Bistro Bits - R-E-S-P-E-C-T

MORE THAN ANY OTHER VENUE IN SHOW business, cabaret succeeds or fails based on the relationship between a performer and his audience. That's why it's paramount that an entertainer makes a memorable first impression. As soon as you step onstage, you've got to set the tone for the act, demonstrate that you're in command, and let everyone know that they're in for a great time.

Getting off on the wrong foot doesn't always spell disaster. It happens. I've seen newcomers and pros stumble, nervously losing their way before they begin. Usually, the pros are able to jump-start, focus quickly, and center themselves.

Once the artist and the audience are at ease with each other, the real magic can begin. If you can achieve this, you're halfway there. If not, you aren't ready for cabaret; here, respect for your audience is not a privilege, it's a requirement!

All this brings me to Lainie Kazan who was the kvetch of the day on her June 11 opening at the Chestnut Room at Tavern on the Green. The Broadway star whined so much about hot lights, sweating, her curling iron, makeup, anxiety attacks, etc., that you'd think the lady was a camp. It started during the first few minutes of her set and almost became a throughline.

All this came after she made a frazzled entrance--52 minutes late! No one was amused--least of all the restless audience that was kept waiting due to some power failure--in her trailer. (Guess cabaret is loftier than I thought.) Seemingly, the only real power failure was onstage. The distressed diva wouldn't let up, as one complaint led to another. Such blatant disregard for an audience is unacceptable.

For this engagement, Tavern created an open, extended runway area, which allowed Kazan lots of room to saunter around and perch atop another podium where she could show off more than her voice. Much of her show seemed like a lounge act one might expect from someone with lesser credits. She kept walking out of her light, and she relentlessly made degrading comments directed at the tech booth.

All that aside, the lady sang. Did she ever. The same smoky-voiced, breathy alto that made her famous, is remarkably intact. Her shadings are perfect on staples such as a smoldering "Body and Soul" and a saucy "Come Rain or Shine." Over the years, the voice has refined itself to the status of a premier bluesy-torch stylist that is so compelling, it almost makes you forget the between-song histrionics. When she embraces "Here's to Life," you know she's been there, and her true interpretive artistry is flawless. Many of her songs became a story well-told with all the finely textured detail of an engrossing novel such as the beauty, "Song for Old Lovers," by Brel and Theodore Bikel, which was her finest moment.

Kazan is still a powerful force to be reckoned with and easily capable of more. But, she deserves a better showcase with newer material. And, her audience deserves more respect. Kazan is at the Chestnut Room through June 22.

WHEN IT COMES TO RESPECT, THE BRILLIANT Diane Schuur has the entire industry in the palm of her hand. The blind jazz singer with a voice from heaven, won over the SRO crowd at The Blue Note on June 12.

No attitude. No nonsense. Just compelling singing and phrasing from one of today's premier vocalists. This lady could probably sing the phone book backward and still get away with it. And she would do so without making the room and staff feel guilty for being there.

Her vocal clarity radiated like a perfectly mastered CD. In spite of a wildly enthusiastic crowd and a busy waitstaff, which was at times very distracting, her multi-octave range glided through a set that was flawlessly executed. Highlights included the likes of a tender "My One and Only Love" and an explosive "It Don't Mean a Thing" with a driving drum solo by Jeff Ballard that was fierce. Gershwin's "Love Walked In" soared. This unabashed gushing is well deserved, and only skims the surface. Diane Schuur gets more out of a song than just about any jazz singer on today's scene, with total command and subtlety. By the way, she also put her audience at ease from the get-go about her blindness. As she segued into a song early on, Schuur joked, "You all look great tonight."

Next time she's back, make her a must. It's an experience you'll never forget. You'll gain a new respect for jazz singing--that's the key, respect.

IN THE CLUBS: Jeff Harnar brings his "Fifties Gold" show into Rainbow & Stars June 23 The inimitable Ruby Rims is back with an all new show: "I'm Still Here" at Eighty Eight's on June 22 and 29 Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You, a hit at The Duplex running Saturdays in June (catch little Ricky Panson--a natural ham) Versatile vocalist Trent Kendall back at B. Smith's on June 22 Steven Brinberg's "Simply Barbra" continues every Saturday at Don't Tell