Martha Lorin's new show at Judy's Chelsea is based on a great idea that was just waiting to be had. Lorin has combined the songs of America (like "This is My Country," "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," and "That's a Fine Kind of Freedom") with that most American of musical idioms, jazz. An inspired concept performed by an equally inspired artist, this is a show steeped in patriotism -- however, it's patriotism is expressed not as flag-waving but through a celebration of America's musical tradition. It's called Americana and, in its originality and unpretentious artfulness, it's very much a show for our time.
All of the songs in Lorin's show are from a CD set to be released next year, titled Freedom Sings and produced and narrated by CBS' Charles Osgood. This is your best opportunity to get an early, live listen to what will probably be a much-discussed release by one of cabaret's most fascinating jazz performers. The word "slick" isn't in Lorin's vocabulary, and very likely not in her solar system. She is unconcerned with the trappings of a show. Rough edges? So what. Lorin shrugs, makes offhand comments ("Erv Raible's been trying his damnedest to direct me for years," she jokes), charms with a nonchalance reminiscent of Perry Como, and sings with a voice as rich and mellow as a bottle of port.
Her concept of Americana embraces songs other than the usual patriotic pabulum. Lorin understands that "Get Happy" (Ted Koehler/Harold Arlen) became a rallying cry for optimism when it was first performed in 1930 during the Great Depression. This distinctly American up-and-at-'em attitude also soars in Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies," a song that Lorin sends into the stratosphere with the help of a scintillating arrangement by musical director Tedd Firth. But the show's true revelation is the collaboration between Firth and Lorin on "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" (Julia Ward Howe/William Steffe); they find their way into it through the lyric "Glory, glory hallelujah!" and turn it into a jazzed-up gospel number that manges to be utterly free and fresh while retaining the intent of the original composition.
In addition to Firth at the piano, Jay Leonhart is on bass and Dave Ratajczak plays the drums. It's a band of gold. Lorin returns to Judy's for one more show on Tuesday, September 24 at 8:30pm
At the end of every Barbara Cook cabaret act -- whether in a cabaret venue or in a big theater -- the lady finishes her show by singing one song without a microphone, and it's always a thrilling moment. Hearing a beautiful voice unamplified is a lovely thing; it makes you wonder why so many big-voiced cabaret singers, working in little clubs, clutch microphones and perform at decibel levels that make your teeth vibrate.
It was only a matter of time before someone got wise and did an act entirely without a microphone. Brava to Anna Bergman for filling Danny's Skylight Room with the pure sound of her voice. And don't be fooled by the fact that Bergman is a classically trained soprano who sings in concert halls as well as cabarets; she's not doing anything that a good many other singers at Danny's, Don't Tell Mama, Judy's and other intimate clubs couldn't do if they simply trusted that their voices, and their audiences, were up to the challenge.
Bergman's show is called Melody, Melodie: A Celebration of Song from Berlin to Bizet. It's a sophisticated musical lasagna in which some saucy arias give flavor to layers of deliciously cheesy medleys cooked up with show tunes that Bergman and musical director Alex Rybeck have used their noodles to make fresh. The tastiest portion of the show is the centerpiece medley that Bergman calls "The Prince of My Dreams," in which she sings bits and pieces of nine songs that tell a musical comedy story of love and romance. Cleverly arranged by Rybeck, it's a tour de force.
Bergman has a tendency to pose rather than act, a performance quirk that probably comes from her opera training. But she's an attractive entertainer with great taste in music. This show is timed to the release of her debut solo CD, Souvenir (LML), based on her much-admired earlier cabaret act. You can see Bergman, and hear her -- sans microphone! -- on Wednesday, September 25 at 7pm and Friday, September 27 at 9:30pm at Danny's.
Last year, Christine Ebersole received great acclaim when she performed at Arci's Place on a limited number of Monday evenings. Now, you can catch her every night except Mondays and Sundays at The Café Carlyle, where she is reprising that same act through October 5.
An accomplished musical theater star (and a Tony winner for her performance in 42nd Street), Ebersole commands a cabaret stage with her singular personality and her considerable talent. In person, she presents a unique package: Her speaking voice is straight out of musical comedy but her singing voice trills in the manner of a romantic leading lady. We call that versatile -- and Ebersole displays her versatility with flair. She sings "My Ship" with a surprising comic spin, plants her feet and performs "Lullaby of Broadway" as a dramatic wakeup call, and cuts right to the heart with a cathartic rendition of "I Happen to Like New York."
Whether talking about her kids, her husband, or her experiences working in Los Angeles, Ebersole is consistently bright and funny. Her script is tight and the patter segués naturally -- sometimes even elegantly -- into each song. In short, it's great to have this exceptional show back again.
[More cabaret reviews by the Siegels can be found at www.cabarethotlineonline.com]