By MYRA CHANIN **** Sidney Myer is the most beloved impresario in Manhattan. He’s THE Sidney referred to in “I Love Sidney!” – a phrase that constantly flows from the lips of theatrical and musical cognoscenti. Sidney’s day job? He’s an eternal helping hand, the longtime booking manager of Don’t Tell Mama, the venerable West 46th Street cabaret club which, thanks to him, provides an initial stepping stone to almost anyone who’s become ANYONE in musical theatre – as well as to any who (alas!) still remains anyone. The one exception? Lin-Manuel Miranda who probably stopped by for a drink and a sing-along in Mama’s music bar.
Sidney’s also a remarkable, there’s-nobody-quite-like-him archly, androgynous actor/singer who’s won awards for his incomparable droll material, delivery and wit. Even music maven Stephen Holden recognized Sidney’s exceptional qualities in his New York Times review of the 2015 NYC Cabaret Convention, to wit, “the evening’s high point was a deadpan rendition of a comic obscurity by Sidney Myer, a beloved latter-day vaudevillian.” For the past 25 years, despite constant urging from admirers, Sidney’s limited his brilliance to cameos at clubs, benefits and conventions. So, what convinced our modest boy-o to finally venture out of the performing closet in 2016 and display his profuse talents at his first solo show in 25 years? It was a who: KT Sullivan, the Broadway/cabaret diva who recently became artistic director of The Mabel Mercer Foundation, who made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: a Mercer Foundation-sponsored DVD recording session so everyone who watches Sidney perform can actually take a “reasonable facsimile” of him home. Six sold-out one-man shows later, the Foundation selected him to be the opening show of the Mabel Mercer Foundation Series at Lynn University. How would he fare in Florida? Would he be too New York for the boondocks? Surprise! Seats sold out even more quickly than they had in Manhattan. Multitudes e-mailed Sidney, kvetching that they couldn’t tickets, not even for ready money, and he, oy vey, couldn’t do anything to help.
What so special about Sidney? Sidney’s blend of sophistication and style, sentiment and kitsch have you roaring with laughter one moment and wiping away tears seconds later. He’s a cross between Noël Coward and Fanny Brice. The infinite variety in his choice of material, his commentary, his asides, his astonishing body language, his facial expressions, his perfect verbal delivery, his risqué naivety are astonishing and unexpected. He’s a one-of-a-kind self-creation that Jerry Herman wrote about in “I Am What I Am.”
Sidney’s song list is an adventure in artistry. No one but he could blend 20-something disparate songs into an almost flawless two-hour show. Starting with “I’m a Bad, Bad, Man,” which, to my shock, was not composed by anyone with indeterminate sexual preferences, but by the old, stodgy and straight Irving Berlin for Annie Get Your Gun sharpshooter Frank Butler, included patter that paid homage to Roy Rogers who, in addition to establishing fast food joints, was a Wild West cowboy star married to Dale Evans, known as the Queen of the West, a title many others have vied for. He also praised Roy’s noble steed, Trigger, and revealed that Roy’s last wish was that Trigger be stuffed and mounted, which Sidney confessed was usually his “first request.”
Sidney gave a delicious delivery to “No Ring on Her Finger,” the adventures of a maiden who loved unwisely far too often, followed by a “historical ballad,” “Bagel Makers to the Czar” and the 1930 Boswell Sisters’ hit “I’m in Training for You,” in which Sidney’s innocent delivery made promiscuity the cornerstone of eternal love. My favorite opus is the now-Florida resident Chuck Prentiss masterpiece, “Mary Cohen,” in which the singer doesn’t understand why every Latino he meets mistakes him for a specific woman, which in Latin countries is spelled as a single word –maricón. Sidney supplies tenderness with “The World in Your Eyes,” “Dance with Me Slow” from a musical introduced at Don’t Tell Mama, “The Second Time Around” and gives a sweetly gay perspective to “It’s So Nice to Have A Man Around the House.”
His encore is the always popular “Good Advice” by Allan Sherman, in which Sidney tells Mr. Otis, who invented a room that goes from side to side, to make it go up and down and advises the Wright Brothers, who believed the wings on the washing machine they invented were for hanging clothes out to dry, to take it out to Kitty Hawk and “see if the damn thing’ll fly.”
His companions in perfection were his long-time collaborating director Peter Schlosser and music director Tracy Stark, with Tom Hubbard on bass.
All I can say is that Mabel Mercer would have not only have been proud of the show sponsored by her foundation, she’d probably have wanted to take Sidney home … and might even have succeeded!