|Joshua Breitzer, Donna Breitzer, Alex Mansoori, Miles Mykkanen, Lauren Worsham, and Theo Hoffman
The annual Xmas cabaret--"A Goyishe Christmas to You!"--comprises yuletide music by Jewish composers. We loved it last year and we loved it even more this year. Lucky are those who discovered it five years ago!
The eponymous Henry introduced the evening with a few words about ecumenism. The Upper West Side includes people of every persuasion. This event brings the community together in celebration of the holiday season and spices it all up with a sense of humor.
Steven Blier curates and arranges the songs and shares fascinating tidbits about the composers. The singers, who rightfully adore this icon of the musical world, put heart and soul and a little extra into making the evening a rousing success. The stresses of the world outside dissolve in a puddle of good will. Everyone leaves grinning.
The Rodgers and Hart song "Sing for Your Supper" from the 1938 hit The Boys from Syracuse opens every NYFOS After Hours show at Henry's. This time it was sung by Thomas West.
We heard songs serious and songs silly, each one delivered with passion and panache. On the serious side, Felix Mendelssohn's music for a cantata provided for the harmonious quartet of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing".
Baritone Theo Hoffman invested each verse of Tormé's "The Christmas Song" (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire--THAT Xmas song) with vibrant color while Mr. Blier's piano dazzled us. Cabaret star Lauren Worsham led the company in a beautiful arrangement of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas".
But it was the silly songs that stole the show. Our favorite was "Candle in My Window"by Howard Levitsky and Marc Miller (who were in the audience), hilariously performed by Alex Mansoori. This song spoofs Jewish people who celebrate Xmas and the justifications they come up with. The best line is "Bless the Christian and the Jew, bless the other guys too, and God Bless the Christmas Jew". Knowing laughter rippled through the audience.
Mr. Mansoori was equally funny in David Friedman's "My Simple Christmas Wish" when he sang about wanting to be rich, famous, and powerful--without making any efforts. We might add that Mr. Mansoori was equally effective in Livingston and Evans' "Silver Bells". Maestro Blier let us in on the fact that Jay Livingston was born Jacob Levinson and the song refers to the Salvation Army bells and references the fact that Jews are known for their charity towards the poor. He also made sure we heard the bells in the piano.
Husband /wife team Cantor Joshua and Donna Breitzer sang a funny version of Frank Loesser's "Baby, It's Cold Outside"--in Yiddish! This miracle of translation was accomplished by one Binyumen Schaechter and Mr. Blier made sure there was a funny spin put on it. Mr. Breitzer also sang "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" in Yiddish, cracking up the audience. This Johnny Marks song was arranged by Kugelplex and Breitzer himself and was accompanied by Alan Kay playing a very Klezmer inflected clarinet.
Speaking of funny spins, it would not be a Steven Blier event without a gay tweak to the program. In this case it was the pairing of tenor Miles Mykkanen and baritone Theo Hoffman singing a very gay version of Bernard and Smith's "Winter Wonderland". It was clever. It was romantic. We loved it. They made a swell and harmonious couple, LOL.
Mr. Mykkanen has an outsize personality and a unique timbre to his voice that made his rendition of Loesser's "Let it Snow" quite an event. Mr. Kay accompanied on the clarinet.
Every recital should have a Tom Lehrer song and this one did--"Hanukkah in Santa Monica" with Breitzer and Kay taking the lead and the company contributing funny lines we wish we could remember.
Breitzer and Worsham did a funny duet that was new to us--Roy Zimmerman's "Don't Let Gramma Cook Christmas Dinner". The multi-talented Breitzer accompanied on the guitar. It reminded us of relatives who try very very hard but are just lousy cooks. The song employed hyperbole to great effect.
We don't want to forget Ms. Worsham's plaintive delivery of Loesser's 1947 hit "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" in which she bent the notes to fine emotional effect. Mr. Kay made fine contributions on his clarinet and Blier shared a very personal and touching reminiscence of a highly special New Year's Eve in his life--a warm and fuzzy story.
Perhaps next Xmas you will attend and hear this story. We are keeping it close to our heart!
(c) meche kroop