The Y's Fab Five
This year's Lyrics & Lyricists series at the 92nd Street Y boasts a stellar group of performers, hosts, and producers.
Pizzarelli's program opens the season, January 10-12. Called Pentimento and starring Pizzarelli's wife, Jessica Molaskey, it's a tribute to the music of the 1920s and 1930s and is based on Molaskey's recent CD of the same title. No mere concert, Pentimento is being directed by Daisy Prince and will feature a first-rate band including John's legendary guitarist father Bucky, his bass-playing brother Martin, and guest vocalist Christine Ebersole.
"She's one of my oldest friends and we love to sing together," Molaskey says of the Tony Award-winning Ebersole. "I heard her sing 'Lullaby of Broadway' in her cabaret act, and I thought I have to get her do this show." In creating Pentimento, Molaskey says, "we wanted to do something more theatrical and less didactic than the series used to be -- sort of a wash of words, music, and photographs. But we also wanted to do something that L&L's traditional audience, which tends to be a bit older, would appreciate. We know they'll love this music -- songs like 'Toot, Toot, Tootsie' and 'We're In The Money.' Most of these songs were parlor songs; people bought the sheet music and went home and played them on the piano. In that spirit, we're keeping the traditional end of Act I sing-along."
A particularly special if non-musical part of Pentimento is the involvement of Pultizer Prize-winning author Frank McCourt as the show's narrator. "While I was researching the CD and this show," says Molaskey, "I read a lot of books about this period, Fitzgerald and stuff. I could never bring myself to read Angela's Ashes; it was too close to home, too much like my mother's life. But she got very sick this year and finally, as she was dying, I decided to read it. When I finished it, I said to John, 'We have to get Frank -- or someone like Frank -- to narrate this show.' A few weeks later we went to the theater and dinner at Angus McIndoe's, and Frank walked in and sat next to us. I was too shy to talk to him at first but then he turned around and started talking to John, and I eventually got the nerve to ask him to do this. As it turns out, my mother died about five hours later. I think she brought him to us."
Mary Cleere Haran, one of cabaret's most intelligent chanteuses, considered exploring the works of such favorite lyricists as Dorothy Fields and Lorenz Hart for her Lyrics & Lyricists stint, February 14-16. But she ended up going in a very different direction and chose composer Harry Warren as her focus. Warren's name is not nearly as well known as his hits, which spanned more than 40 years: among them are "I Only Have Eyes For You," "42nd Street," "That's Amore," and "There Will Never Be Another You," which Haran is using as the title of the program.
"There are only a few people that I truly fall in love with, and Harry Warren is one of them," says Haran. "But I can't remember the first time I did. I think it was when I saw Michael Feinstein do a tribute to him on Broadway, or maybe it was the first time I saw The Harvey Girls on television. Or maybe it's because he's the only Roman Catholic in that group of great songwriters. I do think that Harry Warren is really under-appreciated, even though he won a bunch of Oscars. He was a kooky guy, a terrible curmudgeon, and I think he got a lot of bad publicity."
To flesh out her salute, Haran is hiring some guest singers, rounding up some film clips, and -- as always -- doing extensive research on her subject, much of which she will share with the audience. "It's a lot of hard work," she notes, adding that she has relied on Feinstein, a close friend, to help her investigate Warren's vast repertoire. "I want this show to truly be a valentine to him."
Easy to Love: The Lyrics of Cole Porter, which runs May 8-10, will definitely be a musical love letter to that great composer/lyricist. An expansion of Marcovicci's celebrated cabaret show of last year, Easy to Love will showcase many of Porter's most beloved songs, with large sections of the two-act program devoted to his Broadway smashes Anything Goes and Kiss Me Kate. To bring these shows (and other songs) to life, Marcovicci has recruited some of her favorite singers, all of whom have performed the Porter repertoire extensively: Anna Bergman, Klea Blackhurst, Mark Coffin, Jeff Harnar, and Marcovicci's new protégée, Maude Maggart. (Maggart will be doing a solo show, Shakin' The Blues Away in the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel on January 5 & 12 and February 1 & 2; Marcovicci will be performing her own Cole Porter show at the Algonquin from January 13 through 24.)
"I consider this a divine opportunity," Marcovicci says with typical enthusiasm. "I know this cast's strengths and have basically tailor-made this program around their talents. I will be there as Gertrude Lawrence as well as Andrea Marcovicci, the cabaret singer who loves Porter's love songs." The cast will be backed by Marcovicci's longtime accompanist and co-arranger, Shelley Markham, along with drummer Rex Benicassa and bassist Jered Egan.
When Lancino suggested Porter, Marcovicci was quick to answer yes. In fact, she has just recorded an album of his music, How's Your Romance. And she is a member of the Cole Porter Trust. "I think I had to grow into him, to really earn the mantle of Cole Porter," she says. "When I was younger I just thought he was brittle and cynical. But I've learned to believe what Oscar Wilde said: that cynicism is merely the art of seeing things as they are instead of how they ought to be."
Marcovicci promises that L&L audiences will learn some facts about the composer's life; "I'm especially going to clear up a lot of misconceptions about his relationship with his wife Linda," she notes. But, in general, the show is going to be "a celebration of glamour, gloriousness, and the extraordinary sophistication of his lyrics. I'm going to make it as 'swellegant' as possible, from the lighting to the costumes -- even if I have to beg, borrow and steal to do so. But I'm sorry, there will be no sing-along. I don't think Cole would have approved."
Ted Sperling will devote his March 20-22 shows to E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, the lyricist of Finian's Rainbow and The Wizard of Oz -- and, not so coincidentally, the first lyricist to actually take to the stage for L&L way back in 1970. The program is titled Beyond the Rainbow. And Rob Fisher will conclude the series June 12-14 with The Wit and Wisdom of Ira Gershwin, a tribute to another legend whose songs have been performed countless times during L&L's history.