With a Cy and a Wave
A new cabaret room comes to the theater district! Plus: Barbara & Scott on the Cy Coleman tribute, Under the Bridge, Best of Both Worlds, Jana Robbins, and more.
The hommage to Coleman was more than a memorial; it was a gathering of the show-biz faithful. From across the generations, they came: Chita Rivera, Neil Simon, Jim Dale, Bea Arthur, Ann Reinking, James Naughton, Lillias White, Gregg Edelman, and others performed while stars of equal magnitude were scattered throughout the house.
On this occasion, the musical theater brethren joined together to sadly say goodbye to this generation's King of Broadway while rejoicing in the knowledge that his music will continue to be enjoyed down through the ages. Long live the King!
For the first time in years, a new cabaret room and piano bar is set to open smack dab in the middle of the theater district. This potential mecca will be located on West 47th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, directly across the street from the Biltmore Theatre. The expansive piano bar will be on the street level and the cabaret showroom, seating approximately 70 patrons, will be downstairs. Both the piano bar and showroom will be booked and managed by award-winning cabaret veteran Lennie Watts, who'll leave Mama Rose's to take on this new challenge.
Watts promises that the club "will have a piano bar staffed by New York's best, and the cabaret room will have state of the art technical facilities." Unlike many other such venues in the city, Encore! will serve food; the kitchen will be run and the menu designed by Chef Lea Forant and her partner, cabaret star Carolyn Montgomery. The club has not officially announced its opening date, but it should be some time in late February.
We advise you against seeing Under the Bridge, the new musical at the Zipper by Kathie Lee Gifford (book and lyrics) and David Pomeranz (music). Don't misunderstand; the songs aren't bad, and the acting is fine. Yet there is nothing compelling about the show. There is, however, something repelling: the book. This period piece set in Paris, about children and the bum that helps them, is awash with all sorts of disturbing ideas. Thievery is celebrated without compunction while well-meaning people are ridiculed as do-gooders. Plus, the mother's lack of regard for the safety of her kids is startling -- and she's supposed to have our sympathy!
The mistakes that Gifford had made in constructing her story could have been easily fixed; some skillful trimming and a few astute lines in the right places would have smoothed over some of the musical's most offending moments, and the result might have been a pleasant, if innocuous, family show. But, as it stands now, Under the Bridge can't be recommended.
Best of What?
We have one thing to say about the new blues musical Best of Both Worlds, which is based on Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale: Two of its creators were responsible for The Donkey Show. Need we say more? If this is your idea of Shakespeare, get your tickets now!
Despite its title, Best of Both Worlds is neither the best of the blues nor of Shakespeare. It's still a better piece of theater than The Donkey Show, but that's very faint praise. Not to be faulted are the cast members, many of whom seem to be talented. They certainly sing well -- but why are they involved in this show?
Freestyle Love Supreme continues its run at Ars Nova. This hip-hop extravaganza is wildly uneven; the players are gifted but oftentimes undisciplined. A show about youth and for youth is beset by many of the problems that come with unpolished young performers. It's a fascinating work in progress.
Speaking of youth, step down yet another generation and consider the cast of Trousers & Sauerkraut, an improv troupe made up of high school students. They recently performed at Don't Tell Mama under the auspices of the Times Square Group. The players were downright green in terms of experience but they were well taught, and some of them displayed surprising flashes of comic inspiration. In a nicely rounded-out program, their elder -- guest star John Wallowitch, a famed songwriter-singer -- put things in perspective with his classic "I'm Twenty-Seven."
In a recent run at Helen's, singer-actress Jana Robbins -- who is also one of the producers of Broadway's Little Women -- offered an engrossing biographical act called Gypsy in My Soul. This musical chronicle of Robbins' life in show business featured amusing, insightful stories and a mostly well chosen program of songs. (One lengthy medley didn't really go anywhere.) Her big, brassy belt is Robbins' signature, but we preferred her renditions of slow, sensitive ballads in which her acting chops were given a workout. It was here that she bared the "soul" referred to in the title of her show.