Will's New York Nite Life

Will's New York Nite Life

Mark Nadler (and others) at 
The Beach Cafe

Mark Nadler (and others) at The Beach Cafe

Posted Jul 23, 2017

The opening of a new performance space in Manhattan is always big news, but there are many reasons to be excited that the Beach Cafe, on the corner of Second Avenue and 70th Street, is now announcing a full schedule of “cabaret-style” performances. First, the Cafe is perfectly located: apart from the highly upscale Cafe Carlyle (and Bemelman’s), there’s no comparable space on the Upper East Side, and is situated just a few feet away from the new Second Avenue subway station. Second, the cafe is not expensive: rather, they are offering talent on the level of the Old Algonquin at prices more comparable to the old Danny’s Skylight Room, and are promising that the cover will never be more than $20. Most importantly, the room is being booked by veteran entertainer Mark Nadler, who will also also be the opening headliner on Thursday, July 27. What’s more, the first three big shows (Mr. Nadler, July 27th to 29th; Jeff Harnar, August 3rd to 5th; T. Oliver Reid, August 10th to 12th) will all be focused on the incomparable words and music of Cole Porter, thus showing the Cafe’s commitment to the absolute top drawer of what is not for nothing called The Great American Songbook. That’s at least five reasons to check out the Beach Cafe, and I can’t of a single one not to.

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The New Musical

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The New Musical

Posted Jul 18, 2017

Most of us know this story from the 1971 movie musical Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but the creators of this new Broadway production have gone back to the original title of Roald Dahl’s 1964 book to convey that this is more than a stage adaptation of that classic film. Instead, Messrs Greig, Shaiman, and Wittman have expanded (adding many new and worthwhile songs), updated (in a way that Dahl, a supreme curmudgeon, would have approved of), and in many ways even improved upon the familiar version. For example, in the movie, the score’s best-known song, “The Candy Man,” is given to a throwaway character; now on Broadway, it’s rightfully become the big opening number, and a proper introduction to Christian Borle as Willy Wonka himself. Virtually everything that’s good about the Gene Wilder movie - including virtually all the unforgettable songs by Leslie Bricusse and the late Anthony Newley - has been retained, and considerable has been added. Veruca Salt (the character name that inspired a well known prog-rock band in the 1990s) is now a Putin-era Russian princess-ballerina, quite literally a prima donna, and Mike Teavee is an internet-addicted social network maven. This is quite possibly the best work yet from Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who have already Hairspray, Catch Me If You Can, and the under-appreciated Fame Becomes Me to their credit. The new songs stand side by side with the ones we’ve all grown up with. Best of all, the tone of Dahl’s original work, equal parts sardonic and sentimental, has been retained - perhaps even more so in the new songs than in the 1971 ones. Charlie: “Is Mr. Wonka joking, or is he serious?” Grandpa Joe: “ I don’t know. He might be both.” Of all the new shows on Broadway this season, this is the one that might be most worthy of repeated attendance.

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Meow Meow, with Lance Horne on piano

Meow Meow, with Lance Horne on piano

Posted Jul 18, 2017

For those who haven’t yet had the pleasure, “Meow Meow” is the performance persona of Melissa Madden Gray, an Australian singer and actress who, as Meow Meow, is one of the primary figures in what New Yorkers call “Alt Cabaret” but what most of the rest of the English-speaking world calls just plain “cabaret.” The Meow Meow character is an internationally-celebrated sacred monster of a diva, yet a highly dysfunctional one, who alights the stage wearing a raggedy tutu, a single frayed opera glove, and holding not one but two half-smoked cigarettes - and, oh yes, largely covered in police tape. (“International boundaries are not as easy to to cross as they used to be,” she informs us.) Along the way, she bickers comically with her musical director (the formidable Lance Horne - when he he puts his Emmy award on the piano, she mumbles under her breath, “daytime”), is constantly getting the wrong lighting from the tech crew, and makes all sorts of bizarre demands from the audience - like positioning young men on stage (“the sacred space”) with disco balls and flashlights. All this interaction shtick with the crowd is not only funny in and of itself, but helps make her songs (like the very touching “One For Sorrow”) seem all the more poignant. For all the outrageousness of her character - she often seems like a postnuclear Sally Bowles - her singing is extremely subtle, more intimate than oversized, and her material is mostly high class cabaret fare, like Brecht and Weill. “Pirate Jenny,” which must be a kind of a national anthem in Joe’s Pub, is downright bone chilling, especially in German.

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The 92nd St Y presents JAZZ IN JULY 2017

The 92nd St Y presents JAZZ IN JULY 2017

Updated Jul 17, 2017

(PS: the only bad news - Ottomanelli’s, on East 93rd St and Lexington Avenue, where I have dined before every 92Y concert for like forever, is now, alas, closed. Can anyone recommend some other presentable establishment with decent burgers in the 92Y area?)

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Christine Andreas, Piaf - No Regrets,
Feinsteins / 54 Below

Christine Andreas, Piaf - No Regrets, Feinsteins / 54 Below

Posted Jul 12, 2017

One of the most prodigiously endowed vocal artists of the contemporary musical theater, Christine Andreas doesn’t so much recreate Piaf (apart from modulating her vibrato to roughly match that of The Little Sparrow) but re-animate her songbook with verve, energy, and a matchless voice. The narration guides us through the 47 years of Piaf’s time on earth, with all its brilliant highs and depressing lows, and puts the classic Piaf ballads (“La Vie en Rose”) and belters (“If You Love Me”), not to mention all those enumerable and irresistible minor key waltzes (“Sous le Ciel”) into the context of her life. No one has ever done a better job of recapturing the high drama of Piaf’s existence and balancing it against the considerable sense of humor in her music. Easily one of the best “tribute” shows I’ve ever seen.

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City Center Encores! presents ASSASSINS by Stephen Sondheim &  John Weidman

City Center Encores! presents ASSASSINS by Stephen Sondheim & John Weidman

Updated Jun 30, 2017

Stephen Sondheim wrote one show about cannibalism (Sweeney Todd) and another that climaxes in the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Pacific Overtures). Yet his most disturbing work is easily Assassins, a bone-chilling look into the souls of those who tried to kill a United States President. Set in a revue format, rather than a conventional narrative, this innovative work is only rarely staged - and it’s not hard to see why. This much anticipated production stars Shuler Hensley (who was so effective in the recent Encores productions of The Most Happy Fella and Fiorello!) and Steven Pasquale (well known from TV’s Rescue Me but also one of the best baritones on the contemporary Broadway scene). That John Weidman’s book and Mr. Sondheim’s words and music sometimes make the likes of John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald seem something like sympathetic only makes the work even more unsettling. Assassins is no less moving today than it was when first staged in 1990, and It’s hard to imagine a political era when this work isn’t both extremely relevant and unrelentingly controversial. Not exactly musical comedy, but absolutely riveting theater.

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The Montreal Jazz Festival 2017

The Montreal Jazz Festival 2017

Posted Jun 27, 2017

Although New York remains the epicenter of the jazz world, with the demise of the JVC Jazz Festival (can it really be almost ten years ago?), the number one festival in the Western Hemisphere is now, almost without any competition, The Montreal Jazz Festival, which for almost 40 years, has been held at the end of June and the beginning of July. The MJF is at once diverse and consistent, featuring nearly all the jazz headliners that there are (this is where Diana Krall really launched her career) as well as many sympathetic visitors from other musical realms, ie, if you like jazz, chances are that you’ll probably also like Bob Dylan (June 30) and King Crimson (July 2). But what makes this such a unique festival - unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in New York - is the incredible amount of free music presented al fresco - in the Complexe Desjardins, a huge Lincoln Center-like plaza that, during the afternoon, always seems to have at least four bands playing at once in each of its corner stages, all afternoon. While there are no shortage of American stars, this is also the festival that does more than any other (at least in this continent) to promote the idea of jazz as a world music. The headliners come out in the evening for the ticketed concerts, and they are always the main attraction, but it’s the bands that play outdoors - many of them local - during the daylight hours that give the festival its unique flavor. And yes, it’s well worth the trip for New Yorkers.

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The New York Hot Jazz Festival presents US-France: A Centennial Voyage

The New York Hot Jazz Festival presents US-France: A Centennial Voyage

Posted Jun 27, 2017

The dual purpose of this free (non-ticketed) all-star extravaganza (a mini festival contained in one jam-packed five hour time slot) is to commemorate both the hundredth anniversary of the first jazz record and the century of collaboration between America and France that was cemented with the American entry into the first world war in 1917 - and which, in turn, led directly to the constant presence of jazz in France over the last hundred years. If you’re in the city this Saturday, this spectacular show is one you don’t want to miss, with four distinct bands, starting with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, plus the Avalon Jazz Band with special guest Stephane Wrembel, Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses from New Orleans, as well as an actual French Army military brass orchestra. Singers include the extraordinary Catherine Russell, the versatile Kat Edmonson and France’s own Tatiana Eva-Marie. And as special guests, the highly celebrated French Soprano Natalie Dessay plus dancers Nicolle Rochelle (recreating Josephine Baker, the African American entertainer who conquered Paris in the jazz age), and tap dance wiz DeWitte Fleming Jr. (of Smash and Boardwalk Empire fame).  Did we mention that it's free?

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Melissa Errico, Broadway Firecracker at Birdland

Melissa Errico, Broadway Firecracker at Birdland

Updated Jun 21, 2017