Review: The Terms of My Surrender

This show goes unexpectedly very gay at the end. No Michael Moore isn’t gay (heaven forfend), but there are several delicious, completely apolitical, payoffs at the finale, which made this an even more satisfying evening for me. The Terms of My Surrender was already pretty satisfying, as I am definitely a part of the anti-Trump choir that Moore is preaching to in this often funny, often disturbing dolled-up political rally.

Because, make no mistake about it, much of Terms is what you’d expect: an anti-Trump screed, by turns despairing and gleeful. But ultimately it is more than that, it’s a call to action in the most general of terms. Moore exhorts his audience to get involved in the political process any way they can, and uses stories from his own life – mostly from before his career as a famous filmmaker and author – to drive home the truth that one person can make an enormous difference, and you don’t have to be famous or wealthy to do it. Moore’s own journey began with a trip to a vending machine to get a bag of Ruffles chips; beginnings don’t get more humble than that.

He even gives you a remarkably easy way to begin making that difference, which I will link to here: the website and app 5calls.org. Together with Moore, I urge you to go there now and start being part of the solution. And definitely go see Terms of My Surrender, it is a marvelous and surprisingly entertaining bit of encouragement in these dark days. Recommended.

Remember, 5calls.org!

For tickets, click here.

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

Review: The Legendary Count Basie Orchestra

This big band has been in continuous existence (with the shortest of breaks in the early 1950s) for 82 years now. I attribute their longevity and continued popularity to the fact that they are “the band that plays the blues” as their motto goes. A certain bluesiness has never gone totally out of fashion, being an important part of jazz, rock and hip-hop. They were “rhythm and blues” long before that term existed, and still can’t be beat for rhythm or blues today.

Add to that the fact that they are one of the most musically virtuosic of the traditional big bands around! Their command of volume control, both loud and soft, is astonishing. There’s even a number in their current songlist at Birdland where they put this on gratuitous display. Bandleader Scotty Barnhart gave the signal to bring the volume down, again and again, until you think they couldn’t get any quieter, and then take it down some more. Astonishing.

You need a big brassy voice to sing over this band – of its 20+ pieces, over 90% are brass. Carmen Bradford certainly fits the the bill, belting “I Wish You Love” with more vigor and bluesiness than I’ve ever heard it done. Though Count Basie passed in 1983, his orchestra continues as dynamic and forceful as ever. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

Review: Michael Feinstein

Michael Feinstein just keeps getting better. He’s consistently gained new vocal strength, and for a long time now he’s been soaring and belting with the best of them. In his latest cabaret act “Showstoppers” he brings together an eclectic set centered on the timeless standards that he’s known for – of which he is arguably the greatest defender and conservator.

“Showstoppers” does include several songs that fit what we usually think of that expression – they literally stopped the show in a Broadway musical with uproarious applause. For example, “Tchaikovsky (and Other Russians)” from Lady In the Dark, which made Danny Kaye into a star. It is a devilishly difficult and complex song to sing, and Feinstein knocks it out with breathtaking confidence. He also takes on “Fifty Percent” from Ballroom – one of the biggest 11 O’clock numbers of all time – but sings it slightly relyricized so that it comes across as a passionate statement of love from a gay man. Quite moving.

He also does songs that took a circuitous route to being showstoppers, like Louis Jordan’s 1940s R&B hit “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” which eventually found its way into Five Guys Named Moe. Or the title song of Cole Porter’s Can-Can, which only became a showstopper when cabaret legend Bobby Short started singing all of the songs lyrics (which had been cut from the show) in his club act. He even extends his definition to the soft rock classic “If” by the band Bread, which he terms a “personal showstopper.”

Feinstein and company put on a really engaging show that adds chic fun to the summer season. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

Review: Jerry’s Girls

Can’t get tickets to Hello, Dolly? Well for the rest of this week, you can hear all of the major songs from that show sung beautifully, plus just about every other great song Dolly composer Jerry Herman wrote, in the York Theatre’s “Musicals in Mufti” presentation of Jerry’s Girls, a revue of Herman’s best, designed for a trio of women. “Mufti” refers to “everyday clothes,” and this series from the York presents worthy but neglected musicals of the past in something between a staged reading and a full production, in rehearsal clothes with script in hand, minimal rehearsal and no design elements.

The stellar trio in this production are Stephanie D’Abruzzo (Avenue Q), Christine Pedi (Forbidden Broadway) and Stephanie Umoh (Ragtime 2009 revival). Umoh gets the biggest solo of the evening towards the end – a smashing “I Am What I Am” from La Cage Aux Folles – but everybody stops the show at some point, D’Abruzzo with the wrenching “Time Heals Everything” from Mack and Mabel, Pedi with the comic gem “Gooch’s Song” from Mame.

Music Director and Pianist Eric Svejcar, a fine musical theatre composer in his own right, is very sensitive to the dramatic ebb and flow of the evening. So, too, is director Pamela Hunt, who has elegantly engineered entrances and exits with music stands on wheels (are those used in every “Mufti” production, I wonder?). All in all a terrific representation of the Herman songbook. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

Review: Alaska Thunderfuck 5000

This is the best Golden Girls tribute I’ve seen on stage, and for someone who has been covering gay New York entertainment for a long time that’s saying something (I think GG tributes are outnumbered only by Judy Garland tributes). I attribute its success to the fact that Alaska and her pianist Handsome Jeremy are huge Golden Girls fanatics themselves, to the point that they talk about the series being their scripture.

If that’s so, this show, entitled “On Golden Girls,” is all about songs from the hymnal, giving us stories and songs from each of the ladies in turn. This very, very tall queen is a natural for a Bea Arthur, but hilariously portrays Estelle Getty by walking in on her knees.

One of her greatest gifts as a performer is a knack for imaginative exaggeration – she’s is a talented caricaturist. Not to say that’s she’s amateurish or sloppy – not remotely! Caricature has room for precision, wit, intelligence and creativity, and Alaska displays all of this and more. The caricatures here are very loving, which gives the act its considerable heart. Plus, The Golden Girls is already gleefully exaggerated, making for a wonderful match of performer and subject.

Alaska’s always had a strong voice, and she’s increasingly a real song stylist – she can totally handle singing “Hard Hearted Hannah” going the full Bea Arthur. The show was snappy and short! That never happens in drag cabaret! I’m almost tempted to say she should flesh it out a bit and make it longer, but that seems like tempting the fates. Very gay, a lot of fun, and definitely recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

Review: Tovah Feldshuh

Smart, skillful shtick and schmaltz in service of sharp storytelling. Tovah Feldshuh’s current cabaret act at Feinstein’s / 54 Below, entitled “Aging Is Optional,” pulls together a diverse set of songs and character bits in service of the theme of staying young throughout your life. For starters, she gives an emotional account of Dar Williams’s “When I Was A Boy,” suggesting that few things age you prematurely more than too-rigid gender roles.

Feldshuh’s sweet spot is a rich mix of deeply felt sentiment and willfully zany shtick. Previous acts of Tovah’s have felt a little random in the way they mix these two modes, but “Aging Is Optional” is a well-oiled machine, truly sophisticated in the way it approaches its subject matter. There’s a great deal of material about her own family, including a touching and wickedly funny evocation of her grandmother, paired with Judy Collin’s gorgeous ballad “Secret Gardens.”

When she’s on, as she is in the majority of this act, few performers are as hilarious as Tovah; in the show’s silliest song “Mon Amour” she’s positively hysterical. Almost without fail, the jokes are joyous and the moments of sentiment genuine and touching. Recommended – it would be such a shonda to miss it.

For tickets, click here.

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

Review: Annie Ross

This lady is a legend in jazz for her vital part in developing the bop-influenced art called vocalese, which Wikipedia describes as “a style or musical genre of jazz singing wherein words are sung to melodies that were originally part of an all-instrumental composition or improvisation.” There’s not a lot of vocalese in her act these days, but she’s still a sharp, smart interpreter of standards, as well as bebop specialty material on subjects like marijuana and meatballs.

Ross still possesses a smoldering charisma and confidence, as well as an unfailingly swinging sense of rhythm. Plus, she’s a fine musical storyteller; her rendition of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” covers many more shades of emotions than most versions, passing from hopeful to wistful to rueful and back again. She can even tell a story through repetitions of the same word. When assaying Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things” she replaced a line of Porter’s with a string of “Bye’s” giving each one a different heft, from the regretful to the dismissive.

One of her latter-day signature songs is the Depression-era “One Meatball” which is equal parts whimsy and biting satire, a real natural for Ross’s particular gifts. She may not toss off virtuoso vocalese like she used to, but Ross’s musicality and long-ingrained jazz instincts make her well worth seeing. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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