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Quick Wit: Hugh Hysell

Summer Fun at the Firebird Café

Whether to experience composer DAVID FRIEDMAN in performance or a flock of talent new to the club, the FireBird Café is definitely the place to be this month. Barbara & Scott Siegel report.

By New York City

David Friedman
David Friedman
Listen to His Heart

Like a pastor ministering to his cabaret flock, composer David Friedman provides an evening of musical comfort and reassurance in his ASCAP/FireBird Songwriting Series show. The series, which presents songwriters singing their own songs every Sunday night at the FireBird Café, has become hugely popular. The show we saw was no exception; the room was packed, but nobody was complaining. In fact, many more people were outside, clamoring to get in.

Friedman's music has often been showcased in the past as a lot of talented singers have put over his deeply melodic tunes while the songwriter usually performed only a couple of pieces himself. In this case, however, it's all Friedman, all the time. Supported only by three unobtrusive backup singers who provide occasional harmonies, Friedman gives voice to his own songs with a sincerity that sells every lyric.

Friedman's music is most closely linked with the late Nancy LaMott; but that association, he tells us, happened largely by chance. In fact, two of LaMott's biggest Friedman hits ("Listen to My Heart" and "We Live on Borrowed Time") were originally written for the late Laurie Beechman. Such are the inside nuggets of information to be gleaned in this informative, engagingly written and performed show.

Though his patter is often quite funny, the songs Friedman chose to include here are anything but. Serious and often anthem-like, these selections had a great many in the audience weeping at the performance we attended. Friedman is a sentimentalist at heart; his songs usually don't cut to the bitter truth but, rather, ask you to "trust the wind" or "be kind to each other." His gift is the ability to write music and lyrics that gives the listener hope. While he can be brutally yet hilariously honest in comic songs like "My Simple Christmas Wish" (all but owned by Alix Korey, who performs it to perfection), that aspect of his art has always seemed like an anomaly.

If David Friedman works in a somewhat narrow groove, he does so with great skill. And when he's on top of his game, as in the two Nancy LaMott hits mentioned above, he's as good as anyone writing today. [Note: Friedman's show has been extended to one more performance on Sunday, August 6, at 9 pm.]

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Face the Music

Earlier this summer, the FireBird offered what you might call "coming attractions" in a show called FireBird Faces 2000. Most of the performers who'll be appearing in this lovely, intimate cabaret room during the months ahead were given a chance to sing something from their upcoming shows for the assembled music press. Here are our observations on several of the artists who have dates at the club in August, based on their renditions of one song each in FireBird Faces:

Billy Stritch
Billy Stritch
BILLY STRITCH (August 3-18, Thursdays at 9 pm, Fridays at 9 and 11 pm): Smooth and easy, yet fully committed to the lyrics, Stritch performed "Crazy She Calls Me" with a graceful sensuality. This jazz pianist/singer has truly come into his own.

NATALIE DOUGLAS (Saturdays, August 5, 12, 19, and 26 at 9 pm): Douglas sang "Black Coffee" so well that Starbucks should grab her to do it as their theme song. She seems to sing jazz, blues, and pop all at the same time.

MARTHA LORIN (August 24): You can get lost in the deep, seductive tones of Lorin's voice. She sang "Every Time We Say Goodbye," but this is a singer you never want to leave.

ALTON F. WHITE (Saturdays, August 5, 12, 19, and 26 at 11 pm.): He played Coalhouse Walker in Ragtime, so you know he can sing. But we were mightily disappointed by White's rendition of "Kiss From a Rose." He seemed to be posturing rather than communicating.

LYNN LOOSIER (Wednesdays, August 9, 16, and 23 at 11 pm): Hailed by many as a fresh new talent, Loosier performed "Unchained Melody" but never seemed to free herself of the song's shackles. We were not impressed--though we should report that many in the room were.

MARNIE BAUMER (August 3 and 10 at 11 pm): Previously written about--and quite glowingly--in our TheaterMania column "The Siegels Down Front," Baumer is bringing her show back to the FireBird. She sang "When I Was A Boy" with feeling and understated stylishness.


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