The 22nd New York Cabaret Convention Night 2

Produced by Donald F. Smith
Hosted by Andrea Marcovicci and KT Sullivan 
Production stage manager Rick Meadows
Featuring Andrea Marcovicci, Elena Bennett, Amanda King, Karen Oberlin, Amy Beth Williams, Natalie Douglas, Joyce Breach, Ronny Whyte, KT Sullivan, Amanda McBroom, Ann Hampton Callaway, Marilyn Maye
Rose Theater, Frederick P. Rose Hall, Broadway at 60th Street
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
Friday October 21, 2011

On this second evening of the convention we are again welcomed to the gorgeous Rose Theater by Rick Meadows, again standing in for Mabel Mercer Foundation founder and Convention stalwart Donald F. Smith. Tonight’s adventure has two distinct “acts” as designed — the first an extension of  the first night’s series of performers presenting two numbers each from the Great American Songbook, and the second an explicit and heartfelt tribute to the magnificent Margaret Whiting by singers who knew and loved her. The structure provides broad coverage, a range of experiences, and ultimately delightful honors the memory of a woman beloved by multitudes who knew her personally and those who know her only by the palpable love for the people who created the music we are all here to honor.

Andrea Marcovicci, who had stepped in to assume hosting duties on the first night of the convention, assumes that duty again this evening and sings the first tune “On Such a Night as This” with her distinctive smile, beautiful appearance, and now widely ranging vocal tremolo. And we’re off to experience Elena Bennett, Amanda King, Karen Oberlin, excited first time Convention performer Amy Beth Williams, a second set of tunes by Marcovicci, and a final ensemble of performances by Jim Caruso Cast Party stalwart (soon to have her own engagement at Birdland) Natalie Douglas. Pop sensibility to comic turns to gravely jazzy sentiments provide the full spectrum of cabaret experiences.

Act Two brings tears of appreciation and adoration almost before the first note is played. KT Sullivan hosts this section, leading the “Friends of Margaret” as she names them, to celebrate and raise their voices in song and story and personal remembrance of songstress Margaret Whiting who passed away in the early days of 2011. Every performer provides a personal story of how “Maggie” supported them, entertained them, befriended them, loved them, and they (and we) still still love her in return. Joyce Beach (who I first encountered when she started a cabaret series in the 1990s in her hometown of Pittsburgh where I then resided) to Ronny Whyte to the comic patter of KT Sullivan. Stories about Margaret’s several songwriting fathers — by biology Richard Whiting, and by proxy and love Johnny Mercer. We sing in unison in the gorgeous performance space, a capella, the Mercer-Mancini standard “Moon River” — and honestly nothing sounds better than a room full of singers (and singing appreciators) paying homage in such a gentle way to several gentle souls. Amanda McBroom rounds out the conventional performance list, and is among the several performers about whom it is announced from the stage that they have current or upcoming gigs at local performance venues Birdland or the Algonquin‘s Oak Room or the Metropolitan Room further downtown.

The final two segments of the show are on a special separate planet of performance pow. Ann Hampton Callaway starts her set with an amazing jazzy bluesy version of “The Blues in the Night.” She prefaces her performance of that tune with the lovely story that has been oft told — and was shared in the 2005 John Lahr New Yorker article “Come Rain or Come  Shine: the Bittersweet life of Harold Arlen” published on the occasion of Harold Arlen‘s centenary. Margaret was having a dinner party one night when she received a call from Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen, who had just finished “Blues in the Night” and wanted to play it for her right away. She said sure, but I’m having a dinner party. The guests were Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Mel Torme and a few others. Margaret and Judy made the song writers play it over and over and playfully argued over who would record it first. Garland and Whiting knew quality when they heard it.

After Callaway solicits lyric contributions from the audience inspired by Whiting that she incorporates into a tune on the spot (her standard shtick), she welcomes the awe-inspiring Marilyn Maye to the stand, who delivers “That Old Black Magic” (crafted by Mercer inspired by his muse Judy Garland, a story Maye does not share this evening) and a killer “Come Rain or Come Shine.” The evening concludes with these delightful personalities sharing duties on “Our Love is Here to Stay.”

The Great American Songbook will live on. There’s room to riff, and there’s room for the resonant purity of these final performers. All deserve mention, several deserve special accolades. And golly, I am still hearing, several days later, the warm and evocative strains of “Our Love is Here to Stay” from those final performance moments. Thank you all.

© Martha Wade Steketee (October 24, 2011)

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