Audrey Lavine and Scott Coulter
Audrey Lavine and Scott Coulter
The vast majority of cabaret shows are solo acts, so it's always refreshing to have a twosome put on a show that allows audiences to enjoy the beauty of vocal harmonies. This year, two of cabaret's most talented vocalists, Audrey Lavine and Scott Coulter, have come together to do just that in a smartly conceived show at the Duplex called Goin' Home: Songs of the South. These transplanted Southerners have created an act based on songs that are either about Dixie or written by composers who lived there.

From the 1926 classic, "The Birth of the Blues" (Ray Henderson/B.G. De Sylva/Lew Brown) to a very recent, saucy number titled "Harmony" (Carol Hall), Lavine and Coulter take their audience on a tour of the Southland's musical heritage. A well written act with patter that might be more effective if delivered with greater understatement, this is nonetheless a funny and fully engaging hour of personality and performance. The two voices meld and soar in uptempo songs like "Sentimental Gentlemen from Georgia" (Frank Perkins/Michael Parish). And in ballads, especially when they combine songs, the pair is sensational. Best example: their exquisite take on "Tennessee Waltz" coupled with "Waltz Me to Heaven." Their tribute to Elvis is as musically rich as it is comically inspired. Elegant arrangements by musical director Ross Patterson complement (and compliment) Lavine's and Coulter's voices, making this one of the year's most memorable shows. Goin' Home: Songs of the South plays again on July 24 and 31, both shows at 7pm at The Duplex.

Mary Foster Conklin
Mary Foster Conklin
We reviewed Mary Foster Conklin a few months ago and noted at the time that she would soon be presenting a new act devoted to composer Matt Dennis. Well, now she has in fact brought what may well be the definitive Matt Dennis tribute to Danny's Skylight Room. Impeccably researched, passionately presented, and wonderfully performed, the show brings back the memories and the music of the composer of such songs as "Angel Eyes," "Let's Get Away From It All," "The Night We Called it a Day," and other standards.

Conklin is a jazz artist but her performances are always lyric-driven. Her take on Dennis's work, therefore, is strong on his melodies but also marked by intelligent and beautifully phrased attention to the lyrics of his collaborators. Dennis is where jazz and cabaret music meet, and this act -- titled Caught in the Trance: A Tribute to Matt Dennis -- should appeal to both audiences. There are two more opportunities to catch it at Danny's on Wednesday and Thursday, July 23 & 24, both shows at 9:15pm.

Page Sampson is a young performer with two things very much in her favor: She has particularly good musical taste and she is an effective actress. In cabaret, those two elements can carry you far if you also downplay your weaknesses. Sampson's new show at Don't Tell Mama, Braving the Elements, spikes high when she works within her limitations but dips when she attempts songs that lie

Page Sampson
Page Sampson
outside of her range as a singer and/or actress. However, even her mistakes are admirable insofar as she's taking risks and stretching herself. No doubt her triumphs come from that willingness to try new things...

...like writing a song. One of the best numbers in her act is "Can You Hear Me In Your Dreams?" (written with her musical director, David Maiocco). It's Sampson's first writing effort and it's impressive. The song works because the lyric is smart, specific, and carefully woven into the music. Sampson is also unafraid to salt her show with new songs by an up-and-coming songwriter: She gets lots of mileage out of two terrific Mary Liz McNamara numbers, "Keep it to Yourself" and "I See the Lake." The former is sharply satirical and fun, the latter poignantly nostalgic. She does equally well with standards that offer her a chance to act, such as "You Don't Know What Love Is" (Don Raye and Gene DePaul), here given a romantically atmospheric rendition.

Sampson's show features songs that contend with life's most dangerous elements; some of those dangers come from nature, some from the human animal. Lina Koutrakos has daringly directed Sampson to brave the cabaret elements, but not all of the show works. The patter, for example, needs a more conversational ease, and there are a number of sour notes. Still, this is a well crafted show with more than enough highlights to suggest that Page Sampson is a cabaret artist on the rise. Sampson has one more show left in her current run at Don't Tell Mama; it's July 29 at 7pm.

Steven Brinberg and Tommy Femia
Steven Brinberg and Tommy Femia
Finally, when was the last time Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland performed together? If you said about 40 years ago on Garland's TV show, you'd be wrong (sort of). It was last Saturday night at Don't Tell Mama that Steven Brinberg (Barbra) and Tommy Femia (Judy) joined for the first time to do a full-length show, and they're going to do it again on the next two Saturday nights at 11pm. Historical and hysterical, the pairing of these two celebrity impersonators who are legendary in their own way is an event not to be missed.

If Femia isn't currently in the best voice of his long career as Judy, his voice is at least in keeping with Garland's image in later life, which is what he projects. His comedic skills are undiminished, so one wishes he would compensate for his vocal problems by going for more humor. On the other hand, Brinberg goes for (and gets) laughs throughout his performance. His version of Judy's "Trolley Song" may be the funniest thing you'll hear this year. It's great to see and hear this Judy and Barbra together -- and their patter will have you on the floor.

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