Los Angeles Cabaret Review: AN EVENING OF CLASSIC BROADWAY (Rockwell Table & Stage)

by Tony Frankel on August 12, 2015

in Uncategorized

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GREAT, BUT NOT ALWAYS CLASSIC

According to TimeOut London, the term “cabaret” represents an overlapping group of constantly mutating forms of performance that can’t be pinned down—an art form that borders with everything on the artistic map—cross-fertilizing music, Damon Kirschecomedy, variety, circus, burlesque, live art, theatre, dance, clubbing, and even cinema (if we look at Weimar era cabarets, that description isn’t far off). Webster’s definition goes even further in scope by calling cabaret an “entertainment,” but adds that it’s held in a nightclub or restaurant while the audience eats or drinks at tables.

Relatively inexpensive to produce, American cabaret in the 1970s and 80s was a great way for singers and songwriters to showcase their stuff, especially in New York, where you could catch the hottest talent in the land at The Duplex, Eighty-Eights, Don’t Tell Mama, and other piano bar/cabaret/supper clubs. While some of these institutions still exist, the proliferation of mass media has taken business away from these watering holes, and singers are rethinking their acts by spicing them up with themes, directors, and more adventurous selections, but the results are mixed.

Kevin OdekirkI miss the time when American cabaret singers simply sang songs—no social commentary, no motifs, and no directors were necessary because the audience was accustomed to great songs treated with unique vocal stylings by distinctive entertainers. Even when cabaret began to decline in the 1960s, headline singers—whether at Carnegie Hall, Vegas, or an intimate venue—stuck to this tried-and-true format, tossing in a little storytelling patter for good measure.

I offer this lengthy intro because it is wholly refreshing that an ongoing entertainment at Rockwell Table & Stage has emerged. And even though An Evening of Classic Broadway also yielded mixed results last Monday, it’s still a far cry better than most cabarets these days. It’s a compendium of great singers offering great show tunes aided by a better-than-great music director—in this case, the ridiculously talented, witty, and self-effacing raconteur Brad Ellis, who opened the show with Peter Allen’s “Everything Old is New Again.”

Valerie PerriWhen the perfect singer/perfect song/perfect rendition occurred, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else on the planet. At the top spot was a mustachioed Damon Kirsche, who decided to go all debonair with Cole Porter’s rarely performed “The Tale of the Oyster.” This witty and chic 1929 sendup of high society is from Fifty Million Frenchmen, which also produced “You Do Something to Me.” Speaking of High Society, Kirsch later teamed with Ellis for “Well, Did You Evah!”—a scandalous regaling of gossipy upper-classers that was made popular by Bing and Frank in the 1956 movie, but was actually introduced by Betty Grable in the 1939 Porter musical DuBarry Was a Lady. Funny and relaxed, the captivating Kirsche needs his own evening.

Jahmaul Abiodun BakareSo, too, does the powerful, lyrical, and exciting Jahmaul Bakare. The Nigeria-born baritone worked the small room by not overblowing the overblown and overdone “Make Them Hear You” from Ragtime. He also showed how “Let it Sing” from Violet can be gospel-infused without resorting to the now-ubiquitous 80s’ yodel. Another talent who deserves his own night.

Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of talent on the stage, but the show needs a director: Some volume levels are ear-splitting (the fantastically impressive Kevin Odekirk was overmiked with too much reverb in “She Cries” from Songs For a New World); some selections simply did not suit this venue, even as the wildly talented Valerie Perri rocked as “Aldonza” from Man of La Mancha (Perri was perfection in “Before the Parade Passes By”); producer Dianne Fraser and ever-youthful Barbara Minkus offered parodies of two songs (“The Wizard and I” and “If They Could See Me Now,” respectively), but I prefer original lyrics in an evening promising classic Broadway. (The personal stories that accompanied each of these tunes was a nice touch however.)

Elizabeth Hayden and Dianne Fraser

Still Minkus gave a lovely rendition of the only hit from All American, “Once Upon a Time,” by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams. And the leggy, sexy Elizabeth Hayden beautifully belted “A Lot of Livin’ to Do” by the same authors. And Hayden (clearly a queen of cabaret) and Fraser did a great job on a medley of Kander & Ebb’s “My Own Best Friend” and “Nowadays,” which suited Fraser’s range better than her previous outing.

Kevin Odekirk, Brad Ellis, Barbara Minkus, Valerie Perri, Dianne Fraser, Liz Hayden, Damon Kirsche, Jahmaul Bakare

Even with decent ticket prices ($10-20) Rockwell can become an expensive proposition with average fare for a high cost. There’s nothing to do about that. A venue is a venue (and the service is great). I wouldn’t wonder that the house would be packed if Fraser upped the ante on the context. Knowing now that this evening feels like a fun night in someone’s living room, I would nonetheless return.

pDianne Fraser and Brad Ellishotos by Shari Barrett

An Evening of Classic Broadway
Fraser Entertainment Group
Rockwell Table & Stage
1714 N. Vermont Ave. in Los Feliz
played August 10, 2015
for info on future shows, visit Facebook
next show Sep 28, 2015
for tickets, call (323) 669-1550
or visit Rockwell www.rockwell-la.com

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