Club rivalries are turning up the heat. With more cabarets in Manhattan than at anytime since the '80s, competition for music lovers reaches frenzied proportions this fall. And, to make sure they get their share, the city's pricey, major venues have brushed up their rooms and booked some particularly impressive talent. With the likes of Maureen McGovern at The Algonquin, Christine Andreas at Café Carlyle, Jackie & Roy and KT Sullivan at the FireBird Café, Karen Mason at Arci's Place, and Dame Cleo Laine appearing at Feinstein's, the major rooms have tapped a sensational lineup, making this one of the most exciting seasons in a long time. Later in the season expect to find Dee Dee Bridgewater, Polly Bergen, Barbara Cook, Susannah McCorkle, Wesla Whitfield, Sally Mayes, Steve Ross, Judy Kaye, and Allan Bergman with Donna Murphy. And, to top it all off, the 11th annual Cabaret Convention opens for a week at Town Hall on Oct. 16, featuring over 100 performers. This mega-event has been sold out for weeks. I think it's safe to say that, at least for now, the cabaret torch is in good hands. Bear in mind, however, that in most cases, the candle for that torch was ignited in the smaller rooms. And this October, the venerable Duplex, which has presented many stars who went on to household name status, marks its 50th birthday.
Speaking of igniting candles, Parker Scott is such a confident performer that it's hard to view him as a relative newcomer. When I first saw him awhile ago, his show was not ready to be reviewed, and I eschewed writing about him. In his new show, "Company of Strangers" at Don't Tell Mama (directed by Gerry Geddes, with Gerry Dieffenbach as music director and Carl Allocco on guitar), it is evident he did some homework.
Scott can be incredibly persuasive on the right lyrics. He has an infectious, compelling quality to his pop tenor voice. An individual who seems committed to causes (as evidenced in his musical selections), his show contained well-chosen songs carrying messages about love and human emotions that inhabit an idealist's perspective on life and love. More than one song waxed dreamy with messages about winning against the odds. Opening his show with a pop anthem called "Let It Sing" set the tone of free-spirited optimism. In his only patter of the show, he announced that "This is a show about love ... you can never get enough of that." Then he sang a beautifully realized, gender correct version of "Something Wonderful" from "The King And I." He also offered a driving, folk-pop reading of an uplifting "Walking In Memphis," his voice soaring on this somewhat mundane ditty. A rock and roll, hip-swirling version of "All Shook Up," made popular by Elvis Presley, was less effective. Other highlights included two beauties written by guitarist Allocco ("God," and a poignant "In The Company of Strangers"), where he tenderly connected with a throughline about losing someone and being afraid.
Parker Scott is a very honest performer, and the throughline of his show sends forth warm missives with conviction. His rich pop tenor is infused with tender nuances and colorful passages that bring the songs to life. I liked his no-frills, folksy sensibility that recalled a young Kenny Loggins. This is a voice that will record beautifully.
Bearing in mind that he is performing in an intimate cabaret venue and not a concert hall, I might suggest that, at this stage, he communicate with his audience to let them know something about himself, as well as about his passion for this material. Talking to his audience would establish an identity and relationship that was missing. It's risky to pull off a show with no patter at all when an artist is not well established.
That aside, Parker Scott is starting to make waves. His voice is, at times, hauntingly beautiful, and his honesty with a lyric is refreshing in a cabaret world overrun with programmed singers. Closing with "My Funny Valentine" proved an inspired choice, proving his versatility even on standards. You can catch him on Sept. 16 and 21 at various times.
For the most variety around, catch multi-award winning "Jamie deRoy & Friends," back at The Laurie Beechman Theater at the West Bank Café. I caught the first night, and what a terrific time everyone had. The acts were so diverse, it took on the flavor of the old Ed Sullivan Show—and that's quite a compliment. On the bill was a redneck-looking folk band (Modern Man), an eight year old singing/dancing prodigy (Lea Marie Golde), and an eclectic mix of musical and comedy guests, all of whom were top-notch. To single out highlights, I'd have to point out the beauty of Jim Pallone's expressive voice singing the Dawn Hampton/Bobby Peaco beauty, "Bring Back The Spring," and musical stand-up comic Kim Cea, who was terrific on "Woman In the Moon," as well as in her Cher and Streisand impressions. Comic Cory Kahane's timely observations on life were a riot. As always, Jamie deRoy is the perfect host, and the show is always great fun. There are some wonderful guests coming up, so catch Jamie and her friends on Saturdays, Sept. 16 or 23, at 9 pm.
For more variety, another cabaret has just opened on Restaurant Row, and it's pretty special. Located next door to the FireBird and inside the St. Famous Bread and Wine Bakery, it's called the High Spirits Room. This is a great space with a lot of potential. Owner Timothy Gray, a veteran of many shows (and author of the lyrics for "High Spirits," Broadway's musicalization of Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit," which starred Tammy Grimes and Beatrice Lillie), has created a thoroughly inviting space that is sure to catch on. The food is delicious and tempting. I predict this will grow into one of our town's most sought-after rooms to play. Great ambience, terrific food, and sinful desserts—what's not to love? Cabaret legends Margaret Whiting and John Wallowitch led the opening night cheers for one of Manhattan's secret treasures. The High Spirits Room is off to a fine start and on its way to greatness.
Lovely singer Barbara Lowin appeared there with her show, "As Long As There's Music," with Paul Greenwood as music director. Her mezzo served her well on several beautiful songs, including a riveting and poignant "Why Can't I Forget" in a medley with "He Was Too Good To Me." She's a charming singer who possesses great élan and a good sense of humor. Catch her on Fridays, Sept. 15 and 22, at 9 pm.
I recently found one of those places worth mentioning you'll only find in New York. It's called Taci's, and it's at 110th Street and Broadway. The night I was there, it was opera night—and what a powerful group of singers were in attendance. One voice after another bounced off the brick walls of this filled-to-capacity Italian restaurant. Brilliant New York City Opera tenor Christopher Jackson, an alumnus of the now defunct MAC member club Asti, was a big hit with the SRO crowd. Whether singing "Maria" from "West Side Story" or the haunting "Nessun dorma..." from "Turandot," Jackson (who has appeared on "Jamie deRoy & Friends") had the room in the palm of his hand, an extraordinary singer facing a major career.
Speaking of Asti's, let me recommend the brand new Strip House. I recently revisited the site of the legendary restaurant famed for singers. With its new, unlikely name, and stunning decor by David Rockwell, I had one of the best dining experiences in years.
Owners Peter and Penny Glazier, who are committed to preserving and restoring landmark restaurants (they own the Monkey Bar, where Bistro-winner Michael Galin performs, and Michael Jordan's Steakhouse in Grand Central Station), are gracious hosts, and the place is attracting many beautiful people. It's trendy, hip, and the superb food, prepared by star chef David Woljack, couldn't be better. Go!
IMPORTANT: MAC will have its annual membership meeting on Mon., Sept. 18, at the National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South, at 6 pm. It's a chance to renew your membership, receive the MAC newsletter, and meet new member-at-large James Beaman. It's also a forum to voice your thoughts. For more information, call the MAC hotline: (212) 465 2662.