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Bistro Bits - Like Fine Wine

ONE OF THE VIRTUES OF CABARET IS THAT, un-like in some other performing arts, age is not a drawback to success. If anything, the reverse is true. The distinguishing characteristic of cabaret singing is the interpretation and communication of lyrics; the more offstage experience an artist has, the richer those interpretations can be--and the more onstage experience, the keener the performing skills. Let's look at some cases in point.

Jane A. Johnston made her Broadway debut 40 years ago in "Happy Hunting," and since then, she's been busy in theatre, film, television, and cabaret. Visiting from L.A., she is doing her show "Hollywood Party" at Danny's Skylight Room (Mondays, 7 pm, through Oct. 27). What can I say? The lady is terrific--gutsy, funny, touching, honest and unaffected, and immensely entertaining. What's more, she can sing. "Isn't It Romantic?," a song we've heard countless times before, is effective because she's behind every note and word. Dave Frishberg's "Another Song About Paris" works not just because the song is funny, but because she brings her own antic spirit to it. "Wonderful Someone," by Musical Director Paul Horner, is lovely and romantic, and when she sings "Bad Is for Other People," it's clear she means it. There is a lifetime behind her poignant rendition of No'l Coward's "If Love Were All," and when she does "Isn't He Adorable?" so winningly, she is ageless.

ALSO AT DANNY'S SKYLIGHT ROOM, AND ALSO visiting, London's veteran pianist-singer-songwriter John Dalby recently gave two performances, directed by Hope Hardcastle. He is witty, charming, and amusing--no, strike that, damned funny. Half of his program comprised original material: delightful, sometimes naughty confections, such as "Thrilled to Bits," a wonderful song about cosmetic surgery gone haywire, or "Three Cheers for Gertrude," a left-handed paean to Gertrude Stein. Yet with all the merriment, he's not afraid to be emotional; his heartfelt rendition of "Mr. Wonderful" was especially affecting, and his tribute to Evelyn Laye was lovely. Think of a combination of No'l Coward and Flanders & Swann, with a touch of Quentin Crisp. Two shows are nowhere near enough. He would be a natural for a run at the Algonquin.

TWO LADIES WHO HAVE BEEN ON THE SCENE for a while recently did shows at Judys'. After getting off to a rough start (trying only semi-successfully, and for too long, to be light, cute, and funny), Helen Klass hit her stride. (She was directed by Hope Hardcastle and musical-directed by Wes McAfee). She did a fine job on the "Barbara Song" from "Threepenny Opera," and a solid "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered." Especially good at expressing love from the mature woman's perspective, she gave an incisive reading of Elisse Boyd's "The Other Woman in His Life," and she had good fun with "I'm Living Alone and I Like It."

In her show, musical-directed by Tex Arnold, Gloria Stevens got off to a splendid start with "Alice Blue Gown"--warm and lovely, the kind of performance that makes one purr, "Ahh!" Looking back at her career and her life, Stevens was at her best with songs that allowed her to be emotional, such as in her sweet handling of "Goodnight, My Love," sung to a child, and her moving rendition of Carol Hall's "Nana," about her grandmother. It was with comic material that she faltered, primarily because while she is a good actress-singer, she is not an inspired comedienne. And as I've written before, no one but Alix Korey should do David Friedman's "My Simple Christmas Wish" in New York.

Lisa Carroll played her second engagement at Tavern on the Green last week (Paul Katz musical-directed). With an impressive background (including playing the female lead in the film "The Shrike" and standing by for Carol Channing in the first National Company of "Hello, Dolly!"), she is what the term a real pro refers to. She scored equally, and solidly, with up numbers (like "But Alive") and ballads (such as "More Than You Know," which is the song she performed on "The Ed Sullivan Show"). And though the special lyrics she wrote for a couple of numbers missed the mark, a rap song [of all things] she co-authored was delightful.

Alas, she had to perform under adverse conditions. The audience was vile. In fact, it wasn't an audience at all. It was a room full of people who had come to talk and have dinner; most of them could not be bothered to notice that there was a person on stage. I am dismayed that management did absolutely nothing to address this problem; even the pre-show admonition, "Please keep your conversation to a minimum," appears to have been discontinued.

WHILE YOUNGER THAN THE OTHER PEOPLE covered in this column, John Monteith and Suzanne Rand are, nonetheless, seasoned professionals. When they first appeared 20 years ago, their comedy--a mix of improvisation and set pieces--was so fresh and intelligent that the team was understandably compared to Nichols and May. Recently reunited, they have been performing at The Triad; they are every bit as sharp and funny as ever. (A sketch about a supermarket photo machine is deliciously silly.) And while improvisation usually makes me nervous, with them I never worry; the night I went, an improvised murder mystery was brilliant. They return Oct. 10-12, Fri.-Sun., 8 pm.

AROUND TOWN: Once again, Arthur Pomposello has put together a special lineup of cabaret evenings at the Algonquin's Oak Room to coincide with the Cabaret Convention. Thurs., Oct. 9, 9:30 pm: Anne Roberts. Fri., Oct. 10, 9:30 & 11:30 pm: Alex Donner. Sat., Oct. 11, 9:30 & 11:30 pm: Jo Thompson. Sun., Oct. 12, 7 pm: Marilyn Volpe and Julie Halston. Mon., Oct. 13, 9:30 pm: Eric Comstock and Lenna. Tues., Oct. 14, 9:30 pm: Eric Michael Gillett and Lorna Dallas. Wed., Oct. 15, 9:30 pm: Barbara Lea. Thurs., Oct. 16, 9:30 pm: Judi Connelli. Fri., Oct. 17, 9:30 pm: Eric Comstock and Lenna. Fri., Oct. 17, 11:30 pm: Billy Stritch. Sat., Oct. 18: 9:30 pm, Lynda Jamison; 11:30 pm, Natalie Gamsu. Sun., Oct 19, 7 pm: Lee Roy Reams.

Great news: Mark Nadler will be staying in New York for a while. He will hold forth at Sardi's, every Thursday evening, from 9:30 pm to 1:30 am, starting Oct. 16. And he will do his show at Danny's Skylight Room, Oct. 18-Nov. 22, Saturdays, 11 pm . Nancy McCall sings at The Triad's downstairs Dark Star Lounge, Sun., Oct. 12, 7:30 pm; no cover or minimum . Chris Barrett performs at Le Bistrot de Maxim's, Oct. 17-Nov. 7, Fri

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