The Ninth Mabel Mercer Cabaret Convention
Opening Night

Monday, October 12, 1998 - 6:00 PM

(please note that there are no song lists available, so the songs mention in this article may be miss-titled and/or misspelled).

I hardly expected to be attending the opening night of this year's Cabaret Convention at TOWN HALL, since by the time I sent in my request for tickets, only one night was available - Tuesday the 13th. But when I mentioned this in my weekly "Must-See Cabaret" listings, one generous recipient found me tickets for the Wednesday and Friday performances, with a strong possibility of a ticket for Saturday. And when I arrived home on Monday after work, there was a fax requesting me to come immediately downstairs to DON'T TELL MAMA and through the magic of modern technology - a cell phone - I hooked up with someone with a ticket for the performance that was starting in less than half an hour!

Quickly changing in more "Cabaret Convention" appropriate clothing, I headed for TOWN HALL to meet my benefactor and we were seated just as the lights went down and the show began.

After the usual opening announcements, including the fact that next year's convention may be held in late September rather than October, Mabel Mercer Executive Director Donald Smith mentioned that the October 18 Sunday NEW YORK TIMES may be carrying a lengthy article that would be, in his opinion, unfavorable to cabaret - probably another one of those "cabaret is dead or dying" pieces that we have come to read again and again over the past half-dozen years.

Opening the show was the London trio FACINATING AIDA - currently appearing a THE FIREBIRD in NYC. It might be interesting to note that the Ninth Annual Convention opened with a song about herpes! The second song centered around faux body parts, flagellation, golden showers and love with an imperfect stranger. An amazing opening to a series of programs that continues to ignore "gender illusionists" as part of cabaret!

Next on the program was Corky Hale, from the West Coast, who took her seat at the piano and entertained us with a lovely jazz-styled "I'm Old Fashioned." A problem that plagued the show most of the evening, a boom mike that groaned when the pianist attempted to adjust it, made its first contribution to the event. Corky then moved to center stage (replaced at the piano by Mike Greensill) and sang "You Are My Lucky Star."

The winner of the 1998 Sydney Australia CABARET CONVENTION, Marie Johnson, was next introduced. This tall, slender gal took center stage and gave us a brief sampling of the talent that won her that honor, backed by some wonderful arrangements by Andrew Ross at the piano, including the very appropriate "I'm a Stranger Here Myself."

The first New Yorker of the evening to reach center stage was Angela LaGreca, who has been able to combine a career in cabaret with a career in comedy. After some clever comedy bits, Angela entertained us with another of her legendary "medleys from hell," this one all about love. Her musical director, Lenny Babbish, brilliantly provided the cleverly arranged string of musical phrases from what had to be about 50 love songs into the 5-minute set!

Angela was followed by jazz vocalist Joyce Breech, whose husky, smokey vocals hypnotized the audience of 1700+ that filled the hall. A lovely reading of "You're An Education in Yourself," was followed by an equally enjoyable "That Old Feeling."

Barbara Carroll, currently appearing at BEMELMEN'S BAR in the Carlyle Hotel, followed with a two-song set that passed so quickly, the audience was begging for more. Ms. Carroll remains one of my Cabaret Convention favorites. Her second piece "Blues In The Night," was entrancing.

Next on the program was Liliane Montevecchi. With all the fantastic, young and old, genuine cabaret vocalists in town, it always amazes me that Donald Smith continues to book performers of this ilk. Perhaps it is to remind us of days gone by. Her style is neither cabaret or jazz, and I'm afraid I am just a little tired of a person her age imitating someone in their 30s. If you are going to bring on the older gals, give me Julie Wilson or Margaret Whiting, please.

To close the first section of the opening night show, Steve Ross was introduced. His first number was "Why Can't I Forget," the lovely story-song that was sung so well by Jack Donahue at his EIGHTY EIGHT'S show a few months back. It must have made an impression, since I have heard several other performers use this song as well. Mr. Ross is not known for his vocals, but give him a good lyric and a catchy tune and he will bring the house down. He was joined for his second number by Ms. Karen Murphy, who will be performing with Steve Ross in a few weeks at the Kaufman Theater on 42nd St.

After the usual 10 minute intermission, Weslia Whitfield was introduced. She was a nightingale in black velvet, and her rich voice soared into our hearts with a lovely "If You Wish Upon A Star." Ms. Whitfield starts her 3-week engagement at the Kaufman Theater on the 13th of October, and if her two contributions for the evening are any indication, this will be one of the hit cabaret shows of the season.

The delicately lovely Lumiri Tubo stepped on to the stage. Weslia Whitfield is a tough act to follow, but in just a few moments, and just a few bars, the very charming Lumiri had us enthralled with her tale of "Pearly Sue," one of the highlights of her recent show at EIGHTY EIGHT'S. This was followed by a sultry "You Put a Move on My Heart."

Broadway's Christine Andrea (SCARLET PIMPERNELL) was next on the program, appearing as a surprise guest. She started her 7-minute set with a French "Love is Good." Her warmth and startlingly clear voice had us on the edge of our seats as she soared with "On a Clear Day." Ms. Andrea was apparently chosen to replace Australia's Judi Connelli, who was listed on the program but did not appear.

Visiting Bostonians, Lynne Jackson and Mike Palter took the stage, with Lynne at the piano, Mike on bass, and treated us to "How Do You Keep the Music Playing," aptly followed by a slightly-too-long medley of songs from PORGY & BESS.

A second surprise of the evening was the appearance of Phillip Officer, who had been scheduled to appear at the Saturday night show, but was booked for an out-of-town appearance this weekend and was re-scheduled for Opening Night. His medley was a trio of nautical songs from the 70s. His brief appearance once again affirmed his acclaim as one of the top male vocalists in cabaret. Incidentally, if you look over the above list of performers, you will see that Phillip was the first solo male vocalist to appear in this show, with David Campbell being the only other one on the bill!

Amanda McBroom was next on the program, and this lady's spirit and genuine warmth never ceases to amaze me. She sang two songs which she recently wrote with her musical director, Joel Silverman. The first was an ode to America's homemaker, Martha Stewart. The second was a lovely peon NYC, dedicated to Portia Nelson called "New York at Night."

Final act of the evening was newly-engaged David Campbell, who is opening for a 3-week run at the soon-to-be-closed RAINBOW & STARS on the 13th of October. Sporting a new haircut and his usual boyish smile, David treated us to "It's Just the Nearness of You" combined with "Not a Day Goes By," both dedicated to his bride-to-be. He closed his set with the title song of his recent CD, "Taking the Wheel." His encore, "Fly Me To The Moon" was a bit spoiled by several rather rude "conventioneers" who decided to head for the aisles and the doors to miss the rush to the exits when the show ended.

After the show I headed for the Village, and after a fine dinner at MANITUS on Bleecker St., settled for the cozier atmosphere of EIGHTY EIGHT'S to enjoy a very interesting show by vocalist Bill Ebbesmeyer.

TUESDAYS SHOW features Lisa Asher, Elena Bennett, Francesca Blumenthal, Claiborne Cary, COMBO FIASCO, Alix Korey, Christine Lavin, Karen Mason, Sidney Myer, Pamela Myers, Lainie Nelson, hosted by Nancy Deusault.

And that is just about the way it was.

Hugs & Stuff


Check out the New York Cabaret Hotline. Thanks Stu for all your hard work.