Ballads, Brilliance and Balloons: Arlene Wolff at the Metropolitan Room

BY LARRY MYERS**** Four hundred balloons adorned the Metropolitan Room for Arlene Wolff’s return, timed as a special birthday present for her husband, former NYC police chief Mickey Schwartz. This vampish chanteuse seems to be a synthesis of various important strands of cabaret’s origins. As in French cabaret, Ms. Wolff subversively provides defiant information as she charms us. She is also an analogous Brechtian workers’ cabaret offering utilitarian life lessons and  distraction from our fearful zeitgeist.  With her prophetic storytelling — Saudi Arabia intrigue and Italianate gunfire– Ms. Wolff conjures up both French and German cabaret and high-end ‘50s/’60s supper club fare.

New York’s handsome former mayor, David Dinkins, was ringside as Arlene mischievously dished the current leader of the free world.  The stunning lady is her own peculiar permutation of resistance cabaret. Counteracting the crass with charm, and the contemporary anti-intellectualism with vivid chat, she proceeds to ignite standards with immediacy . A ballistic “I’m Shooting High” opens the set which includes a lush “Gypsy in My Soul,” a lascivious “Undertaker,” and a plaintive “I Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good).”

As a man with three decades of experience in metaphysics and mediumship, I perceive that Arlene is an empath or sensitive.  Her renditions of “The More I See You,” “More Than You Know,” and “A Kiss to Build a Dream On” seem to evoke all cabaret gone by.  She seems to channel the likes of Eydie Gorme or Rita Hayworth–and, mostly, the incomparable Hildegarde.  Her rapport textures the vocal choices.

Throughout the show, her consummate communication skills and quintessential femininity make it apparent why she rose to highest echelons of city government as Mayor Beame’s Associate. With rhythm,style, even mischief (“I keep my three-times-lost passport down here in a secret place –and it sometimes tickles”), she seduces us. The only false note of the evening is her closing with “When I Grow Too Old to Dream.” Who is she kidding? She should be singing “Younger Than Springtime.”


Arlene Wolff performed at the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22 Street in Manhattan, on April 29.  She was accompanied by Ian Herman on piano and Howie Gordon and drums, with a guest appearance by the vocalist Charlie Romo.  

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