On the road with Barbara & Scott at Goodspeed and Odette's. Plus: memories of a handful of this summer's cabaret acts.
Walton directed the musical with a keen sense of its playful nature; he took some liberties with the original text, and these resulted in big laughs. The multi-talented Walton was also the show's co-set designer (with Kelly Hanson) and co-costume designer (with Martha Bromelmeier). The sets were charming and the costumes were gorgeous. Walton is newer at the directing game, but he knew just where Charley was: hidden in the person of Noah Racey. Casting the star of Never Gonna Dance was a smart move, as was hiring Nili Bassman as Amy (the charming object of the song "Once in Love With Amy"). Mary Illes as Charley's Aunt is a standout; so are Greg Mills as Charley's best friend, Ron Lee Savin as Charley's most persistent suitor, and Jeff Williams as the butler.
The drive was well worth it. And if you haven't been to Goodspeed, you really must get there some time soon, because it's a breathtaking jewel box of a theater that glitters on the edge of a river like something out of another era -- which it is.
Piano Bar: Best of the West (of the Hudson)
From East Haddam, CT we went west: to New Hope, PA and Odette's. The cabaret room in this famous venue offers a rich and varied series of entertainers, including international stars like Karen Akers, critically acclaimed types like Jeanne MacDonald, and just plain fun acts like Lovely. On tap for this coming weekend are the two stars of "Gashole," Michael Holland and Karen Mack, performing on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Holland arrives just after his musical Believe in Me...A Bigfoot Musical played to sold-out houses at the New York International Fringe Festival.
When there is no act in the cabaret room, there is still a very good reason to go to Odette's: It has the best piano bar (that we know of) west of the Hudson, not to mention the Delaware, which it overlooks. We arrived there late on Monday night, it was raining out -- and still the place was jammed! The club staff, who didn't know us, treated us warmly and found us something to eat even though the kitchen was closed. They even pulled a table out of the club room to squeeze us into the piano bar. The singers ranged from terrible to terrific but the atmosphere was akin to a party; in fact, there was a birthday group there, and they shared cake with everyone present. Bob Egan was at the piano that night, and he conducted the evening like a maestro. Egan is one of several regular pianists who perform at Odette's throughout the week and he is also the guy who books the cabaret room, so he's a key player here in more ways than one.
Summer Good and Summer Not
Before the summer ends, we wanted to make make note of several recent cabaret acts that deserve mention, however briefly.
- Stephanie Zagoren is a gifted balladeer who performs with passion and commitment. Her patter gets her into trouble, but when she sings a delicate love song it can be quite beautiful.
- Chuck Sweeney put on a show at Don't Tell Mama in which he played Peggy Lee in the first half to comic perfection and then gave us a taste of his versatility with other impressions in the second half. It was a smart choice, because we liked him even better in the second act.
- Josie de Guzman, a Broadway star (the female leads in revivals of West Side Story and Guys and Dolls), was entirely winning in her act at Danny's Skylight Room. In fact, we've never liked her as much as we did here. She had personality and she wrapped it around a well-crafted show that offered insights into her life and career. This was one of the best cabaret shows of the summer, but it only played a very short run.
- Barbara Fasano performed an all-Harold Arlen show at the Duplex, and this beautiful, talented artist was off her game here. The show had its moments but not enough of them. One can't really go wrong with so much good material, yet everything seemed just a little off: the arrangements were too jazzy, the patter a little too unfocused, the interpretations skimming the surface. Perhaps our expectations were too high? Whatever, the evening wasn't what we hoped it would be.
- Lisa Asher also performed at the Duplex this summer. She had been away from New York cabaret for a while, and we were glad to see her again. Her show was uneven but it did have its high points, most notably her renditions of three Michael Smith songs: "Sister Clarissa," "Dead Egyptian Blues" (both of which we'd heard her do before), and a new, wonderfully comic tune called "The Princess and the Frog." Asher's performance of "She Must Be Beautiful" (Janis Ian) put the wind in our sails, but she disappointed with Craig Carnelia's "Just a Housewife." The show felt somewhat thrown together. Still, Asher has one of cabaret's most beautiful voices, so we won't complain too much.