Review: Michael Feinstein & Marilyn Maye

Michael Feinstein and Marilyn Maye

Marilyn Maye’s a great hidden national treasure; Ella Fitzgerald herself once called Maye “the greatest white female singer in the world.” That was no exaggeration when Ella said it and it’s even truer today. There are younger singers who might posses more powerful voices, but I can think of no other living singer who possesses Maye’s combination of interpretive ability, rhythmic verve and undiminished vocal range.

She is currently sharing the stage of Feinstein’s / 54 Below with Michael Feinstein himself. Feinstein has had great success doing duet shows for many years and here, as usual, it’s a winning situation all around. This particular match is especially good: Maye is still at the top of her game at 88 – how many people, let alone performers, can say that – and Feinstein just keeps getting better, marrying soaring vocal power with ever more detailed nuance in his interpretations.

They both shine in their solo moments: Feinstein pays tribute to the upcoming production of Hello, Dolly in a bouncy rendition of the title song, including some newly fashioned lyrics from the composer / lyricist Jerry Herman. And Marilyn gives us her sultry rendition of Blossom Dearie’s “Bye Bye Country Boy” – I’ve heard her do it before, but still, every time her legendary interpretative ability gives me shivers. Of their fabulous encore, I won’t say anything, except that it exploits Michael’s ongoing love affair with boogie-woogie, which suits the ever-swinging Maye just fine.

Musical director Tedd Firth brings a glossy, sophisticated jazz musicianship to the proceedings, providing a luscious frame for the pair’s multifarious artistry. If you love classic songs sung like they’re meant to be sung – and swung – it doesn’t get any better than this.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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Review: Norbert Leo Butz

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Norbert Leo Butz is a very smart and intensely gifted actor, who could probably do an astonishing turn in Hamlet. As fate would have it, he has become primarily known as a musical comedy actor of prodigious energy and daring. In his cabaret show, “Girls, Girls, Girls” we find Norbert trying to sort out his relationships with the women in his life – and there are a lot of them: three daughters, three sisters, a wife and ex-wife, mothers-in-law, 17 nieces. He takes advice from a feminist professor friend, who suggests he reads up on feminine archetypes. He does, and for the rest of the act goes through a catalog of songs that match up these archetypes.

“Girls, Girls, Girls” is a very thoughtful show, which is icing on the cake of seeing this magnetic, kinetic performer sing…well, anything at all. He has acting and musical chops for days, and is capable of injecting fire into any material to which he turns his hand. It’s most gratifying, though, to see this “guy’s guy” look so intelligently and compassionately into the female psyche.

While Butz is best known as the consummate Broadway musical character actor-singer, this act skews more heavily into rock and singer/songwriter territory. That said, these days that world overlaps with Broadway more and more; his opening number is “Yoshimi” from the album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by neo-psychedelic noise rockers The Flaming Lips – which is being turned into a Broadway musical.

He proves himself one of the best male interpretative singers of his generation. To wit, I’ve never been a great fan of “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners – I mean I can’t deny that it is a near perfect pop earworm, I just think it’s too perfect an earworm, to the point of high annoyance. If however, the vocal delivery in the original had been as fine as Norbert’s (covering the archetype of “the maiden” as described by psychology giant Carl Jung) I would probably love it just as much as its many fans.

Traveling from the point of view of a dad who “just doesn’t understand” to one that embraces androgyny as the deepest truth and the wave of the future (to the tune of Hedwig‘s “Wig in a Box”), the journey that Norbert takes us on is the kind of arc I always hope for in a cabaret act. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Review: BenDeLaCreme

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“What the Hell?” That’s the question posed by innovative drag performance artist BenDeLaCreme in her latest show, Inferno-A-Go-Go. BenDeLaCreme’s shows are truly unique, not just in drag performance, but in theatre as a whole. Sure, she includes the goofy song parodies and wisecracking comedy so common in drag. However, she’s after something far more sophisticated – her seductive strangeness creeps up on you.

The queen otherwise known as Ben Putnam is playing less of a ditz this time around, wryly joking about the fact that’s she’s chosen to do a drag cabaret based on Dante Alighieri’s 14th Century Italian epic poem Inferno. She’s more confident this time out, less coy about being more profound than the most chin-strokingly serious straight play, while rarely being less than belly-laugh hilarious.

BenDeLa forever rebukes the notion that arts of clowning, drag, circus, burlesque and ventriloquism are somehow less than other performance forms, somehow stupid. Putnam takes the best of all those forms and whips them into something new, fascinating and intensely intelligent. Not only that, BenDeLa uses these popular forms to probe the very biggest questions, switching from deep existential angst to spiritual lightness in the space of a minute – in between double entendres about sex and booze.

BenDeLaCreme is all about fantastic and ridiculous artifice, but also ultimately really about what that artifice can communicate and express about deeper things, like ethics and how to take care of ourselves and each other. She delivers a show that’s equal parts cheeky fun and insightful art, no small feat. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.