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Soft Touch

Reports on Touch, the first night of the Cabaret Convention, a memorable Cast Party, and a celebration of the life of Darrell Henline. logo
Tom Everett Scott in Touch
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
The Women's Project has done something intriguing in producing its most recent play, Touch. There are four actors in the piece and the two men, not the two women, are the leads. Well, a woman (Toni Press-Coffman) wrote the play and another woman (Loretta Greco) directed it. Oh, and the play's main protagonist spends almost all of his time on stage talking about a woman, whom we never see.

The play begins with an audaciously long, 25-minute monologue by Kyle (Tom Everett Scott), who tells us how he met, fell in love with, courted, married, and lost his wife. How Kyle deals with that loss is the basis of the rest of the play, but the combination of Press-Coffman's words and Scott's sensational performance will make you wish that this were a one-man show. Major sections of the play start to bog down, though this is not the fault of the actors: Matthew Del Negro is a find as Kyle's best friend; Yetta Gottesman is earthy and real as the missing wife's sister; and Michele Ammon is gritty and just vulnerable enough to break your heart as a prostitute who cares despite herself. The play is stylishly directed but its crippling flaw is in the writing: Too many scenes defy credibility, particularly a pivotal sequence concerning the mystery of the wife's disappearance.

Kyle is an astronomer, and Press-Coffman attempts to meld star imagery with the play's philosophy about love. The result is forced. Still, the play is good enough to provide Tom Everett Scott with a great part in which he truly shines, much like -- well, a star!


Debuts in Abundance at the 14th Annual Cabaret Convention

Ann Hampton Callaway
The opening night of the 14th Annual Cabaret Convention at Town Hall offered some familiar favorites plus a surprising (and pleasing) number of new faces. Among the talented returnees last evening were Karen Akers, KT Sullivan, and Ann Hampton Callaway (who has performed every year). Akers opened the show brilliantly with the two songs she sang in the original Broadway production of Nine. Sullivan charmed the packed house with her musical comedy skills, highlighted by her performance of "To Keep My Love Alive" (Rodgers & Hart). Callaway put a jazz spin on "Blue Moon" and, on the spot, created an original song devoted to Donald Smith and the Cabaret Convention.

The real story of the night, however, was the fresh air of new talent. One of the knocks on the Convention has been its recycling of singers. While there have been exciting discoveries every year, their performances have tended to be tucked in and around those of entertainers who seem to be on the Cabaret Convention merry-go-round. But, if last night is any indication, Donald Smith has opened the doors wide to a significantly larger number of Convention debuts this year. We're happy to report than many of them did themselves (and Smith) proud.

Songwriter Ray Jessell may have been one of the more senior entertainers on stage but he only began performing in public 18 months ago, so it's fair to say that he was the surprise hit of the evening. In fact, he was the only singer called back for a second bow by the audience. Noting his readily apparent resemblance to Albert Einstein, Jessell sang a song that Einstein might have sung about himself if he had been a raving egotist). The number was, if you'll pardon the pun, pure genius. Jessel's second song, which we presume was titled "Life Sucks and Then You Die," had the audience singing along.

A relative newcomer to cabaret, John DePalma scored in his Convention debut with his pop combination of "Shiver Me Timbers" and "I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City." Meanwhile, Sylvia McNair, a classical singer and two-time Grammy winner, and Jane White, a theater star and cabaret/concert artist, also made their Convention debuts last night. The audience was well served by having them join the evening's roster of stars. Far less successful was Shelley Mac Arthur from Chicago, who came off like a parody of a cabaret singer in her debut. The peformance consisted mostly of pseudo sexy posturing and the poor woman didn't seem to know what to do with her hands; twice, she raised her arms Evita-style. She sang well but she didn't offer the patrons one honest moment in either of her two songs.

Neither Convention neophytes nor fixtures, Tom Michael and Beckie Menzie sang a stirring duet version of Cy Coleman's "Rhythm of Life." But perhaps the most thrilling performance of the evening came from Australian star Kane Alexander, last in New York two years ago. This boy from Oz was riveting in both of his numbers, "The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me" and his stunningly original rendition of "These Foolish Things" (as arranged by Christopher Denny). Alexander will be performing two shows at the Oak Room, November 2 at 8pm and November 3 at 9pm.

The Cabaret Convention continues at Town Hall through Sunday. It's the most important cabaret event of the year --as it has been for 14 years now.


Who Knew?

Jim Caruso's Cast Party was crammed with post-Convention talent last night; lots of folks who performed earlier in the evening at Town Hall got up to sing again in the King Kong Room at The Supper Club, where this once-a-week happening happens.

With so many folks in town for the Convention from all over the country and the world, Caruso's talent pool was incredibly deep and wide. Yet it was the club's manager, Lionel Robin, who gave the one unforgettably brilliant performance of the night. His rendition of Charles Aznavour's "Formidable" was exactly that; we've only seen one entertainer deliver the song more persuasively, and that was Azvanour himself. Robin has rarely performed at the Cast Party, but we fervently hope that he'll get up to the microphone every Monday night from now on.


Darrell Henline
Remembrance of Things Past

On September 25, the New York entertainment world lost someone near and dear to its soul. Darrell Henline, a former dancer and choreographer who spent the larger part of his life as an editor and publisher, passed away after a tooth-and-nail struggle with cancer. An editor at Dance magazine, a founder of the legendary After Dark, an editor at CUE, and the creator of The SoHo Weekly News at various points in his life, Henline's final professional achievement was his establishment of Cabaret Scenes magazine -- which, at the time of his death, had subscribers in 46 states and 14 foreign countries. As publisher and editor-in-chief of this periodical, he brought wide attention to the unique art form of cabaret.

A memorial service was held last Friday at Saint Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue to celebrate Henline's life. Among those who performed in his honor were Ann Hampton Callaway, Steven Lutvak, Anna Bergman, Craig Rubano, and Julie Reyburn. The heavily attended memorial was a Who's Who of cabaret; it seemed as though there were more performers in the pews than will grace the stage all week long during the entire Cabaret Convention. Their attendance was a tribute to Henline's impact on the world of live entertainment. A picture of the youthful Henline, who was born in 1928, graced the memorial program, and most of us who knew him only in his later years couldn't help but remark upon his close resemblance to a young Joseph Cotton.

His partner of 26 years, Keith Meritz, has promised that Cabaret Scenes will continue. But Darrell Henline will be sorely missed.

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