That Was Entertainment: A One-Night Concert Focused on Songwriters: Dietz & Schwartz (and some more recent ones)

By MARILYN LESTER**** Of the handful of truly iconic songs about show business, “That’s Entertainment” by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz ranks at the very top of the tree. Seth Sikes‘ peppy rendition of the number set the stage for a mélange of performers singing material written by the pair, in Dietz & Schwartz and Friends — as well as by a variety of other songwriters – the “Friends” of the title.  The two-act concert took place on June 20 at Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie Hall.  

(In photo at left: Lyricist Howard Dietz, L, & composer Arthur Schwartz at piano) 

Ably hosting – and looking glamorous, as always, – was KT Sullivan, Artistic Director of the producing entity, The Mabel Mercer Foundation, overseeing all with her own unique flair. She thus presided over a decidedly successful evening of music and song with the nurturing of an attentive mother intent on seeing her charges go forth to no less than resplendency. And for the most part, it was mission accomplished.

The “house band” of Music Director and pianist Jon Weber, with Saadi Zain on upright bass, Sean Harkness on guitar, and David Silliman on drums, comprised a sure-fire group of aces finely attuned to the varied mix of vocalizing entertainers. Perhaps among the most popular of these was Sidney Myer, a performer able to elicit a standing ovation just by walking out on a stage. Myer outdid himself with the highly amusing Dietz and Schwartz song, “A Rainy Night in Rio,” with perfect timing and bits of business both charming and laugh-inducing.  Also contributing to the comedy of the evening was Mauricio Bustamante with “Bruce” by John Wallowitch, as well as the uncontainable Mark Nadler, accompanying himself with another Wallowitch gem, the mirror song, “I Live Alone Again.” His second number, Dietz and Schwartz’s “By Myself,” inevitably came with clever Nadler patter.

The gently risque “One-Stop Shopping” by Dan and Michelle Page, Sue Matsuki, and Gregory Toroian – with Toroian on piano – was delivered with enthusiasm by Matsuki. In larger-than-life Brunhilde mode, Marta Sanders, with pianist John McMahon, thundered the Dietz and Schwartz novelty song “Come A-Wandering with Me,” and for a second number, “Warsaw” by John Wallowitch, paired with “Amarillo” by Carol Hall. Sanders seemed to channel the late singing British comedienne Anna Russell with her booming voice and outrageous comic turns. A play on words was delivered by the ever-evolving Celia Berk, with droll sophistication, and Alex Rybeck on piano, in “The Party Upstairs” by Ronny Whyte and Francesca Blumenthal. Berk also remembered Dietz and Schwartz with “Something to Remember You By,” sung with cool and smooth elegance.

Jazz, ever-increasingly finding its way to the cabaret world, was represented in Margi Gianquinto with two Dietz and Schwartz numbers, “Oh, But I Do” and “Haunted Heart.” Gianquinto revealed yet again her ability to sing utterly soulfully in a silky voice of the port wine variety. Closing out Act One, the duo of Alexis Cole and Danny Bacher were electrifying with three Dietz and Schwartz numbers, with the two alternating between playing (Cole on piano and Bacher on soprano sax) and singing singly and as a pair. With “I’ll Buy You A Star,” “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan” and “You and the Night and the Music,” Cole proved herself uniquely and equally brilliant on piano and vocals (she has a beautifully resonant voice). Bacher, with a durable, pleasant baritone, exuded charm and joyfulness with his excellent musicality. Also in the boffo category was that force of nature, Darius de Haas (at right) with the incredibly clever “Trotsky In Mexico” by Renee Rosnes and David Hajdu, with Tedd Firth at the piano. De Haas also sang an upbeat Dietz and Schwartz piece, “A Shine on Your Shoes.” Rosnes and Hajdu were also represented in the contemplative “All But You,” sung by Karen Oberlin with Sean Harkness accompanying gently on guitar. The ever-dependable, dulcet-voiced Oberlin, with Tedd Firth, also shared the fun of “Rhode Island Is Famous for You” by Dietz and Schwartz.

For sheer sincerity and believability, Frank Dain, with Kathleen Landis at the piano, offered Larry Elow’s “Penny” with heart on sleeve, Lauren Stanford, with Jon Weber playing, sang Dietz and Schwartz’s “Make the Man Love Me,” while Laurie Krauz, with pianist Daryl Kojak, tackled Dietz and Schwartz’s “Alone Together.” Gary Crawford, with Barry Levitt on piano, revealed a remarkable baritone in Dietz and Schwartz’s “I See Your Face Before Me,” sounding as if he’d been crooning professionally his life long, rather than the relatively few years he’s graced the cabaret scene. Naturally, it was the honor of KT Sullivan to close the show with songs and memories of composer Arthur Schwartz and lyricist Howard Dietz (and Dietz’s wife, Lucinda Ballard, whom she knew). The final song of the evening was the titular number, “Dancing in the Dark,” with all cast members taking the stage for well-deserved bows.