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Fireworks at the Firebird

The cabaret world was stunned last Friday night when the news began to spread that Erv Raible had terminated his relationship with the FireBird Café. The popular and influential Raible, who brought a new energy and vitality to the West 46th St. cabaret room with his high quality bookings, told us that he left the FireBird over "artistic differences" with the club's new management. "I will build up my own company, 'Erv Raible Cabaret & Concert Artists International,' " he said, "and offer my services to the cabaret world as a publicist, director, manager, coach, and consultant." As the former owner of Eighty Eights, Don't Tell Mama, and The Duplex, Raible's stature in the community is unequaled, and many are wondering what his departure will mean to the FireBird. He had only booked talent into the room through February and there are many questions about the future of the club.

With that in mind, we asked Jim Pallone, manager of the FireBird Café, about Raible's leaving. He said, "Erv's experience and knowledge will certainly be missed. We wish him success and happiness in all his future endeavors." Pallone was unable to comment, though, on who would be booking talent for the room past February, or any other policy changes, as management had not met on these issues before Back Stage had to go press. Pallone could say, however, "We have no intentions of closing our doors to the cabaret community. We still plan on offering fine cabaret and exciting performances by talented entertainers, including the popular Sunday night ASCAP series."

As for Raible's stealth departure Friday evening, it was typical of his concern for his singers that he didn't want to cause a buzz in the cabaret room that would distract from Jack Donahue's opening night performance. Instead, he quietly packed his gear and left the premises during the show. Those who know Erv Raible, however, don't expect him to be that quiet again for a long time. He is so much a part of New York cabaret that his comings and goings will continue to set off fireworks.

Jack Donahue has swiftly and not unexpectedly become a rising star in cabaret. He's got the whole package of vocal prowess, interpretive acumen, effortless charm, Warren Beatty good looks, and wit as quick and dangerous as lightning. But it wasn't until his current short stint at the FireBird Café that his personality as a performer fully crystallized. "Glad to Be Unhappy" (Rodgers & Hart) could be his theme song. His self-deprecating introduction of the tune, followed by a warm and winsome performance, fully describes Donahue's unique blend of irony and romantic melancholy. It's a potent combination that, when applied to songs that already have a rich subtext, like "The April Fools" (Bacharach/David) and "Come on, Come on" (Mary Chapin Carpenter), adds another layer of self-awareness, giving his otherwise eclectic material either a darker edge or a sharper emotional sting. That same distinctive style allows him to strike an attitude with "Jackie" (Brel, Shuman/Blau) that is "cute, cute, cute, in a [delightfully] stupid ass way" without diminishing the stormy misery that drives it. He also sings a couple of songs that lack dramatic focus, and the show was, at times, mildly unrehearsed. These are minor failings, however, against the intelligence he brings to bear on so much of his material and the beauty with which he sings it. In fact, Donahue has never been in better voice; his tones are as round, sure, and vaulting as they are on his new CD, "Lighthouse." Simply put, the show is excellent and the singer has unlocked yet another door on his way to stardom.

[Jack Donahue's second and last performance at the FireBird Café is Friday, Feb. 2 at 9 pm.]

Speaking of potent combinations, consider the combustible couplings at the new Cabaret UPtown series at the 92nd Street Y produced by Eileen Solomon and Michael Kerker. These new shows aren't only UPtown, they're also UPstairs in a theatre space at the Y redesigned for cabaret with tables and chairs. The indefatigable Kerker, working in concert (pun intended) with Ms. Solomon, has helped to create yet another valuable forum for songwriters to share their creations with the public. We caught the first of this new series late last year with its dual diva line-up of songwriter/singers Amanda McBroom and Ann Hampton Callaway. The night was so thick with composers, in fact, that the two performers were accompanied on the piano by yet another songwriter, Michelle Brourman. The show began with the headliners singing a duet of "Some Enchanted Evening." They got that right. It was an unforgettable evening full of enchanting music—most of it written, and all of it performed, by these two world-class entertainers.

The series continues on Feb. 10 with the pairing of composer David Friedman with singer/actress and sometime composer Alix Korey. Of course, the two are forever associated with Korey's signature rendition of Friedman's "My Simple Christmas Wish." We understand that the early show is already sold out, but that seats are still available for the 10:30 pm show. Soon thereafter, on March 17, Composer Craig Carnelia (lyricist to Marvin Hamlisch's music and John Guare's book for the forthcoming Broadway musical "Sweet Smell of Success") will team up with cabaret & theatre star Karen Mason.

The year has barely begun, but if we see a funnier group than Modern Man, we'll have to bring oxygen tanks with us because we laughed ourselves nearly to the point of asphyxiation. We're not talking about amusing or clever songs; we're talking about songs that will have you spitting beer. Musical comedy with a folky twist, this trio of songwriter/singers claims they "Bridge the gap between The Three Tenors and The Three Stooges." Finally, there is truth in advertising. They have a nostalgically sweet 1960s folk harmony when they sing together, but these guys are the Thomas Alva Edisons of humor. They're inventive. You know, the light bulb goes on.

Their full act was presented to a cabaret audience for the first time at the Laurie Beechman Theatre under the auspices of Jamie deRoy & Friends. The generous Ms. DeRoy simply introduced them and then gave them the evening. And they gave us one nutty masterpiece after another. George Wurzbach's "I'm God" is as stunningly original as it is hilarious. Rob Carlson is a scream performing "Inappropriate Singing Styles," in which he mimics, among others, Pavarotti singing a Dylan tune, then Dylan singing "The Messiah." David Buskin takes the lead in a sidesplitting number called "Like a River" that was the funniest send-up of a folk song we'd ever heard. At least it was until Buskin led them in "Folksinger," a thrillingly funny and audacious piece that somehow works in a reference to "The Great Mime Disaster of 1972." Even Marcel Marceau would have laughed (out loud!). Jamie deRoy, who also presented the music of Barry Kleinbort in a show called "The Kleinbort Collection," is apparently branching out in a new and rewarding fashion as a conduit for talented songwriters. She deserves many thanks for bringing Modern Man into the cabaret circuit. Until they return to cabaret, you can experience Modern Man on their first CD recorded live at The Bottom Line called "The Wide Album."

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