely ever assert ourselves like that, preferring to let this column do the talking for us, but we were so knocked out by Ailing's exquisite combination of vocal prowess, sense of humor, and stage presence that we simply couldn't resist.
Working with gifted musical director Rick Leonard, Ailing transcended his identification in the cabaret world as a piano bar entertainer (at Danny's on West 46th Street) with an act that fully displayed his commanding talent. We were already aware that he possesses a bright, shimmering tenor voice but we had no idea that he's so versatile. Dramatic singers with big, impressive pipes tend to be less adept (or at least less practiced) in comedy yet Ailing scored major successes with several comic numbers. He performed in high style the clever "I Love to Smoke" (Kevin Arruda), put over the dicey "Closet" (Amy Fix) with a wink, and showed his brassy side in Fred Barton's classic musical cocktail "Pour Me a Man." On the other end of the emotional spectrum, he was thrilling in Ryan Hunt's soulful "Sailing Home," and compelling in Martin Charnin's "Best Thing You've Ever Done."
To truly appreciate Ailing's versatility, consider that he also sang Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" (from Turandot) and received that rare thing in a cabaret room, a standing ovation, when he finished his act with Sondheim's "Sunday" (from Sunday in the Park with George). If he brings this sensational act back to The Duplex or eventually performs it somewhere else, you owe it to yourself not to miss it.
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