Cabaret Review: Karrin Allyson

What a marvelously subtle and understated jazz singer! She reminds me most of Shirley Horn, a singer who was known for her sophisticated approach to...

Cabaret Review: “Leslie Jorda...

Well, queens, it doesn’t get much better — or much gayer — than Leslie Jordan’s one-man show. Leslie, who describes himself as “the gayest man I kno...

Cabaret Review: Brian Stokes Mitche...

This show is both richly emotional and musically intricate and sophisticated, which perfectly serves Brian Stokes Mitchell's stage persona. It's als...

Cabaret Review: Marilyn Maye

This lady hits the stage like a ball of fire! Ella Fitzgerald once called Marilyn Maye “the greatest white female singer in the world.” That’s no ex...

Theatre

Cabaret Review: Karrin Allyson

What a marvelously subtle and understated jazz singer! She reminds me most of Shirley Horn, a singer who was known for her sophisticated a...

Cabaret Review: Karrin Allyson

What a marvelously subtle and understated jazz singer! She reminds me most of Shirley Horn, a singer who was known for her sophisticated approach to ballad singing, which brought an air of mystery and suspense to the most familiar standards. Karrin Allyson has that gift as well, though she applies it more to mid-tempo numbers and bossa nova.

Allyson’s most recent CD Many a New Day, is an all Rodgers & Hammerstein affair, but the show at Birdland I attended only featured two songs from the album, the opener “Happy Talk” and “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught.” In this, she’s more in the mode of a jazz performer who happens to be in a cabaret venue, like, say, Herb Alpert, than a full-on cabaret artist like Michael Feinstein, who has been known to construct an entire show around one composer or team. Allyson even mentions that every show at Birdland will feature a different songlist. This is more an observation than a criticism, however: I enjoy going to see a Herb Alpert (or Karrin Allyson) show every bit as much as I enjoy one of Feinstein’s.

Indeed this evening’s high point came in a clutch of bossa nova numbers. Allyson clearly has an affinity and feel for it; I’m think it’s the form’s innate complexity and ambivalence that appeals to her, since she applies these qualities to almost everything she performs, from blues to bop to showtunes. She also did a handful of her own compositions which were able to hold their own next to Rodgers, Jobim and Mose Allison, no small feat. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Cabaret Review: “Leslie Jordan”

Well, queens, it doesn’t get much better — or much gayer — than Leslie Jordan’s one-man show. Leslie, who describes himself as “the gayest man I know,” also claims that he was put on this Earth to be a comic scene-stealer (who met his only match playing opposite Megan Mullally on Will & Grace). This innate gift gives the fey, diminutive Jordan more than enough power to thoroughly command a stage all by himself.

He looks at the profound self-doubt that comes with growing up queer and hyper-effeminate in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the booze and drugs he used to overcome that doubt. As emotional as things might get, though, a laugh is never far off in this show. Like in the outlandish report of “how I got that role,” namely Beverly Leslie in Will & Grace: he describes his Emmy win for that role in great and hilariously self-deprecating detail. There’s plenty of dish about Hollywood: No outing – he describes John Ritter as “a great friend to the queers but a reeeaal pussyhound” – but we definitely get the lowdown on who has a legendary dick that Leslie repeatedly begs to see…and who will sue you for looking at them wrong.

This isn’t just a laugh-so-hard-you-cry look at the world through ultra-queer eyes (though it is that in spades), it’s also an often moving look at the very best and worst of what queer culture has to offer. Most moving of all, he describes how he threw all of his emotion about both his father and the lives lost in the Pulse nightclub massacre into throwing the first pitch at a baseball game. He threw with such passion that one of the pros said he could have had a career as a pitcher.

I can’t think of another autobiographical show that is more pure, unadulterated fun than Exposed! — it makes a convincing case for Jordan being one of the very greatest queer comic talents of our time.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Cabaret Review: Brian Stokes Mitchell

This show is both richly emotional and musically intricate and sophisticated, which perfectly serves Brian Stokes Mitchell’s stage persona. It’s also very playful, as it’s title “Plays With Music” suggests. It’s also somewhat lush, augmenting a jazz quartet, led by Ted Firth, with a string quartet.

He opens with “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” with just enough spikiness in the string section to remind you that show biz ain’t always easy. That spikiness was heightened even more, to bracing and funny effect, for the number “Gesticulate” from Kismet, which Stokes put fully over the top with appropriately grand gestures.

The next couple of numbers, sung in a medley, are all about deep feelings coupled with equally deep ambivalence. His version of “By Myself” from The Band Wagon is the grandest I’ve heard this side of Judy Garland’s epic rendition. The other song in the medley, “I Won’t Send Roses” from Mack & Mabel, is about an unromantic man warning someone he’s no prize when it comes to love. Stokes plays it with such precision that every bit of melancholy becomes achingly clear.

For “The Man I Love,” Mitchell touchingly “plays gay,” portraying a lonely guy yearning for love – he gives it an almost adolescent innocence. He follows that up by playing several different characters in Company‘s “Getting Married Today,” including the wigged out bride-not-to-be Amy, who sings some of Sondheim’s fastest, trickiest lyrics, which Stokes dashes of with aplomb.

He wraps the act by taking a turn towards optimistic patriotism, which he sees as an important tonic to the dark forces working in today’s world. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Cabaret Review: Marilyn Maye

This lady hits the stage like a ball of fire! Ella Fitzgerald once called Marilyn Maye “the greatest white female singer in the world.” That’s no exaggeration; she may be the only singer alive who combines a great vocal instrument with interpretative flair and savoir faire equal to Ella’s own. There are younger singers who might posses more powerful voices but I can think of no other singer who possesses Maye’s combination of interpretive ability, rhythmic verve, and vocal range – at 89, her voice is the envy of singers 50 years her junior.

This “saloon singer” has a fantastic rapport with her audience, singing them beloved songs from a startlingly wide variety of genres. These shows at the Metropolitan Room take full advantage of this facet of her talent. Marilyn asks her audience to pick her “Marilyn By Request” set list by making song suggestions when making their reservations. It makes for an evening filled with surprises, and plenty of energy from both sides of the footlights.

Musical director Ted Firth is the perfect match for this footloose kind of approach, combining a broad knowledge of popular music with snappy, sophisticated jazz chops. Maye exquisitely tailors her style of singing to the individual song, smooth for the ballads, swinging for the standards, and truly gritty for the bluesier numbers. And always, always fully at home in – and totally committed to – the music.

Maye appeared on Johnny Carson’s edition of “The Tonight Show” a total of 76 times, a record not likely ever to be beaten by any other singer with any other host. If you love songs of every kind sung like they’re meant to be sung, it just doesn’t get any better than this.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Theatre Review: “The Artificial Jungle”

Ridiculous Theatre legend Charles Ludlam’s The Artificial Jungle is essential queer theatre viewing – and one hell of a lot of fun. The late, great Ludlam founded the Ridiculous Theatrical Company 50 years ago, creating a singular style of campy but rigorously structured theatre committed to outrageousness without apology, but also without any kind of knowing wink.

Jungle was Ludlam’s final play and mercilessly yet lovingly parodies film noir. As was often his wont, Ludlam turned to an older and more sturdily built model, Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin – a tale filled to bursting with lust, murder and horror – for the plotting. For the dialogue, however, he takes film noir‘s “hard-boiled” schtick, turns the heat all the way up and lets the whole thing boil over.

The director for this production is Ludlam’s husband and muse, Everett Quinton (whom I have had the great pleasure of working with several times). Everett is the ideal interpeter of Ludlam’s plays, knowing when to be loyal to what Charles had already done, and when to push things even further into preposterousness to keep it fresh.

Quinton has a marvelous cast to work with, who seem to truly get it. David Harrell takes on the role Ludlam wrote for himself, Chester Nurdiger, the schlubby, happless owner of a New Yawk pet shop, and Harrell gleefully puts the “nerd” in Nurdiger. Alyssa H. Chase plays his frustrated housewife Roxanne with energetic and angular vampiness. Hunky Anthony Michael Lopez takes Quinton’s role, Zachary, an interloping hired hand, which he delivers with muscular intelligence. Anita Hollander takes the one-time drag role of Mother Nurdiger, and puts it across with an appropriately drag-sized performance. Rob Minutoli has terrific comic timing in the small role of Officer Spinelli.

A key part of the action is a tankful of piranhas, which designer Vandy Wood has crafted with the obvious theatricality that is such an important part of the Ridiculous aesthetic, and which puppetmaster Satoshi Haga imbues with surprising expressiveness and personality. Hilarious, and highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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