Cabaret acts by Roz Ryan, Georga Osborne, and Susan Peirez. Plus: three major Latino comics at the Cherry Lane and Patriot Act at NYTW.
Possessing a vibrant personality that seems perfect for a one-person show, Ryan banters with a polish so bright that it seems to create its own spotlight -- and she's got a voice that makes a microphone superfluous. Her longtime collaboration with musical director Shelton Becton enriches the performance of a great many of her song selections, including "Lush Life" (Billy Strayhorn) and "Yesterday When I Was Young" (Charles Aznavour). At one point, Ryan graciously steps aside to give Becton the stage and he emerges as an electric talent in his own right.
There's nothing like seeing a veteran performer who knows what she's doing and is still young enough to do it at the top of his or her game. Roz Ryan is a pro at work.
Georga -- and Rosemary -- on Our Minds
Georga Osborne did something in her recent tribute show to Rosemary Clooney that few entertainers can pull off: She brought a genuinely personal perspective that was honest, sincere, and lovingly evocative. Her show had the flavorful title Rosemary and Time, and the flavor was sweet without being saccharine.
Though born many generations apart, Clooney and Osborne came from the same small Southern town. As an entertainer in her own right, Osborne naturally felt the influence of the hometown star even before she began her own career. Later, she would meet Clooney -- and it's reassuring to discover that meeting one's idol isn't always a disappointment.
Osborne sings many of Clooney's hits with affection, bringing her own interpretive talents to bear on songs as diverse as the nutty novelty number "I Am My Own Grandpa" (Latham/Jaffe) and the classic "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" (Irving Berlin). Though she's classically trained and has a big, operatic voice, she's most effective when singing plaintive ballads or putting over comedy numbers. This show featured both kinds of tunes and, thanks to Osborne's vocal talents and her warm, engaging patter, it was highly entertaining.
Too Much, Too Soon
The best advice to give most novice cabaret performers is: "Less is more." It's extraordinarily difficult to stand on a stage alone for an hour and entertain an audience without succumbing to the urge, if not the panic, to oversell themselves and their material. Many beginners give in to their fear of failure, their insecurities, their lack of trust in either their talent or their act before they ever hit the stage; they put "more" into their show because they don't want to be perceived as giving "less."
Case in point: Susan Peirez is a gifted singer with a knockout voice. She can belt and she can also perform a quiet, sensitive ballad. In an understandable effort to show how much she can do, however, she pushed too hard. For instance, she has the voice to sing "Finishing the Hat" (from Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George), but neither the requisite interpretive skills nor the technique, both of which she will surely develop in time.
In her recent show at Mama Rose's, All Grown Up, Peirez erred on the side of overplaying such lovely songs as "Only a Dream" (Mary Chapin-Carpenter) and "Stardust" (Hoagy Carmichial) rather than underplaying them. But when she held herself in check, as in her renditions of "Kiss Me" (Dick Gallagher-Lina Koutrakos) and "If These Walls Could Speak" (Jimmy Webb), one could see the potential in her raw talent paying off.
Comic History Soon to be Made at the Cherry Lane
On Wednesday, July 28, the stars will be in perfect comedy alignment. That has to be the explanation for the unique confluence of comic film and nightclub talent that will appear on a legitimate stage that evening: The three stars of the first feature length documentary film about Latino comedians will be performing live Off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre.
Joe Vega (who tours with Marc Anthony), JJ Ramirez (a Comedy Central favorite), and Angel Salazar (Scarface) will be performing material from the movie in which they star, The Latin Legends of Comedy. All three perform in English and their comedy crosses cultural lines. "You don't need to be Latino to get the jokes," says Ramirez. "Funny is funny is funny." As a writer for John Leguizamo, he clearly knows what he's talking about.
This is going to be a really special event; producer Ray Ellin says that it's the first time in New York entertainment history that a group of Latin comics have appeared on an Off-Broadway stage. The show starts at 7pm and tickets are just $22.50. We are so there.
Politics or Theater?
We were astonished to read in the New York Theatre Workshop program for Patriot Act: A Public Meditation that the show we were about to see was "emphatically not a work of theater." If that statement was intended to mean that the material presented wasn't fictional, okay. But, let us tell you, this is a highly theatrical event; after all, it uses magic tricks to explicate its points. More precisely, it's a multimedia affair that -- for lack of a better comparison -- is sort of a stage version of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, at least insofar as it attempts to change the course of American history.
Mark Crispin Miller is the lecturer, assisted by sleight-of-hand man Steve Cuiffo. During the course of a 90-minute lecture that's followed by a Q&A session, Miller and Cuiffo take on President Bush's ties to the religious right and paint a disturbing picture of a zealotry that is fast undermining our constitutional rights. Miller goes beyond making sport of Bush's inability to put two coherent sentences together, creating an image of the Commander in Chief that's far more sinister. If one feels that Miller is "preaching to the choir," he eventually deals with this directly and effectively when he says, "the choir is not scared enough." It's his goal to frighten us into action to stop Bush and his cohorts from stealing yet another election.
Despite the protestation to the contrary, this is political theater -- and it's more effective than some plays that purport to be political but just end up being pretentious.