Frank Loesser: Heart and Soul

Posted on November 2, 2019 by Alix Cohen in Playing Around on

Frank Henry Loesser (1910-1969) learned piano by ear. He held a wide variety of jobs in order to contribute to family income, including literally singing for his supper, then secured music contracts with several publishers in Tin Pan Alley. Loesser wrote for Hollywood – notably “See What the Boys in The Back Room Will Have” (music-Friedrich Hollaender) – the ridiculously ‘me-too’ contested “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” and the charming songs of Hans Christian Anderson.

The honoree is perhaps most recognized for Broadway musicals Guys and Dolls, The Most Happy Fella, and the Pulitzer Prize winning How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Liz Callaway opens this evening’s festivities with a breathtaking rendition of The Most Happy Fella‘s “My Heart is So Full of You,” each phrase rising inexorably from the depths with palpable warmth. The audience grows absolutely still. Thrilling.

Hosts Andrea Marcovicci and Jeff Harnar then officially welcome us, greeting one another with a tandem “Let’s Get Lost” and “Slow Boat to China.” Highlights of the evening follow.

Leave it to Steve Ross to present something totally unexpected in a way that creates an entire scenario. “New Ashmolean Band” arrives with vivacity, panache, and dry wit. Who needs the actual band?! “Irving Berlin thought this was the greatest song he ever heard. Berlin actually went to Loesser’s house, played it and told the songwriter why he felt as he did,” Marissa Mulder tells us. Her “I Don’t Wanna Walk Without You” delivers the essence of the song like tracing veins in a leaf. We believe every cottony word.

Karen Akers’ “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year” is pristine, stunning; sentiment authentically communicated. The song sounds utterly personal. Akers then duets a lovely “Inchworm” with Lisa Viggiano. Imagine standing barefoot in a burbling brook under sunny skies.

Also in its way shockingly straightforward is Mark Nadler’s enchanting interpretation of “Ugly Duckling” replete with fetching duck vocal and excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. The storyteller at his iconoclastic best. A rousing “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” is presented by Marta Sanders. Employing acting/comedienne and vocal chops, the performer creates heady fun, drawing the audience in. (Wearing a cross is a nice touch.)

Lennie Watts, Tim Schall, and David Sabella execute a first rate “Fugue for Tinhorns” (Guys and Dolls) with Watts aptly sporting plaid pants. Outside cabaret activities of each vocalist is described as contributing to the greater good. Voices work well together; gestures are spirited.

“Hey, fellas, whaddaya doin’?” Danny Bacher joins the trio on vocal and Dixieland, soprano sax in a robust “Brotherhood of Man” (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying). Earlier, his relaxed and stylish swing version of “If I Were a Bell” (Guys and Dolls) exudes happiness. The performer is a tonic.

Jeff Harnar’s “Hamlet” spotlights the artist’s challenging himself with difficult, often droll narrative in song. Acting training is apparent. Andrea Marcovicci sings “Say It Over and Over Again” and “Heart and Soul,” exposing the latter as a balladic love song. The duo’s “A Bushel and a Peck” (Guys and Dolls) is charming.

We close with the great Marilyn Maye. Teaching us we should never get complacent with her repertoire, Maye offers THE most ardent, aching “Joey, Joey” (Most Happy Fella). Unadulterated power is present on the stage. From her favorite musical, Guys and Dolls, a dynamic “Luck Be a Lady” follows.

Also featuring Jane Scheckter; Karen Oberlin ably performing clever, wordy songs cut out of town from two Loesser shows, warmly connecting with the audience; Sally Darling; Barbara Brussel; Joshua Lance Dixon – wonderful voice, but little song character; Anna Bergman’s shimmering operatic “Somebody Somewhere” (The Most Happy Fella);  Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano offering signature swank, bounce, and, with “Sand in My Shoes,” sensuality; Tovah Feldshuh AS Tallulah Bankhead.

Photos by Richard Termine
Opening: Jered Egan, Alex Rybeck, Jeff Harnar, Andrea Marcovicci, Matt Gross

Mabel Mercer Foundation presents
The 30th New York Cabaret Convention-Second Night
Frank Loesser: Heart and Soul
Hosts Andrea Marcovicci and Jeff Harnar
Alex Rybeck- Piano/MD; Bass- Jered Egan, Drums- Matt Gross
Guest Pianists/MDs: Tedd Firth,Jon Weber, Matthew Martin Ward, Christopher Denny, Steven Ray Watkins, James Bassi, Shelly Markham
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater Frederick P. Rose Hall
Broadway at 60th Street
The Mabel Mercer Foundation

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