Review: ‘The Irving Berlin Songbook’

A mere two dozen selections hardly puts a dent in the extraordinary Berlin legacy of over a thousand published songs, but producer Donald Smith gathered cabaret's best for an afternoon of sublime musical memories.

Wind-up for the 12th annual weeklong Manhattan Cabaret Convention celebrated the publication of “The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin.” The Knopf volume is edited by tune historian Robert Kimball and Linda Louise Emmet, Berlin’s daughter. A mere two dozen selections hardly puts a dent in the extraordinary Berlin legacy of over a thousand published songs, but producer Donald Smith gathered cabaret’s best for an afternoon of sublime musical memories.

Hostess was classy cabaret diva Mary Cleere Haran, a self-proclaimed Sunday afternoon sophisticate. Haran sang a sunny Berlin benediction, “Waiting at the End of the Road,” and Annie Oakley’s ardent confessional, “I Got Lost in His Arms.” Her assured approach and the seductive allure of her voice define the art of cabaret singing.

In a sweetly coy “Change Partners,” Daryl Sherman, who adds her own tasteful accompaniment at the piano, provided a reminder that Berlin was one of the few great Broadway and film composers who wrote music and lyrics.

Philip Officer romantically cautioned “Be Careful, It’s My Heart,” a seldom-heard Bing Crosby excerpt from “Holiday Inn.” Eric Comstock, who conceived the long-running Off Broadway tribute to ol’ blue eyes, “Our Sinatra,” summoned Berlin’s plaintive expression of heartbreak with “What’ll I Do?” and added a playful nod to the composer’s favorite hoofer, Fred Astaire, with “I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket.”

A former Town Hall usher, Julie Reyburn followed an insinuating “Let Yourself Go” with “If You Don’t Want Me (Why Do You Hang Around?)”; her creamy soprano seduced listeners with the fresh perf of the saucy 1914 Berlin rarity.

Mark Nadler reprised his trademark performance of “I Love a Piano” with his customary manic zest. KT Sullivan, cabaret’s blond bombshell, sang the torcher “Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me,” another Berlin rarity, introduced by Rosemary Clooney in the film “White Christmas.” Sullivan joined Nadler, her partner in the Gershwin revue “American Rhapsody,” for a sassy comic encore of “I Love a Piano,” closing the concert’s first half on a high note.

Wesla Whitfield, a veritable blessing to any song, sang “Say It Isn’t So,” defining heartbreak and loss, and Jeff Harner turned “Blue Skies” into a reflective and wistful weather report.

The entire cast gathered for a finale of “God Bless America,” leading the standing capacity aud in a rousing, patriotic sing-along.

The Irving Berlin Songbook

Town Hall; 1,500 capacity; $25


Presented by the Mabel Mercer Foundation. Executive director, producer, Donald Smith. Stage manager, Rick Meadows. Reviewed Oct. 28, 200l.


With: Eric Comstock, Brian De Lorenzo, Mary Cleere Haran, Jeff Harner, Maude Maggart, Tom Michael, Mark Nadler, Philip Officer, Julie Reyburn, Daryl Sherman, KT Sullivan, Wesla Whitfield. Musical directors and accompanists: Mark Janas, Richard Rodney Bennett, Alex Rybeck, Mike Greensill, Becky Menzie.
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