Reviews and Commentary by Stephen Hanks
I really believe that discerning readers, as well as reviewers, have a love/hate relationship with end-of-the-year "best of" lists. Beyond the super subjectivity of the exercise, how can one rank the best of the best in some kind of numerical order and take the whole thing seriously? As the reviewer, it's even more difficult to justify when it's impossible to see every show (so my list below won't include a number of terrific performers, some of whom staged shows at 54 Below that were more like mini-concerts than cabaret presentations). But it's like the proverbial car wreck where you just can't avert your eyes. And for the reader, it is kinda fun to either vigorously nod your head in agreement or growl because you're sure you know way more than the so-called "critic."
When the poobahs at BroadwayWorld.com asked for a New York Cabaret "Best Of" or "Top 10" piece, being a slightly mischievous reviewing rebel, I wanted to come up with a little twist on the list. And being a big baseball guy, I thought about that debate baseball fans and writers always have about whether or not the "Most Valuable Player" should be the best performer of the year--the one who produces unbelievable statistics--or the player who not only produces good numbers but does the most to help his team win games. To me, the analogy for cabaret is the difference between the best shows or singers of the year vs. the best performers, those who not only presented a compelling run of a single show, but who consistently excelled throughout the year and combined solid singing with that special mix of personality, charisma, and acting chops, and created an intimacy with their audiences that made all of their appearances on a cabaret stage truly special.
Since 13 is my lucky and favorite number, I've decided not to limit my "Best Cabaret Performers of 2012" to a nice round digit. And since actually ranking a "Best Of" is a fool's errand (I mean, c'mon, can you really make a case for why one performer ranks sixth and another seventh?), my list below is in alphabetical order. In addition, I've added another list of 13 "Honorable Mentions" that recognize some notable individual or group performances of the year. (Note to my email box: Incoming! Incoming! Take cover!)
Best Cabaret Performers of 2012
Carole J. Bufford: An adorable and enchanting performer with a deceptively powerful voice, Bufford not only dazzled in speak easy., her homage to 1920s jazz age flappers, but she stood out in a variety of guest appearances, including Scott Siegel's 11 O'clock Numbers at 11 O'clock at Feinstein's, the October Cabaret Convention, the Urban Stages "Winter Rhythms Festival" and a revue featuring of the lyrics of Tom Toce at the Metropolitan Room. Bufford is definitely a cabaret star of the future-if she isn't already. Her new show Body and Soul starts at the Met Room on January 16.
Ann Hampton Callaway: She's on the verge of winning BroadwayWorld.com New York Cabaret Awards for "Best Tribute Show" and "Show of the Year" for good reason. Her Streisand Songbook at 54 Below was not only a vocal tour-de-force but a textbook lesson for budding cabaret performers on how to do it right-with humor, emotion, intimacy, and a touch of raciness. Her terrific post-Thanksgiving show of her own vast songbook at 54 Below was just a helping of delicious pumpkin pie after the turkey dinner. (Please click on Page 2 below to continue)