The Mabel Mercer Foundation’s 26th Annual Cabaret Convention Comes Home to Town Hall

On the second night of this year’s 26th Annual Cabaret Convention, Jeff Harnar and Andrea Marcovicci (photo left) hosted A Sentimental Journey: World War II Songs, inspired by Marcovicci’s memorable Oak Room at The Algonquin show, I’ll Be Seeing You–Love Songs of World War II. (The CD is highly recommended.) As always with this pair’s Convention contribution, the show was a treat in part because of its singular glamour. Much of our audience was exceptionally familiar with and nostalgic about these songs. A few had to be politely quieted for singing along, more than a few took each other’s hands. It seems I’ve heard that song before . . . the co-hosts begin, warming the room.

Highlights:

The scintillating Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano offered four numbers of varying stripes from the wry “Latin From Manhattan” (Harry Warren/Al Dubin) to a luxuriously romantic “But Beautiful” (Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Burke), framed by a whisper of brushes, a hint of shimmering cymbal. Despite the rationale that this was “everything our boys were fighting for,” I found an updated selection from Oklahoma out of place. (Eric Comstock-piano, Sherrie Maricle-drums, Jered Egan-bass)

This year’s Margaret Whiting Award was given to Celia Berk (photo left), whose meteoric rise is reflective not only of her talent but of her hard work. (Young performers take note.) While Frank Loesser‘s “They’re Either Too young or Too Old” lacked flirty lightness, Jule Styne/ Sammy Cahn‘s “I’ll Walk Alone” was touching, reflective; right on. (Alex Rybeck-piano)

An evocative “J’Attendrai”–“I Will Wait”–(Dino Olivieri/Louis Poterat) was beautifully rendered in French by Karen Akers, who seems to climb inside a song and embody the scenario it creates. Stirring. (Don Rebec-piano) Jeff Harnar received The Donald Smith Award (generously underwritten by Adela and Larry Elow) from a visibly moved Rick Meadows. The Foundation’s Managing Director recalled Harnar’s unconditional devotion to Smith, especially during the latter’s illness. Many of us can testify to Harnar’s selflessness and to the enduring friendship of Smith and his protégé. This recognition was secondary to acknowledging the development of Harnar’s talent of course, but made it all the more apt. Smith is surely proud.

“I’m Old Fashioned” (Jerome Kern/Johnny Mercer) and “Long Ago and Far Away” (Jerome Kern/Ira Gershwin) were “made famous by Rita Hayworth.” Seeing Jennifer Sheehan perform them with satiny legato and open-faced grace one could easily imagine the artist as every soldier’s dream of the girl next door. Consider doing a Hayworth show, Jennifer. (James Followell-piano.)

Closing Act One, Karen Kohler‘s (photo right) signature “Lili Marlene” (Hans Leip/Norbert Schultze), sung in English and German, has never sounded so completely a moving anti-war cri de coeur–passionate appeal, complaint, or protest. (Sean Harkness-guitar)

Andrea Marcovicci rendered an extremely moving version of “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)” (Eric Maschwitz/ Jack Strachey), conjuring every recollection with bittersweet poignancy, tearing herself away from each vision with regret. (Alex Rybeck-piano.) Jeff Harnar‘s “Bei Mir Bist Du Schon” (English version Sammy Cahn/Saul Chaplin) was sheer, infectious glee. Great arrangement. (Alex Rybeck-piano, vocal, Jered Egan-bass, vocal)

The successful evening ended with a sing-along of “Sentimental Journey” (Les Brown & Ben Homer/ Bud Green) (Jon Weber-piano.)

Other performances:

Danny Bacher (Convention debut) delivered an easy, swing version of Johnny Mercer‘s 1944 “G.I. Jive” (Jason Teborek-piano); Todd Murray (photo) sang a swoony number from his delicious show Croon, accompanied by Nick Marchione‘s unfortunately harsh trumpet (Alex Rybeck-piano); Sophisticate Iris Williams offered a stagy version of “The Last Time I Saw Paris” (Art Weiss-piano); Carole J. Bufford brought the house down with pithy selections from her splendid show Heart of Gold: A Portrait of the Oldest Profession–Hollywood Bowl, here she comes!

Making her Convention debut, Josephine Sanges‘ lovely vocals had, alas, no feeling (John M.Cook- piano); Julie Budd (Convention debut) performed two expansive, vibrato-driven selections (Herb Bernstein-piano), and dueted a bright, bouncy swing number with Natalie Douglas (Jered Egan-very cool bass); Douglas’s “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” (Kim Gannon/Walter Kent) was tenderly low key (Jon Weber-piano); Vera Lynn‘s “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” though well vocalized by Nicholas King, arrived all technique (Mike Renzi-piano); Marissa Mulder‘s “I’ll Be Seeing You” was utterly lovely, every lyric savored. (Jon Weber-piano, Jered Egan-bass)

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DANNY BACHER

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