The Komisar Scoop Reports & Analysis by Investigative Journalist Lucy Komisar

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Cabaret Convention 2017 presents top American jazz and standards singers

Filed under: Cabaret & Jazz,Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 5:53 pm

By Lucy Komisar

The Cabaret Convention put on by the Mabel Mercer Foundation has for almost three decades brought together some of the best cabaret performers in the country, each of four days presenting as many as 20 singers, some prominent, some new, some doing standards, others jazz, to keep the tradition alive. One night this year featured the works of George Gershwin, which is why you’ll note many singers doing his songs.

Marilyn Maye, photo Seth Cashman.

A nice part about the event is that the performers come out to the lobby at intermission and after the show to chat and schmooz with the audience. Hence these photos. Dozens appeared over four evenings; these are just my highlights of three nights I attended. I notice that most are women. Well, so be it! They had the most pizzazz, the most drama.

The 2017 Cabaret Convention began with a sense of its history, with Marilyn Maye, now 89 years old in black sequin jacket sauntering on stage with a hint of horn and her voice filling the room in a style that has lasted the years, in a saucy jazzy Johnny Mercer’s “Day in Day Out,” “You’re Just Too Marvelous,” “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” “Jeepers Creepers.” Her voice was like another instrument to add to piano, bass, drums. Her story telling came through in a still glorious voice.

Lyric Peterson, photo Lucy Komisar.

And then the probably youngest performer, Lyric Peterson, from Oklahoma, just out of school in her New York debut, doing “God Bless the Child” made famous by Billy Holiday, a bit of the gospel, soprano and then R&B. She takes over the stage. You will hear from her.

Carole J. Bufford, photo Lucy Komisar.

Luba Mason showed her anguish, soft and then cries of pain in “Love for Sale” taking us through the pure and tawdry. Her voice range was impressive, her performance seemed visual as well as vocal.

Carole J. Bufford, in glittery red and silver flapper dress with sequins and tassels, silver heels, is becoming the cabaret star of the moment. Her “Chicago” shows her not just a singer but a perfect performer, with shimmy and shake. She did Gershwin with pizzazz. In “The Man I Love,” always a story, she becomes another character, makes it a torch song not of a sweet little thing. She was presented a Donald F Smith Award. Waiting for her to sing on Broadway.

Karen Oberlin, photo Lucy Komisar.

Karen Oberlin, if Carole is the new coming cabaret star, Karen Oberlin is comfortably settled as the classic sophisticated jazz singer. Her “Hamlet” was a funny story of “a prince of a spot called Denmark,” with scat, and then a “Night and Day” medley with a choice of cabaret songs you maybe hadn’t heard. Her voice soars.

I liked Danny Bacher, with his clarinet doing “If It’s Love You Want Baby, It’s Me,” by Leonard, Betty and Adolph, as he said, a jazzy story teller with a comic come hither, his idea of old rap à la Louis Jordan. He reminded me of Satchmo. And old style 40s. His “So Lucky to be Me” also seems from the old school. He is a charming crooner, I love the swing style.

Tanya Moberly, photo Lucy Komisar.


Tanya Moberly saunters with guttural yeah yeah country rock grunts and screeches, tough demeanor in “Chuckie’s in Love.” Not my style, but well done.

KT Sullivan, photo Lucy Komisar.






And then KT Sullivan’s  “Kiss Me Kate,” why can’t you behave, her own sophisticated style reminded me of Channing or a comic Merman. She has a theatrical Broadway style, and she can also hit the high notes as she shows in “So in Love” and “Wunderbar.”

Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano, photo Lucy Komisar.

Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano, a delicious couple, he at the piano, “Isn’t it a Pity” we never met. She in red satin, with a round honeyed soprano voice, “Time wasted fishing for salmon playing at backgammon,” clever lyrics. Let it rain and thunder, a million firms go under … who cares what banks fail in Yonkers.” That was 1931, the depression.

T. Oliver Reid, photo Lucy Komisar.



A highlight was T. Oliver Reid doing “Porgy and Bess” and a medley of “Rhapsody in Blue.” His voice was full, deep, of amazing timber, soaring in “I Got Plenty of Nothing” and then moving from his bass and tenor suddenly to high notes in “Summertime,” that make you think you hear a female soprano. He’ll be on Broadway in “Once On This Island” in December.

Anna Bergman, photo Lucy Komisar.

Anna Bergman is an elegant operatic soprano doing “By Strauss.” Delightful, sweet, I loved it.

A duet by Celia Berk and Karen Akers, which Akers comically introduced as sung by the two lowest female voices in cabaret, featured a charming, sprightly “What Are We Here For?” from the “Treasure Girl” musical. It makes you want to see the Gershwin play.

Celia Berk and Karen Akers, photo Lucy Komisar.

Then Akers continued as a prostitute in “How Long Has This Been Going On.” “I could cry salty tears.” She acts the story, she emotes, I didn’t know it started with a prostitute. She is a champion, what cabaret is about.

Gabrielle Stravelli did a jazzy Gershwin number, bright, vocalizing on the notes, climbing and falling in classic jazz fashion.

Steve Ross, One of the prime guy singers, sang “Stairway to Paradise” from George White’s Scandals of the 20s. Loved the jazzy rhythm, inflection and beat of his piano. You want to tap your feet and nod your head in time.

Mark Nadler, photo Lucy Komisar.

Mark Nadler created a fine “S’Wonderful” and “Rhapsody in Blue” on his jazzy boogie black and white keys.

Jennifer Sheehan’s “A Foggy Day” features her bell clear rich voice that shows how to do standards.

I liked Shauna Hicks’s medley “But Not for Me,” and “I’m Biding my Time,” with a perfect cabaret voice, strong, a big band kind of voice that lifts you, and a presence that belongs on stage. Her “I’ve got Rhythm” is cinematic.

Maude Maggart, photo Lucy Komisar.

We have missed Maude Maggart in New York since she moved to California. Her soprano is still lilting, an elegant sound with trills in “Why Was I Born.” And then in “Once in a Blue Moon,” her voice is ethereal. It seems like a recording of the 40s.

Barbara Brussell in “This Nearly Was Mine” has a sound almost quivering in sadness as she tells the story of a love story gone wrong. It was like a theater piece, amazing acting.

Natalie Douglas, photo Lucy Komisar.

Natalie Douglas conjures up Lena Horne in “I Love to Love” and “Stormy Weather” in a jaunty sultry soft jazz mood. She sings up a storm of elegance.

Cabaret Convention 2017, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Broadway and 60th Street, Oct 16-19, 2017. 10/28/17.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

“As You Like It” cut down, and it’s still a charmer

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 2:58 pm

By Lucy Komisar

Quincy Tyler Bernstine as Celia and Hannah Cabell as Rosalind, photo Richard Termine.

A modern trippy jazzy smart take on Shakespeare’s couples play (“As You Like It”) about males and females going after each other, circling each other in real life before internet dating sites. In modern dress with a jazzy Elizabethan piano. And with the rather austere stripped down set that director John Doyle is known for. Let’s just do the play!

Rosalind (Hannah Cabell) is dressed as a boy, but doesn’t fool anyone. In fact, forget the real play, about her and her cousin, the duke’s daughter Cecilia (Quincy Tyler Bernstine), hiding out in the forest. (Well, rather bereft of trees.) And about Orlando (Kyle Scatliffe), who she is in love with. And a shepherd who wants the woman who wants the fake man, Rosalind.

Kyle Scatliffe as Orlando and Hannah Cabell as Rosalind, photo Lenny Stucker.

Plus an older guy (André De Shields), a jazz man, and slightly funny, flaky lady with a ukulele. By then I couldn’t remember Shakespeare’s play at all, seems to have gotten lost. Cutting it to 1 ¾ hours will do that. And in the theater with three sides, in which I couldn’t always understand the dialogue, which is in blank verse and occasionally was directed away from my hearing.

But didn’t matter. It’s a light charmer, with piano, base, guitar, violin – lots of jazzy inflection of the Elizabethan songs. A musical pas de deux. I liked the mood, the style, fiery spirit.

By the end you are smiling a lot, which is a clue that you really liked this production. Cabell is terrific as Rosalind. And Scatliffe as her swain.  And the ensemble. You will be delighted at this find.

As You Like It.” Written by William Shakespeare, directed by John Doyle. Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th St, New York City (bet 3rd & 4th Aves). 212-677-4210. Opened Sept 28, 2017, closes Oct 22, 2017. 10/9/17.




Monday, October 9, 2017

“In the Blood” gritty, surreal, sardonic look at how their betters treat unmarried mothers

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 2:36 pm

By Lucy Komisar

Saycon Sengbloh as Hester, photo Joan Marcus.

From Hester in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, to Hester, La Negrita (the excellent Saycon Sengbloh) today, naïve trusting women with no economic independence are the victims of men, and then the victims of the social managers and critics, the moral cops of society, who blame them for being the victim.

In Suzan-Lori Parks’ “In the Blood,” first staged in 1999, Hester had a child out of wedlock with her teenage lover, Chilli (Michael Braun), who promptly split. And then she has more. She is excoriated by a chorus of social betters who yell at the unmarried mother: “She don’t got no skills, ‘cept one.” She’s a “burden to society…. Bad news in her blood.” The writing on the wall is SLUT.

The play is surreal and stylized, with adults playing the kids, her “five treasures, five joys.” She has told the kids all their daddies died in the war.

The Cast, photo Joan Marcus.

They live under a bridge, and trash, the detritus of life, regularly arrives through yellow barrels that make a chute. The kids’ play is mashing tin cans or running up the slanting bridge support and sliding down.

Hester wears black pants, a beige polo shirt and high red sneakers. She is naïve, gullible, good-hearted and abused and insulted by everyone. Not as if she doesn’t notice: “Bad boys writing on my home… a mean ugly word to hurt my feelings.” She has one of the kids wipe off SLUT.

But in a story where she is pilloried for having kids out of wedlock, the people who chastise her abuse her for sex. (Pilloried is a good word here, as it conjures up the Scarlett Letter era when that was a punishment.)

Saycon Sengbloh as Hester and Jocelyn Bioh as Welfare Lady, photo Joan Marcus.

Her friend Amiga Gringa (Ana Reeder) owes Hester money but cheats her. She had sex with Hester in front of a paying audience.

The doctor (Frank Wood) says higher ups wants to spay her. Turns out he had sex with her

A welfare worker (Jocelyn Bioh) in a bright blue suit and pink heels wrapped in plastic assures us of her valuable role, “I walk the line between us and them.” But, “She is a low-class person… we have absolutely nothing in common.” She brings Hester home to a threesome. Hypocrisy could drown every adult Hester deals with.

Russel G. Jones as Reverend D and Saycon Sengbloh as Hester, photo Joan Marcus.

A street corner preacher Rev D. (Russel G. Jones) who doesn’t want to part with the cash in his collection plate says, “Your clothes don’t have to be torn…. You don’t have to hate yourself,” but refuses to own up to his child.

The reverend wants to give to the “respectable” poor. He says, “Gimmie foreign poor. Poverty exotica. Gimmie brown and yellow skins against a non-Western landscape, some savanna, some rain forest, some rice paddy.” Where the only English they know is “thank you,” said into the camera. So, how come the reverend slept with Hester, who had come to him for help? He explains, “Suffering is an enormous turn-on.”

Parks is brilliant in skewering a penchant for supporting exotic poor in faraway lands and ignoring or showing contempt for those at home.

The ensemble cast moves through their double roles with dark comedic aplomb. And director Sarah Benson almost makes one think gritty “documentary” instead of biting, sardonic play.

In the Blood.” Written by Suzan-Lori Parks, directed by Sarah Benson. Signature Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street, New York City. 212-244-7529. Opened Sept 17, 2017, closes Oct 15, 2017. 10/9/17.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

“F**king A” is dark play about the cruelty that afflicts the poor

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 3:13 pm

By Lucy Komisar

Suzan-Lori Parks reimagines Hester of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “A Scarlet Letter” in a time when small children are imprisoned for stealing food and their sentences extended for decades. And when bounty hunters go after escaped prisoners, who they will torture and kill.

Christine Lahti as Hester, photo Joan Marcus.

Think “Les Miz” and the slave-era South. Injustice and cruelty stalk the land. Under Jo Bonney taut direction, the play is strong, disturbing, surreal, naturalistic. Parks has also done the music and lyrics for the dark original songs.

Hester Smith (the riveting, exceptional Christine Lahti) is an abortionist. Her house in made of pock-marked mud walls. Her apron is stained with blood. When she talks about sex or women’s bodies with Canary Mary (a sultry Joaquina Kalukango), the lover of the mayor (Marc Kudisch), they use a weird gobbledygook, a ladies’ language.

Her life revolves around her son in prison. She saves her money to buy the right for a picnic with him.

The smarmy mayor wants to have his progeny rule for a thousand years and is angry his wife (Elizabeth Stanley) doesn’t conceive. He tells Canary he will kill his wife and take her money.

Elizabeth Stanley as mayor’s wife, Marc Kudisch as the mayor, photo Joan Marcus.

The three hunters (J. Cameron Barnett, Peter Romano and Marlene Ginader) are itching for the prey. They sing, “There used to be plenty of jobs to work, but then the factories tanked. I used to live in a lovely house. Had to give it back to the bank…With jobs so scarce and times so hard, some folks have turned to crime. The law locks all the bad ones up ….when they escape it’s good for us, cause we hunt…. but we do not eat what we catch!”

Desperate workers without jobs may steal, and other workers without jobs make a living catching and killing them.

The son (an impressive Donovan Mitchell), known as “The Monster,” escapes and his picture is put over town. Meanwhile, Hester is provided a picnic with another convict, and told he is her son. He rapes her. The son comes to house. He steals her money. The mayor’s wife has sex with the son and gets pregnant. But Hester plots revenge.

Hester says to her son, “You used to be so good. What happened?”

He replies, “Oh – this and that.” He sings, “You think it would take so much work to create the devil incarnate? But it’s easy….A small bit of hate in the heart will inflate and that’s more, so much more, than enough to make you a Monster.”

Evil always wins over good. This is a very difficult, painful, powerful play.

F**king A.” Written by Suzan-Lori Parks, directed by Jo Bonney. Signature Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street, New York City. 212-244-7529. Opened Sept 11, 2017; closes Oct 8, 2017. 10/7/17.


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