New York is reveling in two of the best cabaret
shows I have ever seen. One is Lyrical Linguists
from London, starring Ellen Verenieks and Frank
Loman at Don't Tell Mama, 343 West 46th Street,
again on October 5 at 7:00 PM -- and I expect time
and time again there and in much bigger venues. The
other was Canadian concert star Gregory Charles at
the Cafe Carlyle in the Hotel Carlyle, 35 East 76th
First the Lyrical Linguists. It would be hard to
imagine a more joyous show springing from the
tremendous zest and spirit of Verenieks and Loman.
Verenieks, who was born in Canada but become a star
on the London stage ("Follies," "Little Shop of
Horrors," among many others) is as stunning a singer
as she is look at. Loman, who was born and raised
in Germany, made his West End debut in "Les
Miserables" is thrilling to watch extend himself as
a performer with artistry and infectious relish.
About Verenieks, indielondon.co.uk raved: "Blessed
with natural comic timing, with a crystal-clear
voice to match. Her ability to turn every song into
a complete story is masterful."
About Loman, QX Magazine, London, said "The only way
you'd find out more about this guy's inner feelings
is if you watch him having open heart surgery."
With New York Cabaret and theater great Michael
Ferreri on piano, Verenieks and Loman start out the
evening with a song by Brett Kahr called "Dangerous
Cabaret," a song with sets the tone for their entire
show. "This song defines what cabaret is all about
or should be," Loman said in the program notes. In
other words, stretching way beyond the usual, beyond
the funny, beyond the poignant, beyond even the
sonorous artistry of their voices into an
"undiscovered country" of cabaret that leaves the
audience quite breathless. Loman's thoughts in the
program notes on John Bucchino's song "If I Ever Say
I'm Over You," which Loman sings, comes closest to
this other worldly yet very earthly emotional
rainbow: "How much can we betray our own feelings in
believing that we are over someone who we were truly
in love with? No matter how much we are trying to
convince ourselves that we are better it rarely is
true. That is what this song is about and that is
why I love it so much."
Verenieks achieves the same kind of magical and
enchanting volatility with some of the simplest
lyrics in "I Never Learned To Type" by Charles
Miller and Kevin Hammonds. At the same time, she not
only gets laughs in all the right places and leaves
you emotionally drained by desperately wanting
something we all have wanted as we get older, the
longed for success that has never materialized.
Nothing will dim my memory of the pathos just under
the surface in her terrifyingly simple closing line,
which is also the title of the song, when
she matter-of-factly says, rather than sings, "I
Never Learned To Type."
But just when you think their roller-coaster
emotions can't get any more "dangerous" these
brilliant show people acrobatically change the pace
and mood to just plain fun. Her rendition of the Cy
Coleman/Dorothy Fields song "Pink Taffeta Sample
Dress Size 10" is a joyous look back at childhood
while her singing of "Is There A Straight Man in
the House," by R. Crom is hugely funny. Loman, too,
effortlessly switches gears with such songs as
"Satellite," by Julie Frost and John Gordon. it is a
funny version of the of the "dependant victim love
song," Loman says and spotlights his genuine
understated comic agility. And in "Move on," by
Stephen Sondheim -- which Loman sings with Verenieks
-- is a song of hope and renewal, of looking forward
without any malice or dejection for wrongs or
"rights" of the past.
And speaking of looking forward, I can think of no
greater show to look forward to than "Lyrical
Linguists from London" -- with
the possible exception of
Gregory Charles' recent show at the Cafe Carlyle
is just about the most entertaining evening I've
ever spent. I hope and pray he will be back time
and time again. It's not hyperbole to say its
better than anything on Broadway -- with the
exception of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes." The
celebrated Canadian recording artist -- whose
43-run show at Montreal's Bell Centre sold more
than 750,000 tickets -- ingeniously reflected to
the tastes and temperament of his audience. In
the show I caught he only did one number of his
remarkable 14,000 song repertoire from the
1930's - Cole Porter's "Night and Day." That was
my request, out of a hat, or more accurately I
believe, out of a box. Most were from the 1970's
and later. Yet all reflected his boyish
enthusiasm and buoyant charm.
"It's cool to be black, so way not say it ...
it's fun to be happy, so why not talk about it,"
the black entertainer told the Journal De
Montreal in an interview. "And damn it, that's
the kind of guy I am -- 'lucky and fortunate' in
my life. Oh yes, I love my parents and my
parents love me more than anything in the world.
Why not should it out loud, or even sing about
it from the stage!"
Charles' father, who is black, once "had to
fight his way into a theatre in San Francisco,"
Charles said in the same Canadian newspaper
interview. "The world has changed and for the
better. My mother is white and my father is
black .. I am a remarkable mix of the two
cultures and I want to tell everyone with words
and music that it is fun to be black..."
My only gripe with the priceless evening was it
was too short. I really wanted to stay for the
second show. Accompanying himself on piano,
Charles was joined by Jean-Bertrand Carbou on
bass, Samuel Joly on drums, and Jean-Benoit
Lasante on guitar.
Charles has presented his show at the historic
Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto. One can only
hope that if "Mama Mia" ever vacates the equally
historic Winter Garden in Manhattan, where the
one and only Al Jolson once played, Gregory
Charles may play there.