Andrea Marcovicci doesn’t walk onto the stage. She floats. Stately and serene, the doyenne of cabaret opened the concert with an invitation to reminisce with “On Such a Night as This.” With music by Hugh Martin and lyrics by Marshall Barer, the song is a nostalgic serenade that summons memories of Gershwin, Garland and Garbo. It served beautifully as an invitation to celebrate the music and memories of the past.
For the 16th annual Cabaret Convention, producer Donald Smith has moved his troupe of traveling troubadours a few blocks uptown from its former residence at Town Hall to Lincoln Center’s new Rose Theater. The cream of Gotham cabaret assembled to open the concert series and honor the 20th anniversary of the Mabel Mercer Foundation.
Marcovicci followed her stunning opening with a Tin Pan Alley medley of Frank Loesser songs from her new CD, “Live at the Algonquin Oak Room,” single-handedly defining the art and dedication of the cabaret performer.
While the concert had no central theme, Hollywood appeared to dominate the repertoire, with romantic baritone Jeff Harnar crooning Bing Crosby’s trademark nod to Manhattan, “East Side of Heaven,” and a jaunty rejection of love, “Put ‘Em in a Box,” from Doris Day’s first film, “Romance on the High Seas.”
Always elegant Steve Ross framed a couple of Fred Astaire moments with a deliciously jaunty medley of Irving Berlin’s top-hat-and-cane tricks, “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” Ross, who defines the art of sophistication, paid homage to cabaret’s favorite son, Cole Porter, with a poetically framed take on “Just One of Those Things.”
Few pianists today have as much stretch and insight into a ballad as Bill Charlap, who took Michel Legrand’s “What are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” to serene and lofty heights. Paula West, currently appearing at the Oak Room, recalled the great Ethel Waters with the Harold Arlen-Yip Harburg serenade “Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe.”
A willowy Karen Akers plumbed the depths of torch singing with a couple of songs associated with Judy Garland; the Rodgers & Hart laundry list of sleepless nights and flying plates, “I Wish I Were in Love Again”; and a reflective excerpt from “Just a Memory.” Supple-voiced Wesla Whitfield capped the songfest with Willy Wonka’s invitation to the world of “Pure Imagination.”
Songbook pages continue to turn with “Songs From the Movies,” featuring Maude Maggart, Amanda McBroom, KT Sullivan and Barbara Rosene (Thursday); “A Celebration of Jerry Herman,” with Christine Ebersole, Mark Nadler and Karen Morrow (Friday); “Centennial Songwriters,” featuring the music and lyrics of Dorothy Fields, Harold Arlen and Jule Styne (Saturday); and “Tea for Two” with Klea Blackhurst, Jason Graae and Lynn Jackson (Sunday).