~Review by Scott Barbarino
I first saw and fell in love with Karen Oberlin twelve years ago when her CD Secret Love:The Music of Doris Day was featured in one of Scott & Barbara Siegel’s CD Release shows at the now defunct Reprise Room at Dillons. Her subsequent booking (by me) and presentation of the Secret Love show at Iridium showed her jazz side as well as her poised classy style, always delivered with a sense of humor. Over the years, Karen has always shown that she does her homework and has crafted several successful concept shows. In the newest, Bad Love: The Randy Newman Songbook, she deftly handles material that has never been more timely to the national discourse. Randy Newman’s “Short People” from his 1977 album, Little Criminals, which is not a part of the evening’s performance, early on pushed the public’s buttons, when many people, believe it or not, misunderstood the song and wrongly assumed it was meant to be taken seriously. It was definitely controversial enough to start a political correctness discussion even back then, when times were different. Since then, Randy Newman has kept them coming. “The Great Nations of Europe” and “Korean Parents” show his mastery of the satirical song as the gold standard.
Ms. Oberlin, in adding some of Mr. Newman’s instrumental classics to this show, was generous and gave plenty of stage time to her fellow musicians (Tedd Firth on piano and Steve Doyle on bass). The instrumentals were well-placed throughout the show starting with Tedd’s solo of “Dexter’s Tune” from Awakenings, and other selections from Newman’s film scores: one from Ragtime and one from The Natural. The composer sure knows how to write them and these gents delivered the musical goods.
Ms. Oberlin’s voice soars on the Dusty Springfield hit “I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore” and her vocals on “One More Hour,” during which she harmonizes with herself to prerecorded tracks, show just how much control she has developed over the years. The mash-up of “It’s Money That I Love” and “You Can Leave Your Hat On” is delivered like a sexy vixen, as it should be, and she makes some really risqué choices as she snorts invisible cocaine and offers it to the audience. The fact that many of his lyrics can be so controversial and that he has also written award-winning songs for Disney and Pixar — winning Oscars for Best Original Song for Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story 3 — show Randy Newman’s versatility. The way Karen Oberlin handles this material shows just how versatile she is. BTW, the first thing I did when I got home was to listen to “Short People.” There’s still a lesson to be learned from the lyric …
“Short people are just the same, As you and I
(It’s a wonderful world), All men are brothers
Until the day they die…”
In the times we live in, these words become quite heady! Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Donald Trump!
This show was seen at Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22 Street in Manhattan, where it returns on October 20 and November 21. Reservations and calendar of all the venue’s shows at www.metropolitanroom.com Artist website: www.karenoberlin.com