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Arts and Theater 1
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Black Tie International:
Callaway, Barrett and Cookie


Ann Hampton Callaway.  Photo by:  Bill Westmoreland

Ann Hampton Callaway.  Photo by:  Bill Westmoreland



Callaway, Barrett and Cookie

Make Joints Jumping!

By Ward Morehouse III

Two of greatest and most inventive cabaret and jazz singers have been heating up Manhattan after dark. Ann Hampton Callaway, in my view the greatest jazz and cabaret singer of her generation, and Chris Barrett, perhaps the most brilliant pianist-singer since the late Bobby Short and Cole Porter himself, have cast spells of unbounded joy at Birdland and La Rivista, respectively.  And at 80 years "young," Cookie Stark, the indomitable singer/director Eric Michael Gillett's latest "discovery," is delightfully droll at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. As Myra Chanin of Times Square Chronicles had said about Cookie in TSC: "Regrets? I have only one. That Cookie wasn't a singing octogenarian between 1956 and 1962 when Steve Allen or Jack Parr would have made her household word."

Ms. Callaway's new show at Birdland called “Bridges” – inspired by the song by Brazilian composer Milton Nascimento --  featured such songs as George and Ira Gershwin's "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off", and Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water.” And her rendition of the late Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge," an homage to one of London's famed Thames River crossings, was as bewitching as a couple in love in the London fog. 

"Ann Hampton Callaway is one of the leading champions of the great American songbook," said Broadway World in its rave review of her show at Birdland on 44th Street just west of Eighth Avenue. "Her gifts as a singer, composer, lyricist, arranger, actress, educator, TV host and producer have given her one of the most unique careers in music today."  I would go further:  Ann Hampton Callaway is as great as the late Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. Put Ann Hampton Callaway and Tony Bennett, who many consider the best singer alive today, side by side and you'll never hear such sensational sinopation.

With its distinctive Brazilian flare, "Bridges" is a sultry, torrid, joyous fiesta. But by the time Ms Callaway sings her 10th song, Paul Simon's, the audience is in for a shock: her show won't go on for another hour - or two! -- so spellbound she had it. Her all-star trio featured fabulous Ted Rosenthal at the piano, masterful Martin Wind on bass and a just terrific Tim Horner on drums. Significantly, “Bridges” also explores how people move beyond their differences and fears.  Says Callaway:  “During the recent election, people became so hostile, forgetting about what they had in common and focusing only on their differences.  Music has the power to heal and so I am offering a show that puts a new light on things for this new year, using the symbol of a bridge as a beautiful image to contemplate in all its forms.”

Ms Calloway shot to international fame for writing and singing the theme for Fran Drescher’s hit TV series 'The Nanny" and has written over 250 songs including the Platinum Award winning hits for Barbra Streisand "At the Same Time" and "I've Dreamed of You".  

                                                                * * *

Pianist/Singer Chris Barrett brings more than elegance and old world charm to La Rivista on Restaurant Row every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday  with two sets a night, at 8PM and 10 PM.  And you haven't seen someone play the piano and sing with such ease and charm unless you were fortunate enough to see the late Bobby Short at The Carlyle or even Cole Porter himself.  His "dance" medley, including "Shall We Dance," "Change Partners" and "It Only Happens When I Dance With You" were the next best thing to watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers do those numbers while dancing. In fact, I have excepted Ginger herself to float into La Rivista any moment.

Mr. Barrett's repertoire of songs of legendary American composers is never-ending  yet each time he sings he has a fresh and winning smile that makes you feel this is not only the first time he's done the song - - but the first time anyone's done it!

Mr. Barrett's longtime fans, of which there are a great many, will be at least figuratively rocked to the rafters of La Rivista. As will newcomers to the "Chris Barrett songbook," as I call it. He sings and plays with devastating authority that even though he didn't sing Cole Porter's "You're the Top" on opening night, the classic song from Poeter's musical "Anything Goes," Porter himself, who was known the trifle with the song to put in more of his own private "tops," aside from "Waldorf salad," and "a Berlin ballad," might have might well have added, "A Barrett Ballad" to his song had he heard Chris Barrett do it.  La Rivista is at 313 West 46th Street just west of  Eighth Avenue.

                                                               * * *

Hosted by Cookie Stark, "Cookie"s Corner," with special guest star 2012 Julie Wilson Award Winner Shana Farr (and directed by Eric Michael Gillett, with musical direction by Jeff Cubeta), premiered Sunday January 27 to a packed audience at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, 407 West 42nd Street.

Ms Farr, now out with her debute album "Out of the Shadows," looked radiant and sang flawlessly. He rendition of "Over the Rainbow" was refreshingly upbeat for all the song's own plaintive pathos.

Jodi Beck, an actress/singer/songwriter and Chris J. Handley were two of the best things in the afternoon. Eva Kantor, who played the title role in the national tour of "Anne of Green Gables," is as delightful to look at as she is endearing to hear. She will be in her first solo show, "The Way I am" directed by Mr. Gillett, with musical direction by the incomparable Don Rebic, this spring. Lynn Kearney, who appeared on Broadway in the original production of "Annie," had grace and great vocal style. Mr. Gillett will soon open his new cabaret adventure called "Careless Rapsody: The Lyrics of Lorenz Hart" at 54 Below beginning February 4. His special variety series will appear every other month at the Laurie Beechman with the next performance scheduled for Sunday, March 3 at 3PM.


joyce brooks, gerard mckeon.  photo by:  rose billings

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