Tag: Fun

Opera Review: “Candide”

Candide

I’m biased here: I am a complete Leonard Bernstein nut. I’ve been very excited ever since I first heard about the New York City Opera revival of Candide. It’s not the unimpeachable masterpiece that Lenny’s West Side Story is – the book is famously problematic – but it is still enough of a joy that as long as you nail that sublime Bernstein score, it’ll be a grand night out. Nail it this company does, and the results are glorious.

Based on Voltaire’s 1759 novella of the same name, Candide follows the naïve titular character as he strives to maintain his optimism in the face of brutal experience. The sprightly, brilliant score is one of the best things Bernstein ever wrote, and starts with my personal choice for best musical overture of all time. This production was first staged for NYCO in 1982 by legendary director Harold Prince, featuring Voltaire as ringmaster of a circus. While the staging is showing some signs of age, Prince has refurbished many moments for an overall better flow.

Jay Armstrong Johnson imbues the title role with a charming guilelessness. Meghan Picerno plays Candide’s true love Cunégonde, filling her signature song “Glitter and Be Gay” with wit and surprise. Gregg Edelman attacks the campy business that Prince gives to Voltaire with real relish. Linda Lavin makes a full meal of the smaller plum role The Old Lady. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

Cabaret Review: Marilyn Maye “By Request”

marilyn-maye-2017

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 88, her voice is the envy of singers 40 years her junior.

She’s also a “saloon singer”, a singer who 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 Billy Stritch – a frequent foil for the likes of Liza Minnelli and Christine Ebersole – 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. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

Cabaret Review: Norm Lewis

norm-lewis

This Christmas cabaret is one of the more conventional ones I’ve seen this year – and that’s entirely a good thing. In the spirit of his own favorite singer, Johnny Mathis, Norm Lewis’s show leans into holiday fun and warmth. It’s not an entirely shallow show – there are dark shadows here and there – but the emphasis is on Christmas’s pleasures and joys.

And it’s not strictly a Christmas show. He opens with a frisky “My Favorite Things” – so frisky in fact that he slightly lost track of the lyrics “First night people, first night!” he said with a big ingratiating grin. Lewis assays “Fever”, which Peggy Lee made famous, but he gives it back some of the r&b flavor of its original singer Little Willie John.

Norm was nominated for a Tony a few season back for his performance as Porgy in Porgy & Bess – garnered in no small part for his glowing performance of the song “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’”. His version is like the sun coming out after a grimly cloudy day; he repeats it here, and it has lost none of its luster.

In tribute to Mathis, he does one of Johnny’s signature songs “Misty”. Lewis’s rich baritone is similar to Mathis’s but more powerful, and he takes the song to new heights. Indeed he favors the audience with powerful belting several times throughout the evening in showcases like “Mary, Did You Know”, “The Impossible Dream” and “Music of the Night”. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

Cabaret Review: Jinxk Monsoon & Major Scales

jinkx-major-mourning

‘Tis the season – time for drag queens to work a holiday theme to buy Mama a new pair of shoes! There’s a joke in Jinkx Monsoon’s current Xmas show that makes that explicit – “Why do we put ourselves through doing holiday shows? For the paycheck!!!” This particular show also features her musical counterpart, pianist/composer/raconteur Major Scales, and is called Christmas Mourning, mostly in response to the election.

Their biggest hit, The Vaudevillians, was a real stunner, a thoroughly thought-out evening of cabaret theatre, which successfully staked their claim to be regarded as major players in the worlds of both high drag and cabaret. This show is almost as structured – which is very unusual for holiday drag shows. Monsoon and Scales are more entertaining and smart than the vast majority of the competition, which is why they’re capable of producing a holiday drag show that’s nearly as high concept as The Vaudevillians.

They share traumatic Christmas stories, sing a Lana Del Rey song with “exactly as much effort as she herself puts into performing it” and give Mariah Carey the bird. They even sing a couple of strong original songs. One cheekily pays tribute to being gender-fluid. The other (a solo for Scales) pictures a passive-agressive dinner with Trump-voting relatives.

Christmas Mourning is light years more thoughtful than your typical holiday drag act, while rarely being less than acidly hilarious. It’s somewhat similar to Mx. Justin Vivian Bond’s holiday shows – very funny but with genuine rage and love just below the surface. Don’t miss it!

For tickets, click here.

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

Simply Barbra Holiday Show: The Music, The Mem’ries, The Matzo…

simply-barbra

Steven Brinberg is the premier Barbra Streisand impressionist, who has taken his act, “Simply Barbra”, to international acclaim both on stage and television (performing on several occasions with none other than Streisand buddy Marvin Hamlisch) paying homage to all that is Streisand. Steven does not lip-sync but does a stunningly accurate singing impressionism of Streisand.

Steven will be doing Simply Barbra Holiday Show: The Music, The Mem’ries, The Matzo… at Feinstein’s / 54 Below this Sunday, December 18. It’s an evening of holiday tunes, Streisand classics and glimpses of other divas from Cher to Bea Arthur. All performed live, no lip synching. Look for a special guest star to join Barbra to help ring in the holidays – and sing some famous Christmas songs written by Jewish composers.

Steven Brinberg has been acclaimed for his vocal performance of Barbra Streisand for over a decade around the world. In addition to touring all over America he has also played extensively in England, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, Thailand, Spain, Mexico and Canada…more cities then the real Barbra! Steven was hired by Streisand’s management to perform at her friend Donna Karan’s birthday party.

The show contains songs from both The Christmas Album – “probably more from that one,” Steven notes, and Christmas Memories. “It’s funny,” says Steven, “I change the show constantly especially the talking. At one point, I referred to James Brolin as a famous B movie and TV actor, at another point I took the B out. The challenge in keeping the shows fresh after so many years is helped by Barbra still being such a presence. Keeps it current. And I’m always free to sing songs she has never done, as I know exactly how she might do them down to the last breath. I had been singing ‘Make Someone Happy’ in the show years before she recorded it. And the end result when she did it was pretty close. I was surprised though that she changed her phrasing on the lyric from ‘Love is the ansuh’ to ‘Love is the anserrr’ perhaps to plug the title of the album!”

For tickets, click here.

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

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