Cole Porter on the East Side - New York City Article
Mark Nadler, Jeff Harnar, T. Oliver Reid, and many others
The Beach Cafe
1326 2nd Ave, at East 70th St.
Opening night, Thursday July 27
Peter & Will Anderson with Molly Ryan, “Songbook Summit”
59 E 59 Theater
59 East 59th Street
Through August 27
Cole Porter was a peripatetic world traveler, constantly on the move, despite a debilitating physical handicap that would have traumatized a lesser man. And yet, even while he was hopping from continent to continent, whether cruising through Suez, or amongst the the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees, he never ceased producing a steady stream of amazingly durable songs. When he “stopped” in New York, as they used to say, he usually chose to bunk at a modest little suite in the Waldorf-Astoria. How fitting then, that Manhattan’s East Side should currently be home to what amounts to a mini-festival of Cole Porter’s words-and-music. It also seems appropriate that both of these venues are rooms where Porter’s songs, truthfully, haven’t been heard much, until now.
Porter is currently the focus of attention at the Beach Cafe, an unpretentious bistro on the corner of Second Avenue and 70th St (a pebble’s throw to the new Second Avenue subway station). Pianist-singer-entertainer cum impresario Mark Nadler has recruited a half dozen or so interpreters of the Great American Songbook who can easily be classified as the Coliseum, the Louvre Museum, the top. Last week it was Mr. Nadler himself, this week it’s Jeff Harnar, and next it’s T. Oliver Reid (August 10-12), who will be examiner Porter through the lens of one of his most distinctive interpreters, the late Bobby Short. (And in September, there will be yet more Porter, as both Karen Akers and Stacy Sullivan will continue to shovel Cole.)
Mr. Nadler started the ball rolling - and a swell party this is - with a show that was exquisitely personal, almost a monologue with songs interwoven, that amounted to an attempt to get under Porter’s actual skin. What set the songwriter’s own heart beat-beat-beating? Mr. Nadler projected his own educated opinion on that score, illustrated with the actual songs, and even Porter’s own letters to the loves he had to seclude in the shadows in that not always enlightened era.
Mr. Harnar’s show, continuing tonight at the Beach, had no shortage of moving moments, but was highlighted by a succession of showstoppers. Porter wrote more comedy songs and spent more time being funny than any of his fellow Broadway giants, and many of his wittiest require epic feats of memorization as much as interpretation. It’s enough for a one-man show to include even one of those tours-de-force, but Harnar deftly danced his way around no less than three: “It’s Delovely,” “Let’s Not Talk About Love” and “Can Can.” These imposing words-and-music constructs are his specialty; surely no other contemporary singer could so deftly render these triple and quadruple-rhyming-scheme monoliths in such a way that every rhyme gets a different nuance, a completely different and appropriate tonal or lyrical shading.
Peter and Will Anderson, the swinging siblings of the saxophone, are herewith mining Cole to christen a month-long series of jazzy composer collections (followed by Harold Arlen, George Gershwin, and Richard Rodgers). As instrumentalists, most of the focus is on Porter’s music - those lyrical long forms that we find in “Begin the Beguine” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” two songs that were both originally conceived in terms of Pan-American rhythms. The expert swing singer Molly Ryan is also on hand to deliver the words on roughly half the tune stack. They keep the melodies fresh and lively, not least by by constantly switching up the two-reed front line: clarinet and flute on “In the Still of the Night,” soprano and clarinet on “It’s Delovely,” soprano and flute “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” There’s also a deft use of multimedia, and other devices to make this a more comfortable fit for cabaret aficionados who aren’t accustomed to bass and drum solos.
In all, Porter is well served over on the East side of the city that he occasionally called home. He may have loved Paris, but he also happened to like New York.
Author: Will Friedwald
Will Friedwald writes about music and popular culture for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, VANITY FAIR and PLAYBOY magazine and reviews current shows for THE CITIVIEW NEW YORK. He also is the author of nine books, including the award-winning A BIOGRAPHICAL GUIDE TO THE GREAT JAZZ AND POP SINGERS, SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU, STARDUST MELODIES, TONY BENNETT: THE GOOD LIFE, LOONEY TUNES & MERRIE MELODIES, and JAZZ SINGING. He has written over 600 liner notes for compact discs, received ten Grammy nominations, and appears frequently on television and other documentaries. He is also a consultant and curator for Apple Music.
SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU - NEW REVISED EDITION (Chicago Review Press, May 2018)