Will's New York Nite Life

Will's New York Nite Life

Duncan Sheik @ The Cafe Carlyle

Duncan Sheik @ The Cafe Carlyle

Posted Oct 5, 2017

For those Broadway-centric attendees - and Carlyle regulars - the debut of Duncan Sheik at the Cafe Carlyle contains a lot of surprises. Most of us know him through the two shows of his that have thus far made it to Broadway, the Tony-winning Spring Awakening (2006) and American Psycho (2016). The first is about teen anguish (and German teen anguish at that), although it has many gentler moments; the second, well, it’s about American psychos, and uses some very challenging forms of avant-rock to tell its highly-disturbing story (the logo for the show was a set of headphones dripping with blood). However, in person in the intimate space of the Carlyle, much of Mr. Sheik’s music is unexpectedly romantic - and that applies both to his “singer-songwriter” material, those songs he wrote for his eight solo albums (thus far). “Circling” is a compelling, thoughtful ballad, even more so in person than on his latest album, the 2015 Legerdemain. Overall, he and his trio at the Carlyle (with Jason Hart, keyboards, and Doug Yowell, drums), create a lovely minimalist vibe throughout the evening, putting one in mind of film score composers like Carter Burwell. For Broadway buffs, the highlights were the songs like “Mama Who Bore Me,” from Spring Awakening, done as a duo with Kathryn Gallagher. Yet for a goodly portion of the crowd, the song that they came to hear was Mr. Sheik’s biggest pop hit, the 1996 “Barely Breathing,” which served as a perfect encore and closer.

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Laura Osnes: The World of Rodgers & Hammerstein

Laura Osnes: The World of Rodgers & Hammerstein

Posted Sep 27, 2017

For those who feel that the best part of Broadway is great singers doing great songs, Tony-nominated singer-actress Laura Osnes’s latest offering at the Carlyle is all the good stuff: one of the most engaging younger performers with one of the most outstanding voices on Broadway doing song after classic Rodgers and Hammerstein song. Partnering with accompanist and musical director Ted Sperling (who chimes in a bit himself, here and there), she starts very strong with a medley of three R&H waltzes: “Impossible” (from her award-winning leading role as Cinderella), “I Whistle a Happy Tune” (The King and I), “My Favorite Things” (The Sound of Music), and delivers them with such convention that you would love to hear the two of them sustain an entire hour of Richard Rodgers in three-quarter time - although Ms. Osnes is just as winning in 2/4 and 4/4. Continuing the idea of delivering the most essential parts of a classic show, Ms. Osnes has recruited an outstanding young baritone Ryan Silverman to join her in two classic R&H set pieces - two iconic falling-in-love sequences from Carousel (including “If I Loved You”) and South Pacific. He also delivers a full-blown version of the famous “Soliloquy” from Carousel, something not often heard in a supper club. Gloriously sung, this is musical theater at its most intimate - and at its most sublimely musical.

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Maria Friedman Sings Sondheim and Bernstein @ 54 Below

Maria Friedman Sings Sondheim and Bernstein @ 54 Below

Posted Sep 21, 2017

Maria Friedman is one of the rare singer-actresses that has become so universally respected as an interpreter of the great theater songs (both in full scale productions as well as her own one-woman shows) that she’s become one of the very few to “graduate,” as it were, to shaping the interpretations and performances of others, as a director. The works of Stephen Sondheim have long been a career focal point, which has led to her serve as director of the current highly-acclaimed (and hopefully Broadway-bound) production of Merrily We Roll Along. Her new cabaret show intermingles the Sondheim catalog with the equally iconic songs of his one-time collaborator Leonard Bernstein. As you’d expect, it returns repeatedly to that celebrated one-shot collaboration, West Side Story, but also unearths a few rarities along the way, like a Bernstein anti-war song called “So Pretty” and “Take Care of this House,” from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a 1976 musical about the White House that somehow seems especially relevant today. In what first seems be a nervy move for a Londoner, she begins with an extended collage of Metrocentric songs by both composers, including “What More Do I Need” and the less frequently heard “Me and My Town,” and interprets them with such penetrating insight that you almost feel that she knows more about New York than those of us who live here do. Spoiler alert: her encore finale, “Gee, Officer Krupke” which she sings as a one-woman quartet of Jets (with the aid of multiple chapeaus and a judge’s wig) is a comic tour-de-force.

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The Fifth Annual Hot Jazz Festival
(@ The McKittrick Hotel)

The Fifth Annual Hot Jazz Festival (@ The McKittrick Hotel)

Posted Sep 21, 2017

Even at the first Hot Jazz Festival, way back in 2013, it was immediately clear that this not-yet-annual celebration was going to be one of the big events of the year, and something to look forward to. Every year since then, festival founder and producer Michael Katsobashvili has proved over and over that the hottest thing in jazz isn’t necessarily the newest, but, more often than you’d be expect, the genre of the music that most appeals to new generations, both as listeners (and dancers!) and creators, are the exuberant sounds that flourished in New Orleans, Chicago, and Harlem up through the 1920s and 1930s and earlier. For this edition, some of the mainstays are back, and they’ve grown in stature since the festival started - especially cofounder Bria Skonberg and the Hot Sardines, who are now signed to Sony and Universal Music, respectively. In addition to exuberant mainstays like the Grand Street Stompers, trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso’s EarRegulars, clarinet Dennis Lichtman with Mona’s Hot Four, there are welcome newcomers like Felix Peikli, Joe Doubleday's Showtime Band with Kat Edmonson, and the brilliant french songstress Cyrille Aimee teaming with her countryman and modern day Djangologist, Stephane Wrembel. The varieties of this music are endless: I’m especially looking forward to shows celebrating unusual instruments: not only hot violin (with both Aaron Weinstein, Andy Stein), but jazz washboard (a French speciality, it turns out) and jazz theremin (masterminded by that multi-instrumental mad genius, Scott Robinson) and tributes to deserving jazz age giants like Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, and Annette Hanshaw (the latter by that overwhelmingly unique song stylist Tamar Korn).

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Dianna Agron @ Cafe Carlyle

Dianna Agron @ Cafe Carlyle

Posted Sep 20, 2017

Dianna Agron, making her debut at the Café Carlyle this week, may be the only headliner I’ve seen in a New York club who hasn’t yet been on Broadway but has nevertheless earned the right to call herself a “singer-actress” through her work on television, specifically the long-running, musically-driven series Glee. (Although her stylish black gown and cape seemed a little more like something from Game of Thrones.) Even though she’s new to doing solo shows (accompanied by guitarist Gill Landry) in small-ish rooms like the Carlyle, she already seems to have grasped the single most fundamental idea of what we (at least in New York) call “cabaret,” which is the idea of keeping everything intimate and establishing a direct connection with the crowd. Although she’s shown elsewhere that she can belt when she wants, she wisely sang most of her opening night in a low breathy whisper, like a post-millennial update of Julie London. She also knows that she can reach the crowd more easily with songs everybody knows, and to that end the program is a set of 1960s-centric standards (mostly associated with male performers) - the only significantly older song is “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” and that, as we know, is also a 1960s pop hit. The voice is lovely and the guitar backing matches the mood, making both performers seem suitably vulnerable. Some songs are sung to the audience, like “Bang Bang” and “Harvest Moon,” while others are done with the audience, like “Dance Me to the End of Love” (I never had thought of Leonard Cohen’s music as suitable for a campfire-style sing-along) and “Dream a Little Dream.” Either way, this young woman has a commendable understanding of the medium, and I’m sure this won’t be her last appearance in a major midtown club.

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Bob Dorough: Back to School House Rock

Bob Dorough: Back to School House Rock

Posted Sep 13, 2017

At 93, singer, pianist, songwriter and raconteur Bob Dorough has led many lives: you might group him with Jon Hendricks, the late Oscar Brown, Jr., and his frequent collaborator Dave Frischberg as one of the few significant songwriters to write distinctly jazz-flavored words and music for jazz singers and musicians - most famously “Comin’ Home Baby” for Mel Torme, “I’ve Got Just About Everything” for Tony Bennett, and “I’m Hip” for Blossom Dearie.

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Wynton Marsalis & The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra: The Fantastic Mr. Jelly Lord

Wynton Marsalis & The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra: The Fantastic Mr. Jelly Lord

Posted Sep 1, 2017

Special guests include two of the most outstanding younger piano virtuosos of the contemporary era, Aaron Diehl and Sullivan Fortner, and two even younger piano prodigies who are still ensconced at Juilliard, Micah Thomas and Joel Wenhardt.

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Melissa Errico & Richard Troxell in KISS ME, KATE!

Melissa Errico & Richard Troxell in KISS ME, KATE!

Posted Aug 15, 2017

In 1948, Kiss Me Kate was welcomed as a return to form for the genius that was Cole Porter. The great songwriter had not enjoyed a major hit on Broadway for nearly a decade, and, on top of which, he now had to contend with the spanking-new form of book-driven integrated musical theater pioneered by Rodgers & Hammerstein. Inspired by Shakespeare’s sexiest comedy, The Taming of the Shrew, and an brilliant book by Broadway veterans Samuel and Bella Spewack, Porter came up with his most durable and most frequently-revived show, winning the first-ever Tony award in the process. Porter’s words and music ingeniously tell two stories at once, a backstage tale of egocentric actors and divas interacting with gangsters and gamblers as they attempt to stage an all-singing, all-dancing version of Shakespeare’s classic comedy of 1592. This al fresco concert production takes the Bard’s notion of a “troop of strolling players” very literally, offering just the essentials, starting with a magnificent pair of leads, Melissa Errico and Metropolitan Opera baritone Richard Troxell, who were so effective in the Encores! production of Do I Hear a Waltz, heading a cast of 14. Even if you don’t live in Long Island, it would be well worth riding the Hamptons Jitney to the ends of the earth down Highway 27 to hear Ms. Errico’s lilting soprano on “So In Love” and Mr. Troxell tell us of the “The Life that Late I Led.” Wunderbar!

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Michael Feinstein, SHOWSTOPPERS

Michael Feinstein, SHOWSTOPPERS

Posted Aug 15, 2017

In his summer offering at the club that bears his name, Michael Feinstein has built his own solo show around the notion of Broadway showstoppers. In doing so, however, he proves that it doesn’t necessarily take a loud and brassy eleven o’clock production number with 5,000 dancers to stop a show - often the desired effect can be achieved with a song that’s intimate and personal, like “Losing My Mind” (from Sondheim’s Follies), which he delivers in an especially moving solo reading, accompanied only by his own piano. (Otherwise, the ace rhythm section of Tedd Firth, musical director and piano, Phil Palumbo, bass, and Mark McLean, drums, is on hand.) Sometimes a show can also be stopped with a comedy number that’s almost an olympic feat of tongue twisting and timing, as Mr. Feinstein shows with Ira Gershwin’s “Tchaikovsky” and all five choruses of Cole Porter’s “Can Can.” But in general, the most moving showstoppers are the most intensely emotional moments, as on Billy Goldenberg’s “Fifty Percent,” and, in a very different way on Mr. Feinstein’s very touching solo tribute to the late Barbara Cook on “Goodnight My Someone.” There are enough showstoppers in this 70-minute show to last an entire season on Broadway.

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