Reviews and Commentary by Stephen Hanks
By this past August, I had fallen so far behind on writing reviews of cabaret shows from the spring and early summer (I guess it's a positive when there are more performers and shows in New York than days in the week) that I decided to play catch up by combining a bunch of critiques into one big column. I hadn't planned on doing that again, but this fall there were so many shows (especially now with 54 Below on the scene) that once again I couldn't keep up. One cabaret colleague tried to make me feel better about what might appear to be procrastination by saying, "Well, the good news is that when you lump all those mini-reviews into one column, most people will probably read all of them." It was a good point, but not enough to make that particular approach a regular policy unless absolutely necessary.
Well, it's become necessary, but at least I've beaten my self-imposed New Year's Eve deadline by posting these reviews of 12 shows, all staged between September-December by beautiful women (okay, so one is a gender-bender) of varying singing and performing talents and levels on the cabaret depth chart, from established stars to MAC and Bistro Award-winners to comeback "kids" to interesting beginners and occasional performers who are in the game to follow their bliss. Whether their performances were rave-worthy, earning of qualified praise, or not quite up to snuff, they all deserve kudos for taking the plunge. Happy reading and Happy New Year!
Shrimani Senay, Metropolitan Room, September 12, Stumbling Upon Someone to Watch
There's a good news/bad news aspect to the fact that so many people who love to sing seem to be booking cabaret shows these days. The good news is that the art form, at least in New York, is thriving (if not taking off). The bad news, for cabaret reviewers anyway, is that a good number of these relatively obscure would-be singer/performers are engaging in the kind of vanity productions that makes deciding whom to see, let alone review, something of a guessing game once you get passed your obligation and/or interest in checking out the established veterans or the up-and-comers who have some buzz.
I decided to check out Shrimani Senay's one-off, untitled debut show with no intention of reviewing it (a colleague once wisely advised me to refrain from critiquing the first show of a run unless the performer insisted), mainly because I was intrigued by her exotic-sounding name and sensual visage her Facebook event post, and because she was being backed up by the terrific Barry Levitt Trio (including Jeff Carney on bass and Jerome Jennings on drums). As I suspected, Senay's show was vocally raw and structurally shaky (and could have been helped by a good director). But I decided to review it anyway because unlike some shows that are so uninterestingly mediocre that it's not worth expending the energy writing about them, there were enough fascinating aspects in this woman's presentation to make her a potentially compelling cabaret character; one that bears watching as she improves her singing and develops her performing persona.
Scanning my notes, my show observations included: "Not enough volume and a bit off key, "not connecting with the audience on some of the songs," "goes off pitch and doesn't sustain notes at the end of phrases," and "this song just doesn't work for her voice at all." And yet, I also found that Senay possesses an intelligence, depth, sense of humor, storytelling ability, and quirky, confident stage presence that is rarely seen in a debut cabaret performer. While many of her song choices weren't great fits for her still developing vocal range, taking on Amy Winehouse's "Wake Up Alone," and doing Edith Piaf's "If You Love Me" was incredibly gutsy. And when was the last time you saw or heard someone pull off a jazzy version of Harold Arlen's "Get Happy" that includes sanskrit chanting, complete with the krishna body positions and hand gestures? Shrimani Senay definitely has the potential to be a solid cabaret performer and audience seducer. I hope I get another chance to find out if she's reaching that level. (Please click on Page 2 below to continue)