Carol Channing(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Carol Channing
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
It's been quite a year for high-profile cabaret shows. First, Elaine Stritch bowed in the boite at the Café Carlyle, and now Carol Channing is taking her turn at swanky Feinstein's at the Regency in The First Eighty Years Are the Hardest. And what a turn it is! This lady sure can provide old fashioned showbiz "Razzle Dazzle" -- and she knows it, because she sings "Razzle Dazzle" from Kander and Ebb's Chicago as her encore number. Channing isn't selling her vocal prowess (in her mid 80s, she has a voice best suited for "Ol' Man River") or even her acting chops (she's been way beyond acting for several decades). Rather, she's all about personality and star power.

We're putting our heretical cards on the table in saying that we've never been big Carol Channing fans. Let's just say that she's not to our taste. But we've never liked her more than we did on the Feinstein's stage, which she will continue to hold through October 22. Watching this icon come to life in front of you, singing several of her signature songs with as much gusto as her frail body can muster, is both touching and inspiring. Using every bit of show business acumen that she's gathered throughout her legendary career, Channing still knows how to entertain.

She goes with her strengths in this show, using her deep voice to do hilarious impressions of Tallulah Bankhead and Sophie Tucker. There isn't much actual singing in the show; instead, Channing regales us with anecdotes about getting into show business, performing for the Queen Mum, and meeting her second husband. Her uniquely innocent delivery still works, and it charms all the more given her advanced years.

Channing only performs half a dozen tunes, but they are exactly the ones you want to hear. Charmer that she is, she gets the audience to sing the chorus when she does "Hello, Dolly!" You can't get more inclusive than that. This is hardly the most sophisticated cabaret show around, but it may very well be the most memorable.

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Andy Karl and Harriett D. Foy in Slut
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Andy Karl and Harriett D. Foy in Slut
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Does This Slut Put Out?

Everything about Slut, from its title to its book and score, cries out: "Commercial!" There's nothing wrong with trying to produce an Off-Broadway musical that will make money, but this show tries too hard.

Ironically, for a show about sex, sex, sex, Slut is remarkably tame when it comes to showing skin. It does, however, show talent -- at least in its cast. In the lead role of Adam, a randy fellow who beds just about every girl he meets, Andy Karl is charismatic. One of the original Altar Boyz, he moves great and has a strong, commanding voice. Jim Stanek sings well as Adam's best friend, who emulates him, but comes off as rather bland. On the other hand, David Josefsberg -- another former cast member of Altar Boyz -- gives off sparks in his dual roles of a punk and a record label producer. Jenn Colella has presence and a great voice, and her two female cronies in the show, Mary Faber and Amanda Watkins, are appealing. Stealing the show with the score's one genuinely knockout number is the local bartender, played by Harriett D. Foy; she gets everything there is to be gotten out of the effectively cynical "Lower the Bar."

The book (by Ben Winters) is piffle about a guy who won't commit to a relationship. It doesn't really have anything to say, but at least it doesn't take itself seriously. The music (by Stephen Sislen) is undistinguished, standard pop with forays into country, blues, and a little bit of straight-on Broadway. The lyrics (Winters, with additional lyrics by Sislen) show some flashes of wit but too often get bogged down in substandard content. Beowulf Boritt's set design is imaginative, amusing, and surprisingly versatile; it's one of the show's most creative elements. Gordon Greenberg directs with energy, keeping the varying subplots spinning without obscuring the main thrust, if you will, of the story. Still, one wishes that the considerable talent invested in this show could have been employed in a more meaningful way.

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[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at siegels@theatermania.com.]