Editor's Desk

Willkommen, Bienvenue

(Brian Kellow, Performances, New York City, Cabaret) Permanent link

K. T. Sullivan and Karen Kohler rolled the dice and won: they presented their smartly conceived cabaret show Vienna to Weimar on February 24 — Oscar night — at the Triad on West Seventy-second Street. By a few minutes into the program, it was doubtful that anyone in the audience worried about missing Seth MacFarlane's opening monologue. 

Vienna to Weimar begins reassuringly, with Sullivan offering Rudolf Sieczynski's "Wien, Wien nur du allein," English words by Kim Gannon. (Gannon is one of my favorite trivia subjects: he wrote the words for some awfully good popular songs, including Max Steiner's "It Can't Be Wrong," taken from the 1942 Bette Davis film Now, Voyager, and the Christmas classic "I'll Be Home for Christmas." He deserves to be mentioned oftener than he is.) Then Sullivan lit into a delightful version of Fledermaus's "Mein Herr Marquis" (including the English words by Howard Dietz), hitting all her comic marks with ease and grace; she has a wonderful self-mocking quality that lands consistently with the audience. With Kohler, Sullivan also dusted off "Wenn die beste Freundin" (When the Special Girlfriend) and "Maskulinum-Femininum," both by Mischa Spoliansky and Marcellus Schiffer, revealing them as the sophisticated, subversive gems that they are. It fell to Kohler to cover the Weimar section of the waterfront and convey most of the spoken history lesson to the audience, which contrasted effectively with Sullivan's lighter approach. And although Sullivan didn't get near the chilling fury that an artist such as Nina Simone can bring to the Brecht–Weill "Pirate Jenny," she did manage to make that song uniquely her own. After spinning through a fine group of Friedrich Hollaender numbers, including the choice "Illusions," both women brought the evening to a memorable close with Leonard Cohen's "Take This Waltz," from 1967, and Franz Lehár's "Merry Widow Waltz." Jed Distler was the evening's excellent musical director. 

As New York's cabaret scene continues its quiet erosion, K. T. Sullivan is one of its enduring delights. spacer 

BRIAN KELLOW

Douce France

(Brian Kellow, Performances, Keeping it Local, New York City, Chanson) Permanent link

It's probably fair to say that the ever-broadening scope of song recitals in Manhattan owes a great deal to the New York Festival of Song. Under the guidance of artistic director Steven Blier and associate artistic director Michael Barrett, NYFOS has, over the years, built an intensely loyal audience with an imaginatively programmed series of concerts that at their best are both pithy and enormous fun. Blier, the series pianist and host, has a real knack for turning the group's performing space — most often Merkin Concert Hall on West Sixty-Seventh Street — into something with an intime nightclub feel. But it's a very in-the-know nightclub: Blier loves the thrill of musical discovery, loves to share his cleverly designed programs with his audience, which responds by hanging on every word of his savvy blend of erudition and plainspoken cool. 

On Tuesday, February 19, NYFOS presented a deeply satisfying program of French popular song, Jacques Brel & Charles Trénet: Fire and Fantasy. The ensemble was wonderful — Blier at the keyboard, plus guitarist Greg Utzig (who was sometimes a bit loud, throwing off the balance) and the marvelous accordionist Bill Schimmel. In addition to playing superbly (with no music in front of him all night long), Schimmel looked the part, as if Central Casting had come up with the ideal character actor to play a French accordionist in a Truffaut film. Tenor Philippe Pierce got things off to a stunning start with Brel's ever-accelerating "La Valse à Mille Temps." Pierce has a fine voice and sure rhythmic command, but in some of the evening's more soulful works he came up a bit short, lacking the French "lived-in" quality for a powerful song such as Brel's achingly poignant "Chanson des vieux amants."

In the second half, Brel gave way to Trénet. "Maybe if Irving Berlin and Mary Martin had had a baby they might have come out with Charles Trénet," said Blier, "but I doubt it." Here, Pierce's teammate, mezzo Marie Lenormand, gave what for me was one of the standout individual performances of the season, making magic out of "L'âme des poètes" (I won't soon forget the sublime way she landed on the word "artiste") and the famous "La mer," while showing great comic verve in her big finale with Pierce, "Grand-maman, c'est New York." 

At the end, Blier announced that the evening was something of a landmark — the fortieth anniversary of his first public performance. spacer 

BRIAN KELLOW


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Current Issue: April 2014 — VOL. 78, NO. 10