San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown proclaimed the week of June 5-11 Mabel Mercer Foundation Week in honor of the Third Annual West Coast Cabaret Convention, produced (and hosted) by the foundation's executive director, Donald Smith.
Smith, known worldwide as the man responsible for perpetuating the endangered art of intimate cabaret performances with what he calls "the great American songbook," does it because, he said, "Songs like these are almost impossible to hear in today's media."
The sold out, seven-day celebration was held at The Gershwin Theater, so the opening evening was "'S Wonderful"-celebrating the lyr-ics of Ira Gershwin.
Two of the convention's consistently splendid performers were the exuberant KT Sullivan (who happily veered from "Lorelei" to "The Man I Love") and Jeff Harnar (who did likewise with an antic "Treat Me Rough" followed by a heartfelt "Embraceable You.") Other highlights included Ira's lyrics with composers other than brother George, such as Weill's "My Ship" (Wesla Whitfield), Kern's "Long Ago and Far Away" (Karen Mason) and Arlen's "The Man That Got Away" (Spider Saloff).
"Swell Party" was a Cole Porter birthday celebration with singers making the most of Porter's lyrics such as Charles Cermele and Clark Sterling romping through "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" and Marti Stevens' emotional "Make It Another Old Fashioned, Please." But the truly urbane elegance of Cole Porter was gloriously realized in the stylings of Steve Ross with "Down in the Depths," "I Concentrate on You," and "In the Still of the Night."
There was also an evening of "Cabaret Goes to the Movies" with a charming Celeste Holm (vocally aided by baritone Frank Basile) with "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire." Jeff Harner and Shauna Hicks did excerpts from "The Mickey and Judy Show," Marilyn Lovell Matz and Robert Osborne reminisced with "Thanks for the Memory," and Sharon McNight recreated two movie Bettys-Grable and Hutton. The evening's most moving moment was Lee Roy Reams' homage to Gwen Verdon with "Where Am I Going?"
With this Cabaret Convention's plethora of talent-over 60 performers not including the extraordinary musical director/accompanists-it's impossible to acknowledge everyone. There were some happy reunions with Claiborne Cary, Jane A. Johnston, Barbara Brussell, Lee Lessack and local favorites-Paula West, Meg Mackay, Faith Win-throp-and (for this reviewer) some wonderful "discoveries" such as Georga Os-borne, Sidney Myer, Lumiri Tubo, and Tovah Feldshuh, with a special nod to Klea Blackhurst who managed to stop the show with a ukelele, a yodel and a whistle. (Don't ask!)
It would take a column apiece to praise the unforgettable "legends"-Rita Moreno, Cybill Shepherd, Liliane Montevecchi, Rita Gardner (from the original company of "The Fantasticks") and the incomparable Andrea Marcovicci. A final word for cabaret's "living treasure" Julie Wilson, whose tribute to Stephen Sondheim's "Follies" truly "killed the people."