Sing Webb & Williams
(Feinstein's at the Regency)
Pop composers tend to be linked in the public mind with the artists who had colossal hits with their songs. Jimmy Webb ("By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Wichita Lineman," etc.) is forever yoked to Glenn Campbell; Paul Williams is endlessly tied to Barbra Streisand, with whom he co-wrote "Evergreen." Well, Feinstein's at the Regency is currently offering discerning music lovers the opportunity to hear these two major songwriters without the filter of their famous interpreters. In this show, they sing their own songs, tell their own stories, and delight us afresh with their compelling artistry. Joined (all too briefly) by their special guest Liz Callaway, who fuses her own extraordinary voice to their music, they present a cabaret show with only one fault: It isn't anywhere near long enough to contain the depth and breadth of so much talent. This could have easily been a two-act show with an intermission, and probably should have been.
Paul Williams is playful in person, his self-deprecatory patter as informative as it is entertaining. Webb, on the other hand, seems more reserved at first but soon exhibits a dry sense of humor. Together, the two men have an easy, warm rapport that quickly envelops the audience. As a singer of his own songs, Williams is sincere but tends to slur his words; he sings, pop style, with the microphone jammed against his mouth. Webb has a more elegant and effective style, and a sweet voice that he doesn't push. While he, too, often sings with his eyes closed, he nonetheless invites the listener into his lyrics with an expressive sense of wistful romanticism. This is most clearly on display in his interpretation of "Galveston" which, with its haunting arrangement, is completely unlike the upbeat version made famous by Campbell. It is, in fact, stunningly original--and even more memorable than the long-remembered hit recording.
It's a pleasure to hear these guys sing their own songs...but only up to a point. That's why they were smart to bring in the golden-voiced Liz Callaway to show their material in the strongest light possible. Callaway comes on in the middle of the show to sing with each of them and to take a solo turn that happens to be the highlight of the evening. Her coupling of Webb's "Didn't We?" and "MacArthur Park" (in an Alex Rybeck arrangement) is a dynamic mini-musical all by itself. The show is beautifully enhanced by Chris Caswell's work on synthesizer, an instrument we often despise. In the hands of a master like Caswell, who uses the synth with delicate restraint, it truly enriches the musical experience. You can still catch Webb, Williams, and Callaway at Feinstein's through November 24.
Tom Andersen: My Songs
(Don't Tell Mama)
Tom Andersen is brilliant when singing his own compositions. This extraordinary, award-winning vocalist has emerged in recent years as one of our most exciting new songwriters. In his current show at Don't Tell Mama, he has finally put together a program of his own stuff. Often witty (as in the comically incisive "Opening Number," co-written with Tim Di Pasqua) and just as often moving (e.g., the poignant "Another Tuesday," on which Andersen also collaborated with Di Pasqua), these songs offer a palette of seemingly endless color choices, as does Andersen's singing voice. He can write and perform with a driving passion in his masterpiece "Let Love Lead the Way," he can shatter you with the delicacy of the heartbreaking hit "Yard Sale," and he can sweep you into touching nostalgia with his ode to growing up, "Two Chairs." Though such other artists as David Campbell and Baby Jane Dexter have sung his songs, getting the chance to hear Andersen perform his own work offers the double treat of hearing exquisite new material rendered by an acclaimed singer who knows better than anyone else what it's all about.
There are quite a few songs in this show that were new to us, including the sharply comic "I'm Here" (written with Ian Herman) and what may turn out to be another Andersen signature tune: "Time and Tears," written with Di Pasqua. For this song alone, the show is a must. You can still catch Tom Andersen at Don't Tell Mama on November 25, performing with a four-piece band led by the aforementioned Ian Herman, his gifted musical director.
Sally Mayes: Boys and Girls Like You and Me
Sally Mayes puts on a great show, pure and simple. She has a voice that's rich and rangy, a face that's infinitely expressive, and acting skills that turn each song into a spellbinding story. Now, if we might carp for a moment about her current show at Arci's Place: Her last two shows were among the best we've ever seen in cabaret, and this new one, called Boys and Girls Like You and Me (the same title as her new CD) is just a notch below those only because her program choices aren't quite as strong. Be that as it may, Sally Mayes can turn a mediocre tune into a masterpiece--at least temporarily! With the right material, and there is plenty of that here, she is magnificent.
Happily, she has hooked up with a composer whose work suits her perfectly: Camille West. Mayes sings two of West's songs with hilarious distinction, "Toe to Toe with the HMO" and "Viagra." On a more serious note, she has found a fitting number for these difficult times, "Everything I Want Is in Manhattan" (Cy Coleman & Ira Gassman). Mayes has also found a terrific, young musical director, Johnny Rodgers; they have great chemistry together and she uses him to excellent effect here. Like the two shows above, this weekend is your last chance to catch Mayes in this engagement, which continues through November 24.