BY LARRY MYERS~~~An encyclopedic definition of “cabaret” says this form of entertainment is distinguished by its performance venue. Instead of pub, restaurant or nightclub a “gala” (defined as a celebration) here happens in the vast upscale Rose Theater in the Jazz at Lincoln Center complex. This posh arena becomes a coliseum-sized “safe space” for music of craft, class and civility. The many dedicated performers seem activated by discipline, dedication, fortitude and reverence for rhythm, deep emotions and romantic lyrics. It is almost like the marathon dancing dramatized in the old movie They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, but with music— or a sumptuous singing smorgasbord. It is a battle for the survival of an art form in the wake of today’s over-hyped, multi-tattooed leggy thrushes and rough, pierced activists whose wailing music is informed by pornography and even snuff films. KT Sullivan [Artistic Director of the presenting organization, The Mabel Mercer Foundation, named for the iconic model of the art form] has artfully assembled a motley lineup of performers. KT SULLIVAN
She opens the first show in the four-night concert series herself with a stiletto-sharp rendition of Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top.” On her head is a most peculiar hat and she imitates Jimmy Durante.
There are many handsome men on this evening’s bill. Debonair Eric Yves Garcia offers a “summer” song medley and Porter’s “I’m a Gigolo.” He exhibits star presence as does the winner of the annual Julie Wilson Award, tower-tall Kristoffer Lowe. KRISTOFFER LOWE
Sensuous Matt Baker evokes Chet Baker in his rendering of an Elvis Costello song, “Almost Blue.” .Additionally, he offers a masterful piano performance of the theme from the motion picture The Apartment. T. Oliver Reid’s salute to Bobby Short is less successful as rushes through lyrics making them unintelligible. T. OLIVER REID
Off-Broadway star Robert Creighton playing the title role in the biomusical about James Cagney is a lookalike for the star and his George M. Cohan medley is most proficient. ROBERT CREIGHTON
Kim David Smith offers a Weimar turn with a David Bowie twist. KIM SMITH
Among the evening’s divas are a 15-year-old, Josephine Bianco, and You Tube views superstar, Christina Bianco (no relation). The audience seemed bowled over by the initial Bianco, but I wish she’d sing something other than a Streisand signature song, “People.” The petite second Ms. Bianco wowed with impersonations of Celine Dion, Streisand, Bernadette Peters and a particularly wicked Kristin Chenoweth and Patti LuPone.
Her Garland, however, was a misfire. Vivian Reed, who closed the first act, was dazzling in a blood red gown. Backed by expert chorus boys, she was a startling star presence. In addition, Maureen McGovern offered a haunting sans-microphone a capella “Over The Rainbow” and an over- the-top brassy “Blues in the Night.” MAUREEN McGOVERN & AWARD
Her performance was as affecting as Susan Winter’s “Before the Parade Passes By.” Ms. Winter was the star of the evening. Her straightforward, informed renditions were spellbinding.
Carole J. Bufford seems one of a handful of women in this millennium who could carry off the green dress she was wearing. Her attitude and “stop you in your tracks” demeanor were alluring. However, her sultry belt sometimes overpowered the song’s words. Karen Oberlin offered an ominous suggestion,”Let’s drop the big one” (the key line in Randy Newman’s “Political Science”) and Natalie Douglas’s breathtaking turn with “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” from Show Boat verified why she was chosen for another special award this evening. Clad in captivating white, Stacy Sullivan’s jazzy attitude and take were contagious, but sometimes this clever conceit camouflaged the lyrics. After describing her fiery Italian family, Barbara Fasano sang a modulated number “Photographs (Alec Wilder/ Fran Landesman). She looked stunning in a chic black gown.
I exited ruminating that KT Sullivan should star in Hello, Dolly! and Vivian Reed would be great in Mame.
The Cabaret Convention continues through Friday night with its 6 pm concerts. See www.mabelmercer.org
PHOTOS BY MARYANN LOPINTO