There's a new, hip, and elegant alternative for late-night cabaret on Fridays and Saturdays at the FireBird Café. It's called Late Breaking Stories and it stars Mark Hartman at the piano plus an exciting, ever-changing array of guest stars. A unique combination of an American songbook series and a piano bar celebration, Late Breaking Stories offers sophisticated audiences the opportunity to hear some of cabaret's finest in an atmosphere of attentive appreciation. And the price is right: For a show that starts at 11pm and runs as late as 1:30am, there is a two-drink minimum but no cover charge at all.
Mark Hartman is a talented pianist and a charming singer. He's also a gifted composer. And now he's the lynchpin of an open-ended show that's been up and running at the FireBird for over a month. Each performance begins with Hartman and one or more guest stars presenting a formal show dedicated to a single composer; thus far, the songs of Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, and that nifty up-and-comer Mark Hartman himself have been featured. Coming up next is Marc Blitzstein, with more famous names soon to follow. Among those who have partnered with Hartman on one or more of these shows are the award-winning cabaret stars Natalie Douglas and Julie Reyburn. These are entertainers who perform in prime-time at the FireBird for a full cover charge and a significant minimum. So, by comparison, the late night bargain seems even bigger...
We have enjoyed all of the composer shows, in part because Hartman makes a point of avoiding obvious and overly familiar tunes; but he'd be even more successful if he simply highlighted a particular composer during the course of an entire, informal evening. Post-theater attendees and other late-night cabaret habitués may not want to slip into the FireBird while a self-contained show is already in progress or, for that matter, leave one early. The looser the format, the more people can comfortably come and go.
The present format is that, after each formal show is over, there's a short break. Then, for the rest of the evening, Hartman invites some of cabaret's most celebrated stars and hot new prospects up to the stage to sing. A mini-cabaret convention, these nights have featured the likes of Mark Coffin, Audrey Lavine, Aaron Lee Battle, Lina Koutrakos, Marcus Simeone, Joanne Pinzler, Natalie Blalock, Mark Janus, and the ubiquitous Chuck Prentiss singing selections from his new novelty CD Upchuck. They also offer the golden opportunity to hear the FireBird Café's manager Jim Pallone sing.
There is seemingly no end to the talent on display here; for example, we discovered a young singer by the name of Jed Cohen who put over a stunning version of Craig Carnelia's "What You'd Call A Dream." But everyone mentioned above performed at his or her best for Hartman. Natalie Douglas is the most omnipresent of all the entertainers who've sung for him, and she has been simply superb no matter what the repertoire. We've always admired her as a performer, but we've had the opportunity to really see and hear her a lot in this format and she has impressed us with her sense of humor, vocal versatility, and the depth of her interpretive skill.
As you may have guessed, we've been in attendance every week since the series began, and we're here to tell you that these shows are catching on. While you still might get in on a Saturday night, soon your best bet could be the traditionally slower Fridays (but hurry and check this out before they fill up, too). For those of you who enjoy piano bars, Late Breaking Stories doesn't so much compete with the establishments of that type located on West 46th Street as it does complement them. A different experience than may be found at Don't Tell Mama or Danny's, the show is performed only two nights a week, and it ends early enough so that the truly dedicated among you can travel on to other clubs that remain open till 4 am. And that's the late breaking news about Late Breaking Stories.