Best of Jim Caruso’s Cast Party

Presented by Scott Siegel
Hosted by Jim Caruso
Musical direction by Billy Stritch
Featuring Liza Minnelli, Chita Rivera, Lucie Arnaz, Marilyn Maye

Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street
February 17, 2011
A benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee

Billy Stritch and Jim Caruso. Image: Bill Westmoreland.

This picture captures the core of the energy of the evening — old friends and friendly banter.

Billy Stritch almost always at the piano (save those times he relinquishes it to a piano playing guest artists), Jim Caruso hosting and joking and occasionally singing backup; and loving presentation of fine acts known more to the familiars at Caruso’s regular late hour “everyone come down” Monday night adventure Cast Party at Birdland for Broadway folks and aspiring folks and folks in from other places to strut their stuff at an open mic.  This night the strutting and funning is corralled at Town Hall to benefit Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS.  And some of Stritch and Caruso’s recent and long-term pals join the fun.  Rollicking and wondrous and sometimes show stopping (Marilyn Maye anyone?) and diva-worshipful (Liza Minnelli, yes).  I really do live in this marvelous city now.  I walked home to my apartment afterwards.

Jokes that entertained included a Jim Caruso charmer early on, musing about Lady Gaga’s recent meat dress and appearance at this year’s Grammy awards from within an egg.  “She’s two red carpets away from an Denny’s Grand Slam breakfast.”

Playlist from my scribbled notes.  Most of it.  I’ve left bits out.  With some commentary.

  • Medley: Where or When with another tune, lyrics humorously shifted, (Billy Stritch, Jim Caruso)
  • My Wish for You (Chita Rivera)
  • new song about a stalker (Christopher Sieber)
  • jazzy sexy tune (Karen Ziemba)
  • The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (Natalie Douglas)
  • [I want to forget the number by one of the Housewives of New York City]
  • Where the Boys Are (Jenna Esposito)
  • Breaking Up is Hard to Do (Lisa Mordente)
  • Medley: It’s Alright With Me / Something’s Gotta Give (Lucy Arnaz and Billy Stritch)
  • I’m Still Here (Marilyn Maye) with the lyric “I’ve lived through Barbra Streisand and I’m here”.  Brought down the house.  She owns that stage.  I’m won over.
  • How Do You Keep The Music Playing (Hilary Kole)
  • a misguided too syrup-y sax solo version of Over the Rainbow — wrong on so many levels I can’t yet begin to talk about it.
  • Miranda Sings“.  I figure out the phenomenon — she is a singing act version of the adorable and wildly inappropriate comedian Sarah Silverman combined with the same kind of shtick used by the funny violinist Aaron Weinstein we also meet this evening — they each demonstrate that they are talented musicians but their humor is to do it badly too — ala Jack Benny (violinist Weinstein’s opening homage is to Benny) and Jonathan and Darlene Edwards (Paul Weston and Jo Stafford) and others.  It works — they are very good at being just ever-so-slightly off.  You have to be good to be this bad, with humor.
  • song with the refrain “I am waiting for you to come on home and turn me on” (William Blake).  Rocks the joint.  I should be prepared when Billy at the piano asked William before he started “Are you feeling it?”.  Oh my goodness.  Rocks it.
  • Hinton Battle song to two sexy stunning dancers from the Mark Stuart dance company.  The whole audience is enchanted.
  • and then there is Liza.  I put my notebook down and drink in every moment of her wonder.  Three tunes or more, and she is raspy of voice this evening so attempting The Theme from New York New York at the end solo is a dicey choice, but this becomes the curtain call tune for the entire company.  So wonderful.

So impressions.  Billy and Jim put on an incredible show – show men both. Liza Minnelli I hadn’t seen live since a long ago and very damp outdoor performance in the Detroit area in the late 1970s. I am thrilled to have seen Ms. Rivera again 30 years after seeing her in the original cast of Chicago and can still evoke particular stage movements of hers from I Can’t Do It Alone and I Am My Own Best Friend.  I was wowed by Marilyn Maye and can’t wait to see her work a stage and an audience again.  William Blake, soon to be appearing on stage with Michael Feinstein, knocked my socks off.  So many moments.  Such an important cause.  A great performance venue I now know from the inside.  Humor and lyrics and sex and schmaltz and rhythm and blues.  Hello New York.  What ‘cha got for me next?

© Martha Wade Steketee (February 18, 2011)



  1. I was working in Seattle — missed the Town Hall Cast Party show and yours is the first review I’ve read. I’m a huge fan of Jim’s, Billy’s Aaron’s, Marilyn’s, Hilary’s and — William Blake. I was soooo hoping this show put him on the map. Looks like it’s happening for him, finally. Thanks for posting your review!

  2. p.s. Liza! Forgot to mention Liza. I once saw her at CP sing a song called “You Let Yourself Go” that she was so ‘in the moment’ I thought she was making it up as she went along — like it was the first time she ever sang it. I went home and googled her and that song title to find out she’d been doing it FOR YEARS! She is such a great performer. People who haven’t seen her live don’t have a clue as to what they’re missing!

    • Hi, Martha. I have always read your interesting and well written reviews, but just had to reply to this one. I have been aware of Marilyn Maye since she did the singing “Lincoln-Mercury leads the way” jingle-TV commercial back in the day (and we’re talking WAY BACK!). She has also recorded a few things that my cousin in KC wrote(the cousin that is trying to get the “Women in Jazz” documentary on track). By the way, there’s a two-fer CD on Amazon of Maye’s that has some very familiar songs (think Garland), so I think it’s safe to say that she is, at least, an admirer if not full-blown fan. The most startling, surprising track is “I Love You Today.” I gotta think that she chose it after becoming familiar with the Judy-Steve Allen TV series version, rather than having discovered it from some much more obscure source. Plus the arrangement Maye sings is quite similar to JG/SA’s. Anyhow, it sounds to me like you had a wonderful evening, and your descriptions of it help to kind of put me there. So thank you. Stay warm. Judy

  3. Oh Judy. You are feeding my new Maye fascination with talk of those arrangements, especially “I Love You Today”. How many of us know that tune comes from Allen’s “Sophie” — and how many of us have indelibly imprinted the image of Allen looking adoringly at Ms. Garland while she sings it .. Sigh. Now to look on Amazon for the Maye recording you mention. Fabulous!

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