Review: Judy Collins


Originally reviewed for

For years before I first heard John Kelly’s drag impersonation — channelling, really — of Joni Mitchell, I had only the vaguest idea of who she was. Judy Collins, though, I had definitely heard of, and her hit version of Mitchell’s “Both Sides, Now” had a solid place in my musical memory. After seeing Kelly, however I became a big fan of both him and Mitchell. Today, I’m much more familiar with Joni’s obscurities than most of Collins’ work.

What a treat then, to see Collins at the Cafe Carlyle and get a better sense of what a dynamic performer she is. She’s an authentic river of song, in truly golden voice at the age of 70. She’ll be talking about a song in passing, and then launch into three or four lines, singing with breathtakingly casual grace and beauty.

When she sings a song in earnest, she’s truly arresting, imbuing each line with subtle style, implying stories behind stories. She’s known as one of the best interpretive artists in pop music, and in this act she brilliantly illuminates songs ranging from traditional folk to Dylan and the Beatles to Sondheim and Jimmy Webb.

The stories she actually tells are truly entertaining, varying from the touchingly personal to the hilariously bawdy. She says she’s working on a memoir, and if what she tells here is any indication, it should be loads of fun. All in all, her spectacular, undiminished talent gave me one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever had in cabaret.

For tickets, click here.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

Review: Thunder Above, Deeps Below


Originally reviewed for

Playwright A. Rey Pamatmat’s Thunder Above, Deeps Below succeeds where many other adventurous gay plays of the recent past have fallen short. It does this in spite of not featuring a single character that comfortably identifies as gay. The closest is Filipina FTM pre-op transsexual Gil (played with great style and verve by Jon Norman Schneider), who passed through a period where he considered himself gay before he faced the problem of his gender. Gil is the conscience of the play, a major part of its success.

What the play successfully does is get its hands dirty with the hard truths about internalized homophobia, and the traumas a variety of societies and families inflict on anyone who is sexually different. The word “faggot” gets bandied around a lot, but, you know what, I find its use here a lot less offensive than when it’s used as a throwaway. Here, we’re getting an intelligent look at the twisted thinking that makes that word a potent tool for abuse and control.

Puerto Rican hustler Hector (soulfully interpreted by Rey Lucas) starts out harshly insisting that he’s not “a faggot.”It slowly becomes clear, however, that his protective attitude toward Gil, and distaste for his own poisonously closeted client Locke, belie more complicated feelings. Is he dealing with his own homosexuality in a convoluted way, or is he truly a deeply ethical straight boy trapped between his sincere compassion and the macho thuggishness expected of him?

Like many other things in the play, this isn’t ever completely resolved, but it is this very ambiguity that allows Pamatmat to get at the trickier truths that other plays miss. This only scratches the surface of what Thunder Above, Deeps Below has to offer, just a couple of its many intertwining plots. It’s an engaging, rich play that, though sometimes difficult, is finally deeply rewarding.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

Review: Kelli O’Hara


Originally reviewed for

This show leaves very little doubt that Kelli O’Hara is one of the very best leading ladies that Broadway has — not that there was every really any doubt. For this, her second run at the Cafe Carlyle, she and musical director Dan Lipton have put together an evening of music comprised of songs from the Great American Songbook (which is clearly O’Hara’s comfort zone) as well as selections from Broadway shows in which she has originated roles (The Light in the Piazza, Sweet Smell of Success). She’s even included some of her own compositions from her solo album Wonder in the World.

The biggest highlight of the evening, however, was a song by Lipton custom-written for O’Hara titled “Opera-Country.” This truly hilarious piece touches on the most extreme ranges of this classically trained Oklahoman’s talent, ranging from country-western to a truly operatic coloratura childbirth sequence. The combination of comic timing and vocal fireworks had my husband saying “She could do Cunegonde” (from Bernstein’s Candide) and me replying “She could do Annie Oakley” (from Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun). Anybody who could give both Kristen Chenoweth and Reba McEntire a run for their money is someone to be reckoned with.

We heard from people who had seen her Carlyle engagement in the spring that, while impressive, it had been overwhelmingly “Broadway big.” There’s a satisfying amount of bigness here, but if anything, O’Hara has shifted things a touch too far in the opposite direction, giving us a stretch of 3-4 ballads in a row towards show’s end. Happily, Lipton’s surging arrangements prevent even that section from becoming tedious.

Truthfully, O’Hara has any imaginable soprano Broadway role in her range, and a warm yet clean forthrightness that would give any such role dimension. That range and warmth make this cabaret act a genuine pleasure and quite entertaining.

Review: The Lion King


I love this show! I have heard some people describe it as commodified and soulless — I couldn’t disagree more. The Disney movie (about the abiding love between a “lion king” father and his son) on which the show is based never quite topped its surging, epic opening number “The Circle of Life.” That song is given a famously spectacular staging here, replete with life-sized “puppet” elephants cavorting down the aisles. Even better, though, director Julie Taymor has given the story and achingly soaring musical climax with “He Lives in You.” It’s a big emotional and spiritual pay-off that tops anything from the movie, not to mention most shows on Broadway. Overall, The Lion King is one of the most moving experiences to be had on Broadway today.

For tickets, click here.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

Review: Michael Feinstein and Christine Ebersole

Michael Feinstein and Christine Ebersole Photo by Gacin1

Originally reviewed for

Michael Feinstein has recently done two duet shows with Broadway stars and it’s a big time win-win situation. Feinstein, the great archivist of “The Great American Songbook,” gets to suggest songs that he’s always wanted to hear these great artists sing. And these artists get to pick Michael’s encyclopaedic musical mind, describing an idea of the kind of song they want to sing, to which he responds with an impossibly perfect song. The audience wins both ways!

Plus, the actual Broadway stars he’s duetting with have made the actual shows very, very gay. His first duet partner was hunky out matinee idol Cheyenne Jackson, in a show that was rife with gay rights themes both subtle and explicit. Now, for the rest of this week, he is singing with arguably Broadway’s greatest female gay icon, Christine Ebersole (she’d certainly be my pick!).

For Christine, Feinstein has dug up an obscure but sexy comedy song by Arthur Schwartz and Frank Loesser called “Love Isn’t Born” (it’s made, you see). She’d never heard of it before, but it is indeed perfect for her and she knocks it out of the ballpark. He also suggested recently passed gay composer John Wallowitch’s ballad “This Moment,” which is indeed one of the evening’s most moving moments.

Most moving of all, however, is Michael’s own heart-on-sleeve rendition of “What Kind of Fool Am I?”  He’s been truly blossoming as a singer in recent years, and this latest topper is easily the most rawly emotional performance I’ve ever seen him give, allowing him to stand proudly next to as great a singer as Ebersole.

Two the evening’s most musically stunning movements are surprising fugues of Songbook tunes, in which one of them sings a classic melody, while the other one sings another classic melody in counterpoint. Most stunning of all is their rendition of the Gershwin’s “Embraceable You,” which features the two exchanging lines of that great song while the other sings tidbits of not one but nine other Gershwin songs. Dazzling.

For tickets, click here.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine