|Christine Price, Amanda Lynn Bottoms, Mikaela Bennett, Gerard Schneider, Dimitri Katotakis, and Kelsey Lauritano
It was the final "Sing for Your Supper" cabaret of the season presented by Steven Blier at Henry's Restaurant--and thus a bittersweet evening, as his singular students from Juilliard head off to fulfill their summer engagements and/or studies. They will be spreading their talents far and wide, leaving the Big Apple with a Big Bite taken out of it.
In January, on the stage at Juilliard, we enjoyed a program entitled "Harry, Hoagy, and Harold" (review archived) that was fully staged with plenty of room to show off Mary Birnbaum's directorial skills. Last night we heard some of the same songs and several new ones. Harry Warren (whom Maestro Blier considers to be quite overlooked), Hoagy Carmichael, and Harold Arlen wrote enough songs for dozens of evenings like this one. In many ways, we enjoyed last night's cabaret even more than the stage version. Cabaret as an art form works best up close and personal.
We can't tell how many times tenor Miles Mykkanen has opened these programs with Richard Rodgers' "Sing For Your Supper" but the song belongs to him and he belongs to the song. He puts his own personal and slightly naughty stamp on the clever lyrics. What a sensation! No less a sensation than his recent star turn as Tamino in Juilliard's Die Zauberflöte.
We know that at least two of the six performers last night started their singing lives as "Broadway babies" but what about the other four? They have credited Maestro Blier with giving them the jazz style and the jazz beat. To have heard these young artists on the opera stage and then to see them tackle cabaret, without any of the phony cross-over sound that we so dislike, never ceases to astonish us.
Mikaela Bennett performed Harold Arlen's "Sleepin' Bee" from the not very successful 1954 musical House of Flowers; we enjoyed it far more than Barbra Streisand's recording. The piano arrangement by Maestro Blier took our breath away.
Her duet with Amanda Lynn Bottoms "Two Ladies in the Shade of the Banana Tree", from the same musical, was terrific. We have heard them perform this before and would happily hear it again. Lyrics by Truman Capote.
Ms. Bottoms gave a beautiful solo of "That Old Black Magic" which is so familiar--but she made the Mercer/Arlen song sound completely new.
Kelsey Lauritano, whose recent graduation recital was so impressive, revealed her cabaret background with "I Yi Yi Yi! I Like You Very Much" from the 1941 Gordon/Arlen musical That Night in Rio. (This was what we referred to in our review as having seen her dance with fruit on her head.) All we can say is "I Yi Yi Yi! We like YOU very much". The entire cast joined for this Latin celebration.
Soprano Christine Price, having just starred as Pamina in Juilliard's production of Die Zauberflöte, showed another side of her talent in a moving performance of the Washington/Carmichael song "The Nearness of You". We loved the way she floated the final note.
She joined Gerard Schneider, who was on hand with his ukulele and his guitar, and entertained us royally with a scene from the 1943 Harburg/Arlen Bloomer Girl. In "Evelina", the hero serenades the eponymous Evelina, thinking she is a servant in the household. It was cute and funny, thanks to the talents of Ms. Price and Mr. Schneider.
Mr. Schneider also performed a lovely solo of "At Last" from the Gordon/Warren 1941 musical Orchestra Wives, putting his own spin on it.
Baritone Dimitri Katotakis serenaded us with "Skylark", the well known song by Mercer and Carmichael. Mr. Blier told the audience that he only considers two songs to be "perfect". This was one and the other is by Gabriel Fauré!
The ensemble had a few numbers in which to show their ensemble spirit, beside the aforementioned "I Yi Yi Yi". They performed "Cheerful Little Earful", the Ira Gershwin & Billy Rose song with music by Harold Arlen.
They closed the evening with a Mercer/Carmichael tune "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" from the 1951 musical Here Comes the Groom.
And there was an encore with some lovely harmonies to relish--the Mercer/Arlen tune "Bye Bye Baby" which left the wildly enthusiastic audience in a state of midnight bliss.
(c) meche kroop