Cabaret Reviews and Commentary By Stephen Hanks
So many cabaret shows, so little time . . . to write reviews that is. During my almost two years as a cabaret reviewer, I've managed to do a pretty good job of writing critiques during a show's run or soon after the run ended. But this summer I just couldn't keep up. So what is a responsible cabaret reviewer to do? What else? Have someone lock him up in an office with a computer and no cocktails and with the proviso that he not be allowed to come up for air until all the cabaret show reviews are written and accounted for. So a few days and fewer pounds later, here are observations on 10 performances that were seen since right after the Republicans finally decided on a Presidential candidate. I promise I will write another review before the election, especially if Barack Obama gets booked in 54 Below.
Lennie Watts, Metropolitan Room, June 6:
Bleeding Talent During High-Voltage Run
So it's only mid-August and I haven't seen every cabaret show by a male performer this year, but if you vodka-boarded me and forced me to reveal my MAC vote for Best Male Artist of 2012, I'd mumble the name of Lennie Watts.
The MAC Board President's four-show run of Bloody Bloody Lennie Watts this past June was positively charged, electric, high-voltage, and any other word-plays you can make on his last name. With the help of his musical director/pianist/ co-arranger Steven Ray Watkins, this reincarnation of Stubby Kaye but who sounds like a Motown-soul or Nashville-country singer, and possesses a stand-up comic's sense of humor, put on a clinic in the art of interpreting songs of every genre. His superb arrangements with Watkins made you hear some classics tunes in a new light.
Janet Jackson's pop/dance hit "Control" was re-imagined as R&B, Sting's "Brand New Day" sounded like it was from a Stevie Wonder album, the Beatles' "Help" (in a mash up with Queen's "Somebody to Love') became a gospel hymn, "Tomorrow" from the musical Annie and "Circle of Life" from The Lion King were delivered as soulful, minimalist ballads, and even Rodgers & Hammerstein's "My Favorite Things" was transformed into a hard rocker about addictions.
Early in the show, Watts broke up the room with his rendition of the Avenue Q song, "Schadenfruede." Sorry you other male cabaret singers-when they give out the MAC awards next March, that's one emotion you won't be feeling toward Lennie Watts.
Elaine St. George, Metropolitan Room, June 7:
Take on Joni Mitchell is Solid Yet Flawed
You have to give Elaine St. George credit for being fearless. Three months after Lauren Fox won a 2012 MAC Award for Best Female Debut for her show featuring the songs of Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell, the veteran cabaret performer staged her own Joni Mitchell show for four nights in June. St. George's Take Me As I Am was billed as a witty and opinionated look at Mitchell on relationships (some songs were written by Mitchell's lovers Graham Nash and James Taylor), and St. George wasted no time displaying her own sense of humor. "I think a cabaret show is like a cocktail party," St. George said after opening the show with a bluegrassy vibe on "Big Yellow Taxi." "Actually, it's the best kind of cocktail party because all the attention is on me." (Please click Page 2 to continue this review and to read eight more reviews.)