During the course of a year, we see plenty of acts that, for one reason or another, we don't get a chance to write about. There is, after all, only so much space in a column (even in cyberspace) and so much time in a day (even for people like us, who stay up till 4am). So, as 2002 ends, we thought we'd take a nap and a breath, then tell you about some of the memorable shows we saw over the past few months.
Judy Kreston and David Lahm (on the piano) put together a show called A Brand New Us at their home base of Judy's Chelsea that was among the best we've ever seen from them. Kreston is a singer who holds nothing back, and we like that; once she commits to a song there is no stopping her. There is nothing phony about her full-out rendition of Barry Manilow's "One Voice" and there is a sweetness that comes from honey (as in her husband, David Lahm) when she sings Jerry Herman's "You I Like" coupled with the Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim number "You'll Never Get Away From Me" (from Gypsy). Directed by Richard Hendrickson, the show is paced and varied in such a way that it stays fresh throughout. Kreston's voice might not appeal to every ear; it's brassy rather than beautiful. And, yes, her patter tends to stray off course from time to time. But there are two lifetimes of experience and talent on stage at Judy's when Kreston and Lahm perform, so they deserve to be seen.
A true song stylist, Frank Fontana brought to Don't Tell Mama an elegant act that neatly displayed his sensitive acting ability and his warm vocal sound. Singing in a gentle jazz idiom, he put over a romantic "The Nearness of You" and an aching "The People That You Never Get to Love." In addition to his smooth singing, Fontana's patter was charming and funny, particularly when he caught the audience off guard with his set-up for the Dave Frishberg comedy number "Sweet Kentucky Ham." The only disappointment was Fontana's lack of vocal dimension; as the show wore on, too many songs started to sound alike. But that's something that can be fixed and we're looking forward to seeing and hearing Fontana again soon.
Carol Shedlin is a sweet and sincere performer whose show at Judy's Chelsea served as a reminder that a cabaret act is, finally, all about personality. Shedlin doesn't have a trumpet for a voice, nor is she a sharp-tongued ad libber, but she's likeable. That alone won't get a performer booked at Feinstein's, but it makes the flat notes forgivable and the overwritten patter something to shrug off. At the end of the day (or night), you have to give Shedlin her due; she put on a show that expressed a piece of her soul, and that's no small achievement.
There are few female vocalists more gifted than Natalie Gamsu, who made her Don't Tell Mama debut late this year in a show that was a mixture of her best material and some newer, less compelling selections. The songs were wedded to the story of Gamsu's roller-coaster relationship with a man she met a year ago who lives on the other side of the world. Although the structure worked, too many of the newer songs didn't catch fire. We were particularly disappointed in the rendition of Craig Carnelia's "Flight." If ever there was a performer who could soar with this song, it's Gamsu -- but, for some reason, the number never got off the ground. Be that as it may, we'll be anxious to see her next show. Talent always rises to the top.
Acid Cabaret at Danny's showed off the bright and bluesy performance style of Ed Alstrom, who commands the stage from the piano bench. He's funny, charismatic, one of the flashiest pianists in town, and he possesses a mesmerizing voice that's one part gravel and one part port wine. The show was built around songs of Alstrom's own composition -- some of which are dark and dangerously funny -- plus other politically incorrect numbers, but the modest ratio of hits to misses ultimately started to make the show sag. It wasn't the nature of the songs that put us off; rather, it was their quality. Alstrom is a scintillating entertainer who needs to choose better material.
Thomas is a trip. This performer with a single name put together a show at Don't Tell Mama that combined the best of many of his earlier efforts, and the result was stunning. This ambitious tour de force was like a one-man version of Olsen & Johnson's Hellzapoppin' as Thomas wove a crazy quilt of comic monologues and music; indeed, the show might have been subtitled "acid cabaret" but with a different meaning of the word "acid" than was intended for Ed Alstrom's act. Thomas is a gifted performer whose energy level is nuclear. No wonder he makes audiences glow.
[More reviews by the Siegels can be found at www.cabarethotlineonline.com. For information on the First Annual Nightlife Awards, to be co-presented by Scott Siegel on January 27 at The Town Hall, click here.]