Will's New York Nite Life

Will's New York Nite Life

Irving Berlin's THIS IS THE ARMY

Irving Berlin's THIS IS THE ARMY

Posted Nov 8, 2017

In 1942, Irving Berlin broke new ground with a remarkable revue of new songs (and comedy sketches) starring an all-military, all-male cast and featuring some of the legendary composer’s absolute greatest songs, like "This Is The Army, Mr. Jones," "I'm Getting Tired So I Can Sleep," "I Left My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen," "That's What the Well Dressed Man in Harlem Will Wear," and "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning." The production not only played Broadway, but then toured the country, was made into a stunning technicolor movie musical in Hollywood, and then was staged for the benefit of service audiences of both the European and Pacific fronts - for the first time, the theater of war became a theater for musical comedy. The show broke new ground in all kinds of ways, featuring an ensemble of freely-mixed African-American and Caucasian cast members (way before the Armed Forces were integrated), and even had cross-dressing soldiers, way before "don't ask, don't tell." Irving Berlin, who toured with the show even in some of the most dangerous places in the world, considered This is the Army one of the crowning achievements of his amazing career, and this 75th anniversary staging (the first time it’s been produced since WW2) will show us why.

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MasterVoices Presents: OF THEE I SING

MasterVoices Presents: OF THEE I SING

Posted Nov 1, 2017

Quick: what factor most makes the 1931 Of Thee I Sing into one of the great works of the American theater? If you said the score by George & Ira Gershwin, almost unbelievably, you’d be wrong. (By Gershwin standards, this particular batch of songs is far from one of their greatest. In fact, where most Gershwin shows have at least a dozen classic songs, a mere three tunes here became standards: the title number, “Love is Sweeping the Country,” and “Who Cares?”) In a way that’s still surprising, this is virtually the only classic musical of its era that became immortal by virtue of its book. The line “Satire is what closes on Saturday night” became one of the legendary George S. Kaufman’s most famous encomiums, but he broke his own rule with this brilliant work of political and musical satire, which played many, many Saturday nights and matinees during the Great Depression, and since. It's the book which makes this one of the few book musicals of the pre-Oklahoma! era that’s regularly revived, although for some mysterious reason, New Yorkers always seem to bring it back during moments of Republican ascendency - shortly before the election of Eisenhower in 1952, then during the Bush II administration in 2006, and now in the days of POTUS #45. (No conspiracy there, of course.) But no matter what your politics are, this is a blissfully funny and tuneful show with the power to unite us all, red and blue alike. It’s satire seems more on target than ever, almost 90 years after it was first written - even though the idea that the fate of a nation can hang on something as trivial as corn muffins somehow doesn’t seem quite as preposterous as it once did.

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M. Butterfly @ The Cort Theater

M. Butterfly @ The Cort Theater

Posted Oct 31, 2017

Surprisingly, this is the first non-musical (and only the fifth Broadway show overall) to be directed by Julie Taymor (who won a Tony Award for The Lion King in 1997), and she has brought her enormous visual - and even musical - imagination to bear on what has become an iconic American play. Considered disturbing when it first premiered in 1988, M. Butterfly hasn’t lost any of its power to shock, in fact, it may be even more upsetting now. The idea of a relationship between two men is, of course, completely acceptable in the 21st Century, but in this current mindset of political correctness, where practically everybody is afraid to say practically anything, M. Butterfly remains a bold and daring statement. It is a dark, disturbing drama, and its message is heightened by a considerable sense of humor and a generous use of music. Indeed, it’s Ms. Taymor’s staging of the musical sequences - and the contrast, say between Italian opera, traditional Chinese opera, and Communist era Chinese ballet - that does much to illuminate the story points about the clash of cultures, as well as of familiar gender roles. From what I remembered of the original 1988 production and the furor it caused at the time, I was anticipating squirming in my seat (and not in a good way) during several key scenes (no spoilers here). Those moments are as uncomfortable as ever, yet the scenes depicting the Chinese Cultural Revolution are even more horrifying than they were back in 1988, at the tail end of the Cold War. The impact of the story is also enhanced by stunning performances by both of the leading men, Clive Owen and Jin Ha, but this may be one of the first productions I’ve ever seen of anything where the director is much more the star attraction than the actors or even the narrative itself.

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Photo by David Andrako.

Mandy Gonzalez @ Cafe Carlyle

Posted Oct 25, 2017

For most of her career thus far, singer-actress Mandy Gonzalez has been associated with the Broadway canon of Lin Manuel Miranda, including both of his two Tony-winning shows, In the Heights and Hamilton. Therefore, when she made her debut at the Cafe Carlyle on Tuesday (October 24), we regular habitues had no idea what to expect, except, possibly a mixture of rap and salsa. What we received was a well-thought-out mix of the very traditional (“I Only Have Eyes For You,” albeit delivered in the style of The Flamingos, rather than Dick Powell) and the cutting edge (like “Fearless,” written for her by Mr. Miranda, and the title of her new album). Apart from her winning personality and high style, the show also succeeds by virtue of continual musical surprise: ie, Andrew Lippa’s “Raise the Roof” is a likely opener, but I didn’t expect to hear it delivered en clave (6/8?) - and it’s followed by “On a Clear Day,” but in straight ahead 4/4 swing. Throughout, she constantly mixes genres in a way that never fails to hold our attention: when she sings “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” it’s now a love song, the kind sung from one human being to another, rather than an aria of self-delusion (the way it is in Sunset Boulevard) and she also renders Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” in a way that seems, for the first time (to me, at least) more personal and intimate than anthemic. She ends with a perfect encore, another highly individual interpretation of an iconic song, a thoroughly re-imagined and de-waltzed “Que Sera Sera” (which seems especially moving as delivered by a Latina performer). Yet the highlight has already arrived a few songs earlier, when she builds to a well-considered sequence from Joe Raposo’s “Being Green” to “Defying Gravity,” now an empowering mantra for green-skinned people everywhere. For her Carlyle debut, Ms. Gonzalez doesn’t exactly defy gravity, but rather she makes it work in her favor.

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Sidney Myer @ The Laurie Beechman Theater

Sidney Myer @ The Laurie Beechman Theater

Posted Oct 25, 2017

Chuck Jones, the great animation director - and Bugs Bunny auteur - often spoke of two different kinds of comedians, making a distinction between one “who opens a funny door” and the other who “opens a door funny.” Sidney Myer, singer and comic (and bon-vivant) is both: he can sing a song written for laughs, like “Good Advice,” and milk it for all the comic mileage that composer Allan Sherman intended. Yet he can also take a song that was written as something completely, you should forgive the expression, straight, like “It’s So Nice to Have a Man Around the House,” and turn it into a comic tour-de-force. Mr. Myer is among the funniest comedians working today, and it’s a testament to his remarkable individuality that he uses the medium of music, rather than the more predictable format of spoken jokes, as his punchline delivery system. Mr. Myer is so overwhelmingly funny, that whenever he appears, I laugh so hard that milk inevitably comes out of my nose - even when I haven’t been drinking milk to begin with.

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Musicals Tonight presents Bells Are Ringing

Musicals Tonight presents Bells Are Ringing

Posted Oct 25, 2017

Bells Are Ringing, one of the all-time classic musical comedies (by Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Jules Styne), was most recently revived in a beautiful concert production by City Center Encores in 2010. (And, about a decade before that, in a full scale Broadway revival starring Faith Prince in 2001.) Yet I’m looking forward to this more intimate staging at Musicals tonight possibly even more, for one good reason. The Encores! version starred Kelli O’Hara, a marvelous leading lady with a miraculous soprano, but not a notable comedienne. Contrastingly, the central role in the current production - Ella Peterson, a telephone operator who gets entangled in the personal lives of her clients - is essayed by a relative newcomer with the unlikely name of Oakley Boycott. Ms. Boycott is a genuine eccentric and a true theatrical character: she’s worked as a model, but unlike most of her sisters in the trade, she has anything but a typical face, in fact, it’s the kind of punim that you can’t forget. She can also sing, dance, and act, but it’s her unique ability to be both funny and pretty - not to mention highly sympathetic - that stands her in good stead as a potentially worthy heiress to the legacy of Judy Holliday, who created the role 60 years ago. In an age when most younger Broadway hopefuls are willfully interchangeable, Ms. Boycott is one-of-a-kind.

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Anything Can Happen in the Theater:
The Songs of Maury Yeston

Anything Can Happen in the Theater: The Songs of Maury Yeston

Posted Oct 21, 2017

“Anything Can Happen in the Theater:
The Songs of Maury Yeston”
featuring: Robert Cuccioli, Alex Getlin, Justin Keyes, Michael Maliakel & Jill Paice
The Triad (Stage 72)
158 West 72nd Street, 212-279-4200
Concluding Saturday (October 21)

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The 28th Annual New York Cabaret Convention

The 28th Annual New York Cabaret Convention

Posted Oct 16, 2017

If the late Donald Smith (manager of the legendary Mabel Mercer and creator of the foundation in her name) had not founded the Cabaret Convention in 1989, someone else would have had to have done it; it’s become the kind of event that’s so central to this city’s musical life that we can’t imagine Autumn in New York without it. For over four nights and over 80 different performers altogether, you’ll get to hear just about every worthwhile cabaret artiste (every diva and divo) currently active in the New York scene - and that roster lately goes beyond singers to include the likes of comedian-provocateur Bruce Vilanche and the dazzlingly entertaining jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein. The show that I’m most looking forward personally to is the climactic evening - a celebration of two Great American songwriters, Richard Whiting and Hoagy Carmichael, never before saluted by the Convention, but I wouldn't miss any of the four evenings.

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Rita Wilson @ 
The Cafe Carlyle

Rita Wilson @ The Cafe Carlyle

Posted Oct 11, 2017

“We all need stories,” singer-actress-songwriter (and in other guises, producer, philanthropist, and social activist) tells us at the start of her latest run at the Carlyle. For Ms. Wilson, the daughter of immigrants, those stories take the form of songs that she heard on the radio in the late 1960s and early ‘70s: rock, pop, folk, and country. Her show consists entirely (with one notable exception early on) of originals written more or less in these various period subgenres. normally, both of those factors that might strain the boundaries of what customarily transpires in an intimate supper club space like the Carlyle, but Ms. Wilson works. Her personality is consistently upbeat and engaging, and she narrates the show with well-prepared patter that expertly guides us from one song to another. Near the start, she takes us through two classic country-pop “talking” story songs of the 1960s, “Ode to Billie Joe” and “Harper Valley PTA,” and uses her take on them to springboard into her own material. Many of her numbers (“Big City Small Town Girl”), have an autobiographical angle to them, but they all present different aspects of her story and personality: on “New Girl,” inspired by a friend’s marriage, she’s shattered and humbled, but on “You’re Not the Boss of Me,” she’s empowered and defiant. Some of these songs are on her 2016 album, Rita Wilson, and while her voice has a kind of studio-style perfection on that, I think most listeners would prefer the slightly rough (as she admitted) but infinitely more engaged performances that she gives in front of actual audiences (as well as the witty banter, like “Encore - that’s French for ‘more applause for me.’”), so much so that it would make sense for her to consider recording her next album live at the Carlyle. I’d buy it.

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Jazz Foundation of America - 26th Annual Jazz Loft Party

Jazz Foundation of America - 26th Annual Jazz Loft Party

Posted Oct 8, 2017

For 26 years, this is has been a great, fun party, a most worthy celebration held in honor of an even more worthy cause, the only Foundation that is, as it’s motto reads, “saving jazz, one musician at a time.” Actually, they save a great many more than that at once, and, as you are well aware, what with the devastation in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean, the need is greater than ever. Mounted by Wendy Oxenhorn, an angel in a mermaid dress who was rightfully named as the jazz advocate of the year by the NEA in 2016, the evening long marathon event artfully intermingles hardcore jazz instrumentalists and singers along with soul and blues artists. The party setting - with copious amounts of food and drink (and probably all your friends as well) everywhere you turn, makes this one of the most copacetic ways to enjoy your favorite music. This year, the top headliners are Gladys Knight, Nona Hendryx, Steve Jordan, and the host is actor Danny Glover. Every year I go, and every year I inevitably run into lots of people that I never see anywhere else; apparently they only attend one jazz event per year. I’d like to encourage them to go to more than that, however, if they are going to pick just one, it’s hard to fault their judgement for selecting this one.

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