Review: ‘New York Cabaret Convention’

Karen Mason recalled the first Cabaret Convention nearly two decades ago, when performing artists and patrons were predicting the end of cabaret as a Big Apple musical artform. With a rallying and defiant cry that was generously supported by a capacity audience at Lincoln Center, Mason proudly declared, "We're still here!" The longevity of cabaret in Manhattan is largely due to producer Donald Smith, the founder of the Mabel Mercer Foundation and a visionary who has harbored the legacy of song and encouraged an ever-growing number of new performing artists.

Karen Mason recalled the first Cabaret Convention nearly two decades ago, when performing artists and patrons were predicting the end of cabaret as a Big Apple musical artform. With a rallying and defiant cry that was generously supported by a capacity audience at Lincoln Center, Mason proudly declared, “We’re still here!” The longevity of cabaret in Manhattan is largely due to producer Donald Smith, the founder of the Mabel Mercer Foundation and a visionary who has harbored the legacy of song and encouraged an ever-growing number of new performing artists.

Opener found tuxedo clad Gregory Moore conducting’30s-flavored 12-piece unit the Cosmopolitan Orchestra. With the sophisticated flavor of a Fred and Ginger ballroom film excerpt, Moore led the band through some fondly harbored evergreens — “You’re a Builder Upper” and “Let Yourself Go” — and crooned “Prisoner of Love” in a fashion that recalled the early balladry of Bing Crosby and Russ Columbo. The bandleader was presented with the Dorothy Loudon Foundation Award in memory of the late and much revered cabaret entertainer.

Mason, a vet Broadway belter currently appearing in “Hairspray,” recalled the legacy of the great triumvirate of Jule Styne, Adolph Green and Betty Comden with “Just in Time” and “Make Someone Happy.” Jazz diva Paula West offered a reflection of the Great Depression with “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” that echoed with an ominous forewarning.

Matt Cavanaugh, who will appear as Tony in the forthcoming revival of “West Side Story,” displayed a richly flavored baritone with “A Quiet Thing,” the sweet reverie by Kander and Ebb from “Flora, the Red Menace.”

No cabaret concert is complete without a Cole Porter tune, and Judy Butterfield, a Golden Gate beauty and recipient of the Julie Wilson award, offered a sensuous “What Is This Thing Called Love?,” while Adam Alexander provided an ardently direct answer to that question with “In the Still of the Night.”

A stately and serene Karen Akers brought her distinctive brand of continental allure to “Three Coins in the Fountain,” while Chicago’s silvery Shelley MacArthur assured jilted lovers that “Time Heals Everything.”

The real prize of the concert found a beauteous Anna Bergman with a group of Richard Rodgers love songs that revealed the cunning contrast among the composer’s lyric writers. “My Romance” is a keen example of the sweet simplicity mastered by Lorenz Hart, while “Something Wonderful” displays the stately grace created by Oscar Hammerstein. “Do I Hear a Waltz?,” a Rodgers collaboration with Stephen Sondheim, carries an incessant, heart-stopping romanticism that is infectiously rapturous and beautifully defined.

Weekend concerts follow with Eric Comstock, Tony De Sare, Mary Cleere Haran and Julie Wilson joining forces for “We Hear America Singing” on Friday, and “A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening” on Saturday with Barbara Carroll, Donna McKechnie, Barb Jungr and KT Sullivan.

New York Cabaret Convention

Rose Theater, Frederick P. Rose Hall, Lincoln Center; 1,231 seats; $100 top

Production

A presentation of the Mabel Mercer Foundation. Produced and hosted by Donald Smith. Reviewed Oct. 29, 2008.

Cast

With: Karen Akers, Adam Alexander, Anna Bergman, Judy Butterfield, Matt Cavanaugh, Jason Graae, Shelley MacArthur, Karen Mason, Gregory Moore, Phillip Officer, Paula West.
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