BY ROB LESTER**** I’m looking forward to the Sunday afternoon show (June 11) by Joshua C. Bennett and Katia Malarsky at the Metropolitan Room. The mellifluous Bennett voice has made my ears very happy each time I’ve heard it and in noting the increasingly ubiquitous presence of the guy, he has a kind of kindness that radiates. That impression was reinforced when we had a chance to sit down and have a conversation of more than our usual 20-second nodding hellos and goodbyes as cabaret ships passing in the night(club). Bennett and Malarsky got to know each other and struck up a friendship of mutual support and mutual admiration as singers at piano bars. At first, and often, the person at the keyboard was Yasuhiko Fukuoka. Their 4 PM Sunday show, which is produced by Joseph Macchia, also features the prodigious talents of this pianist/ musical director, another man also frequently spotted around the Metropolitan, for shows and the Friday night piano bar downstairs.
I’ve happily lingered some nights and enjoyed the low-key, often high-talent caliber of those below-the-showroom musical doings. (This Friday, the two men were, however, busy upstairs as pianist and guest star in someone else’s show, wherein their contributions and glorious sounds were highlights, another piece of evidence in my growing list of proofs positive of their skills. The long-lined, lazy Richard Rodgers melody of “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” from one’s fingers and the other’s throat made it oh, such a more beautiful evening, with “a bright, golden haze” making the coming Sunday afternoon that much more anticipated.)
Their show is titled All You Have to Do Is Be. Wondering what that means? So did I. Joshua told me about his feelings concerning lucky people, like Katia, whose supportive parents told her, “You can be whatever you want.” He was struck by Sandra Bargman’s show that also inspires self-worth. “We are so worried about who we need to be for other people. Trust and confidence that who we are is good enough.” Sometimes, the goal set and met can be “I did my best.” Multi-tasker Bennett wrote the act’s title song to further express the philosophy. It’s one of two originals, the other being “All Aboard.” And he also does arrangements.
All You Have to Do Is Be morphed from an act with an additional artist and some pieces were adapted to two singers. When adapting and changing the material, he remembers Katia protesting any expectations of her being a source of creative contributions. “When we started out, she said, ‘Oh, I’m not good with ideas!!’ But she ended up being invaluable.” And the beat goes on (thanks, in part, to the addition of drummer Simon FIihburn). Joshua is full of praise for his colleagues in the life-affirming project, both personally and professionally. He got to follow Katia , who is ten years his junior, when she competed as a finalist in the top three of Rise Bar’s Rising Star competition. “What’s amazing to me is how versatile her voice is,” he enthuses, marveling that she can go from a sweet croon to a low alto. “And her belting is incomparable.” Both are on stage for much of the performance, even when not in 50/50 duet mode. They may be chiming in, harmonizing, witnessing, or just there for that word he often comes back to: Support. “We want the audience to feel supported, too,” emphasizes this especially warm-hearted spirit.
Our conversation was interrupted a couple of times in the best way possible—by Joshua being pressed into service to jump up beside the nearby piano bar piano for patrons. I especially enjoyed his renditions of songs from Shrek and Pete’s Dragon, two musical stories about large green creatures. (I can also imagine his sweet and emotional voice doing justice to songs created for a smaller green friend named Kermit; there’s a sense of wonder in his vocals and persona.)
Joshua C. Bennett (I’m not sure what the C stands for, but “Charming” or “Crooner” would be appropriate, though his voice has power when it’s called for by material, rather than the motivation of showing off one’s Chops, another C word. “This Is the Moment” passes the test for the moment). He has a degree in dance and worked with the American Folk Ballet and a young people’s theatre company and been cast as Forever Plaid’s Jinx to evoke those 1950s harmony singing groups and has had Sondheim rhyme prime time in a cast of Into the Woods. “My influences are all over the map.” His background is eclectic, even geographically, with life chapters in Utah and Montana and now New York City. Coming from a very strong religious family background, pop and theatre music were not on his radar for quite some time, though. But he seems and sounds quite comfortable with the genres, as if born to the breed. The show includes a wide range of material, with pieces by They Might Be Giants and a song with two more C words—”Concrete and Clay” and the hilarious Spamalot number, “The Song That Goes Like This.”
And speaking of Broadway, since All You Have to Do Is Be is shortly before many theatre fans’ annual tradition of gorging on the Tony Awards, the audience is invited to stay at the club to watch it on their screen for no additional fee, All you have to do is be…there.
Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22 Street, Manhattan. 212-206-0440. MAC members gets a $5 discount on the cover charge. Minimum applies.
Online reservations/details: Click here– http://metropolitanroom.com/event.cfm?id=257714&cart
photography by Jason Garcia Ignacio