East Side, West Side...
Barbara & Scott are all around the town seeing Mary Cleere Haran, Paula West, Christine Lavin, Hedwig, and Ashley Montana.
We have always admired Paula West's musicianship and professionalism, but we never enjoyed her so much as in her current show at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room. In the past, West has tended toward a more stately style. Her present show is full of up-tempo tunes -- and, man, who knew she could swing? Her act is downright electric; it sparks and shocks. The arrangements are kick-ass, her patter is impressively economical -- she says only enough to smartly set up each tune -- and her repetoire is a winning mix of familiar standards (including the two hit songs from Cabin in the Sky) and obscure gems. If you haven't seen West before, you owe it to yourself to catch her act before it closes on Saturday.
Two Halloween Treats
The great singer/songwriter Christine Lavin spent Halloween night at Birdland. The show was not planned as a testimonial to Lavin, but one guest performer after another extolled her generosity and selflessness. Most touching of all was Julie Gold, telling how Lavin helped get her career started by pushing her song "From a Distance," just because she liked it, after it had been rejected by everyone on the East Coast. (Of course, the song eventually became a huge hit for Bette Midler.) Among the many memorable performances last night, our favorite was a contemporary political protest number written by Lavin and Ervin Drake, titled "The Peter Principle at Work." Lavin performed this clever, biting song with a wicked sense of glee.
We also went to the York Theatre theater last night and saw the only stage version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch in which we could actually make out the lyrics. That was a good thing, because the oftent distorted projections were not much help in putting over the story. Be that as it may, this one-time only Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS benefit performance gave New York audiences the chance to see and hear David Colbert tear up the joint with his exceptional performance as Hedwig.
The Flea Theater's latest offering, Ashley Montana Goes Ashore in the Caicos or: What Am I Doing Here?, is modestly described by its author, Roger Rosenblatt, as "almost a play." By that measure, it is almost a comic masterpiece. Social and political satire at a sublime level of intelligence, wit, and creativity, it's far superior to Bush is Bad and other successful purveyors of the form.
The show's humor is hip and caustic yet is very often presented in a surreptitiously sideways manner, and there's something elegant in this elliptical approach. When you get right down to it, the playwright assumes that the audience is smart -- and it's nice to be written up to rather than down to! Jim Simpson directs the piece with comic jauntiness and it is deliciously acted by Bebe Neuwirth, Jeffrey DeMunn, Jenn Harris, and James Waterston.