Saluting Stephen Sondheim

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Jeff Harnar, Andrea Marcovicci

 

 

by Alix Cohen

 

Hey, old friend, are you okay/Old friend?/What do you say, old friend/Are we or are we unique?/Time goes by/Everything else keeps changing/You and I/We get continued next week…(Merrily WeRoll Along). On their 5th New York Cabaret Convention collaboration, Jeff Harnar and Andrea Marcovicci greet one another with bouncy, tuneful affection, Harnar calling Marcovicci his “miracle elixir,” Marcovicci addressing Harnar as “my little night music.” Warmth pervades.

 

The second night of this year’s convention offers varied selections from the rich oeuvre of composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim- jaunty to wrenching, familiar to eclectic with a few surprises and several showstoppers. Highlights below:

 

Sally Mayes wakes up the audience with a pithy “Rose’s Turn” (Gypsy) vibrating as if plugged in to a socket, brimming with anticipation and ambition, covering the stage like she can’t wait to get out there and start. Jennifer Sheehan, too much out of town of late, gives us a lovely “So Many People” (Saturday Night) which travels directly from heart. (James Fallowell-MD/ Piano)

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Kevin Dozier, Sarah Rice

“Take Me to The World” (Evening Primrose) is humble and hopeful in the hands of Kevin Dozier whose restraint adds emotionality. A beautifully directed duet of “Too Many Mornings” (Follies) with Sarah Rice follows. Vocal is silvery. Rice, the original Johanna in Sweeney Todd, then sings “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” (Sweeney Todd.) This particular nightingale steps right back into the ingénue character with an opulent trill.

 

“You Could Drive a Person Crazy” was written for Donna McKechnie, “well, as a trio” in Company. Here she reprises the song, pointing to either side to indicate other actresses. It’s spirited and bright. As Sally in Follies she then performs “Don’t Look At Me”/ “In Buddy’s Eyes” (Follies) which are earthy and sympathetic.

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Eric Michael Gillett

 

Eric Michael Gillett becomes the first showstopper with a brilliantly wry rendition of “Hades” (The Frogs), which he originally heard the author sing before handing it off to him (as Pluto) so many years ago: I mean, you never gain weight/You’re never out-of-date/You never get balder, older/You never have to fret about fate/It’s all too late/I mean, you’re dead…Timing is impeccable. The song is a hoot.

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Celia Berk, Josephine Sanges

 

Celia Berk completely surprises with an elegant arrangement and rendition of “Sand” (the unmade film, Singing Out Loud.) The song arrives languid, haunting with perfect economy of gesture. There’s an ssss sound just beneath lyrics which are breathy, but perfectly modulated. Berk and Josephine Sanges follow with a well crafted Follies duet after which Sanges performs a thoroughly engaging rendition of “Not a Day Goes By” from the same show. The number palpably yearns, hovering on the brink of tears. Sanges knows just when to emphasize.

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Karen Akers, Steve Ross

 

Another unexpected turn comes from Steve Ross who sings “With So Little To Be Sure Of” a capella! (Anyone Can Whistle) Celebrating 48 years in the business, Ross tells us the song is dedicated to we who are his lovers. It’s pristine. Moving. Sitting at the piano, he then performs “Take the Moment” (Do I Hear a Waltz?). One phrase arcs over his head almost visibly. I can’t help thinking of the Velveteen Rabbit, alive because he’s loved.

 

From Karen Akers we hear a stunning interpretation of “Water Under the Bridge” (Singing Out Loud.) The character viscerally wrestles with herself about an incipient relationship. A stop-start-pause-exclaim-wonder song, this one requires and receives the skills of an actress. Akers sings from her guts as well as heart and mind. Somebody get this woman back on a theater stage! (Showstopper)

 

Our hosts intermittently sing genial twosome songs, then each has a solo. Marcovicci’s “Send In the Clowns” (A Little Night Music) quivers with despair, rather than shrugging resignation. It wrenches. Harnar’s ‘Getting Married Today medley” is crisp/expertly articulated and infused with droll, yet abject fear. “This just in…” Harnar reads an email from Sondheim himself who is “squirreled away writing a show to supply you with material in the future-I hope…”

 

The evening closes (pre company finale) with Marta Sanders inhabiting “I’m Still Here” (Follies.) Every inch a survivor, the artist engineers a slow, reminiscing build. When her throat opens and that voice soars, we feel the power of her journey.

 

Also featuring: Aaron Morishita, Julie Reyburn, Raissa Katona Bennett, Maureen Taylor (the three vocalists offer a skillfully arranged and performed version of “Pretty Women”/“Pretty Lady”), Will Nunziata, Anthony Nunziata (the brothers perform “Everybody Says Don’t” with insurrectionist conviction, Marissa Mulder-whose enchanting story about her grandfather prefaced a lilting version of “I Remember Sky,” Iris Williams, and the inimitable Sidney Myer bringing his own panache to “Ah, Paree.”

 

“When you enter into the world of Stephen Sondheim, it’s as if you’re breathing very special air.” Steve Ross

 

This show was a full 3 hours. Somebody needs a watch.

 

With thanks to Jon Weber.

 

Photos by Maryann Lopinto

 

The Mabel Mercer Foundation presents

The 27th New York Cabaret Convention

Saluting Stephen Sondheim

Hosted by Jeff Harnar & Andrea Marcovicci

Alex Rybeck-Piano, Jered Egan-Bass, Dan Gross-Drums

Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater

October 19, 2016

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