Sue Matsuki is back at last after a month's vacation, with with a new column, which we posted on the website yesterday. This week, Sue writes about what she did on her vacation, including reviews of several shows she attended - with more reviews coming next week. She opens her column with a report on the memorial service held on September 2nd to celebrate the life of Marianne Challis, who passed away on August 29th. Sue also makes some picks for upcoming shows and announces the return of her new show with Edd Clark, a tribute to legendary singing team, Steve & Eydie, in October. Plus she will be producing some new events in NY State.
What I did on my summer vacation!
WELCOME BACK TO MEEEEE!!!! No VIEWS this first week back because I spent the entire month of August going to shows. I have many mini-reviews to share with you today. I hope that you all had a great summer!
MARIANNE CHALLIS - HER CALL HOME, A FINAL "REVIEW"
This past Sunday, September 2nd, in Southport, CT at the Southport Congregational Church, I attended the Memorial Service for the divine, Bistro and MAC/Hanson Award winner Marianne Challis. Sidney Myer and I entered the church with heavy hearts (we all did) but left with a lightness of the joy of the celebration of the life of this incredible lady. Her pastors, her congregation, the 40 person teen choir (one of her legacies in music for sure), the people who sang, the friends who spoke all revealed how incredibly special Marianne was and how much she will be missed. Singing to a SRO crowd (Marianne would have loved that), Mary Saunders sang Jerry Herman's "Marianne". People were stunned by the beauty and grace of this song and Mary's voice that it was like a prayer. You know that this was a clapping crowd but it almost felt wrong to clap after this song so collectively, we just didn't. We just let those beautiful words "be" with us.
Rev. Paul Whitmore then greeted us fighting back his own grief as he confessed to us all that, probably like us all, he still could not believe this live force was no longer with us. Rev. Laura Whitmore then addressed us, again with her grief apparent, letting us know it was OK for us to mourn and laugh and cry and feel today. She also told us that Marianne had been an active member of this church and the Director of the teen choir for 12 years. Then, 40 of her students from the Broadway Boot Camp that she started and the Church Teen Choir sang, "You'll Never Walk Alone" which moved Marianne's husband and children and every single one of us. I give these kids props for getting through this. They sang in harmony and with complete professionalism. Marianne would have been SO proud of them. As they all took their seats, some of them broke down but they did their job in paying tribute to their teacher. They were led by the new Youth Choir Director, Phillip Bettencourt, a very impressive young man!
The service continued with the reading of Psalm 100 and 23 and John 15 and then the lovely Susan Terry sang, "They Were You" which seemed to be directed to Marianne's choir. It was very moving and we all felt that indeed "they" were "her" in that she left so many children touched by her gift of music. She lives on in them!
Next up were the tributes by Rev. Whitmore, Joan Leder (employer, mentor, dear friend) and Robert Logan (Uncle Bob) who was a riot. He offered comments to people on behalf of Marianne, what she would say if she were there. It was a lovely.
David Friedman, one of Marianne's many celebrity students, then sang his gorgeous song written with Portia Nelson, "Let Me Be the Music". What a perfect song for this day because so much of who Marianne was, revolved around this gift she was given to share.
Before the closing comments and the Peace we were treated to two reflections by Cat Lambert (her sister-in-law) who was just ADORABLE and loving and again brought us all to a better place and then by her director/friend Scott Barnes. After Scott's tribute which was worthy of a stand-up club, Rev. Whitmore said she would have to re-consecrate the sanctuary! It was the funniest and yet still a heartfelt, loving tribute to his beloved friend. This was a perfect way for us all to then go meet, eat and raise a glass to her memory.
I was so impressed with this church. The ushers meeting us and trying to pack us all in, the volunteers who set up a beautiful reception, the homemade food, the soloist and the Ms. Elaine DeGrood on the organ - every person there worked hard to make this a very special day for her family because they clearly considered Marianne their sister.
Not surprisingly to anyone who knows her, in lieu of flowers the family has set up the "Marianne Challis Scholarship Fund" for students pursuing musical theater via the Southport Studio Theater, 1305 Jennings Road, Fairfield, CT 06824 or gift to: Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids, 165 West 46th Street, #1300, NY, NY 10036 are also welcome.
Supporting music to the end! RIP lovely lady. You mattered to so many and made such a huge impact in your very brief visit here on earth. It was an honor to know you and after today, I feel like I now know you even better. BRAVA. I am giving you a Standing O Girl!
KAREN OBERLN in I'LL BE HARD TO HANDLE: SONGS OF DARING DAMES at FEINSTEIN'S at the Regency Hotel (540 Park Avenue, NYC - 212-339-4095 - ) with Jon Webber on piano & Tom Hubbard on bass.
From Burt Bacharach to Rodgers & Hart to Blossom Dearie to David Frishberg to Shel Silverstein to PINK to Kern & Fields and Joni Mitchell (and more) THIS was the show I have been waiting to hear Karen sing ... it is my favorite show of hers E-VAH!
Beautifully sung, cleverly put together, intelligent patter, a SMASHING, sexy outfit and a yoga headstand at Feinstein's made this show "all that"! Karen usually has a great connection to her lyrics when she sings but this show allowed us all to see even more of her acting chops because of the diversity of the material she chose to present to us. She was PINK inspired with "Stupid Girls" and gave us a country moment (GREAT sound on her) and a few Broadway tunes AND some small tender tunes AND sexy vampy tunes ... did I mention how much I loved this show?
There are also no better musicians working on stage today than Jon Webber and Tom Hubbard. I had the pleasure of working with this team once so I know the joy that Karen had doing this show with them. If Karen brings this show back (and I hope that she does) it really is a MUST SEE! Karen Oberlin is definitely NOT hard to handle! She is a total delight!
BOYS NIGHT OUT - A CELEBRATION OF THE RAT PACK at THE METROPOLITAN ROOM (34 West 22nd Street, NYC - 212-206-0440 - ) STARRING: Danny Bolero, Bernard Dotson & Tom Gamblin - with Tracy Stark on the piano, produced and directed by Joseph J.Macchia.
An outstanding cast with outstanding voices. Fun, fun, fun! I have to say it 3 times since there are three of them. How can one go wrong with a program of some of the best tunes ever written? Songs like their opening number, "Just in Time"; "Love and Marriage"; "That's Amore"; "Mr. Bojangles" and many other great tunes made famous by Frank, Sammy and Dean. Speaking of Dean, Tom Gamblin really channeled the essence of Dean Martin's voice on many of his solo tunes to the point that I wrote on the side of my notes, "Tom should do a Dean Martin Show".
This was not an imitation show of course but each of the guys brought their own very special gifts to each of their tunes and they were all GREAT on Mr. Booze (Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Can Heusen). LOVED Bernard's renditions of "Gonna Build a Mountain" and "Ain't that a Kick in the Head" and Danny was stunning on "What Kind of Fool Am I?" and swinging on "That's Amore". Tom's highlights were "Everybody Loves Somebody" and "The Tender Trap". I think that the "marriage history" bit went on a little bit too long but it was a good idea that just needs to be tightened up a bit. Tracy Stark, as always, was just brilliant! A FUN show with songs we all love and great, handsome and sharply clad eye candy singers for both cougars and the boys! Watch for this show to come back.
LAUREN ROBERT at IRIDIUM JAZZ CLUB (1650 Broadway, NYC - 212-582-2121 - ) with Barry Levitt on piano; Ira Siegel on Guitar; Jeff Ganz on bass; Chris Parker on Drums (kit); Roger Squitero on Percussion; and back up vocals by: Carollee Gold & Keith Fruitt - WOW! AWESOME! THRILLING!
What a powerhouse voice and energy. Lauren Robert is a force to be reckoned with. She makes me want to work harder as a singer because when she performs she gives like 125%. She sings from her toenails and leaves her spleen on the stage. It sometimes surprises me when a singer like her also stays connected to her lyrics and while she is still working on this on the up tempos, her ballads were so strong and beautifully placed emotionally. The band, led by Barry Levitt, was astounding as were the back up singers. I've never seen Barry having more fun on stage. When they have fun, we have fun!
Lauren also writes a lot of her tunes. Some are stronger than others but even the one tune I wasn't crazy about, she sang the hell out of it and sold it to me. What I liked about her overall set was that she would set these great grooves or funk beats that brought to mind my Tower of Power and Earth, Wind & Fire days. It was actually hard to sit through this show because we all wanted to get up and shake our groove things! If you want to hear this amazing singer, she has a new CD out and it too is ROCKIN'! Listen - I Mean It is now on sale. Please visit: www.LaurenRobert.com
Scott Barbarino of ScoBar Entertainment promised to bring her back to the Iridium. I'd call the day the notice goes out because she will sell out fast and you DO NOT want to miss this show or this gal.
METROSTAR at THE METROPOLITAN ROOM (34 West 22nd Street, NYC - 212-206-0440 - ) STARRING: Altovise, Elisabeth Cernadas, Lianne Marie Dobbs, Tommy Dose, Eva Kantor, Sierra Rein and Billie Roe.
This was my first time attending any of these shows and it was a darn good (but a long) night. The talent level was so high that I did not envy the judges. I do wish that all of the judges would have spoken up and offered insights. It was mainly the same 3 judges who spoke throughout the competition with the guest judges piping in here and there. Why have other judges if they are not going to offer any comments? This is just my feeling here. As we all know by now, the lovely and talented Billie Roe won.
Since the contest is based partly on audience votes, there is an opportunity for people to move forward based on the audience padding the votes. The responses of the judges can also influence how the audience may vote but these are the rules. On this night a song was also "imposed" on the singers. Either "We'll Be Together" or "I'll See You Again" had to be incorporated into their set. This means that the singers competing tonight had to think about two other tunes that would keep their mini-set of a 3 song arc consistent. (NOT an easy thing to do.) Some were more successful in putting their sets together than others. It tended to make this particular evening ballad heavy so, I felt that those who put a bluesy or big belt tune in their set (Billie smart girl) helped themselves stand out in a sea of sameness in song choicest. Patter was also being judged. Again, some shared too much; one person didn't do any patter and still made the finals but most thought about what they needed to say to make their set work. There is an art to crafting your sets for competitions like these which I am going to address in a column soon. I am glad I went. I wish I could have gone the following week because the show was that good. I will definitely make it a point to see this entire contest next year! Congrats Billie!
JOHN DiPINTO/MARY FOSTER CONKLIN in DOWN FOR DOUBLE at THE METROPOLITAN ROOM (34 West 22nd Street, NYC - 212-206-0440 - ) - With Tony Romano on guitar, Skip Ward on Bass, Willie Martinez on Percussion and John DiPinto on piano/accordion.
I've written about them before so I'll keep this review brief ... .FABOO, great harmonies, great band, GREAT energy, great scatting, great musicianship, great friendship ... GREAT SHOW! They are always a MUST SEE!
REV. YOLANDA'S OLD TIME GOSPEL HOUR ... A GENDER BENDING GOSPEL CELEBRATION - STARRING ROGER ANTHONY MAPES at THE DUPLEX CABARET THEATRE (61 Christopher Street, NYC - 212-255-5438 - ) - Directed by Shawn Moninger; Musical Direction by Kenneth Gartman; Banjo: Bill Turner; Fiddle: THE AMAZING Emily Mikesell; Stand Up Bass: Dennis Michael Keefe; Special Guest: singer songwriter, Nashville recording artist Tom Vaughn!
As a reviewer it's always hard to recommend a show of a religious nature because if I tell my readers to go and they are non-believers it can be awkward. However, since the main "religious" message in this wonderful show is that you are PERFECT exactly as you are (OK, in this show, exactly as God made you) all I can tell you is that you will leave this show feeling JOY and incredibly impressed by Rev. Yolanda and this band. This band, led by Kenneth Gartman is one of the best and tightest groups I've heard in years. Add to this the additional impressive harmonies by Kenneth and super fiddler Emily Mikesell and you get gooseflesh from the sound alone. Bill Turner on banjo and back up vocals and Dennis Michael Keefe on bass also impressed. Just Fantastic! Props go to Director/Rev. Shawn Moninger for incredible attention to detail on this show!
About the lovely Yolanda (she looks like Boo Boo Honey or is that Honey Boo Boo? all grown up) ... anyone who states "The higher the hair the closer to Jesus" will be my friend forever. While this is a man in a lovely dress, I think Rev. Yolanda could charm even the Republican Convention! You cannot help yourself. You love this lady and you love her message and your face hurts from smiling. She also has an incredible voice. Does this sound like a show you'd like to see? Then go! It is a program of spiritual songs so go knowing that but GO! A good ol' foot stompin' time is a good ol' foot stompin' time.
The final message is that for too many years she hid her light and that, for some of us, the light is frightening but when you decided to just be who you are, you are engulfed in the beauty of your true light. That's a "religion" I can get behind. Let it Shine, Let it Shine, Let it Shine! Promo video: www.yolanda.net
I also saw WILLIAM BLAKE at BIRDLAND & RAISSA KATONA BENNETT at FEINSTEIN'S. Since I did so many reviews in this column, I will save them for next week.
I always like to suggest a few shows of friends I know that I can HIGHLY recommend!
TOM RAGU & FRIENDS Wednesday, September 19th and every other Wednesday thereafter at THE GREENWICH VILLAGE COMEDY CLUB (99 MacDougal Street, NYC - 212-777-5233 - ) - 6:00 pm $5.00 (plus a one-beverage minimum, per person) - NYC's lovable, gay funnyman Tom Ragu is back in a big way with a new show, at NYC's newest comedy venue - Greenwich Village Comedy Club welcoming a rotating cast of some of NYC's funniest gay and gay-friendly comics. There is good food, lots of laughs, and prizes with a few rounds of "Two Truths and a Lie" an inter-active audience game! STARRING: Jessica Kirson headlines with Ophira Eisenberg, Elaine Williams, Chanelle Futrell, Joan Weisblatt & Julia Scotti.
FRANK DAIN in THE MAGIC OF MATHIS Saturdays, September 8th & 15th & Fridays, September 21st & 28th at 7:00 pm at THE METROPOLITAN ROOM (34 West 22nd Street, NYC - 212-206-0440 - ) - Frank Dain is the much loved editor of Cabaret Scenes AND he is also an incredible singer that you should all go to see. With Kathleen Landis on piano and Saadi Zain on bass this show is directed by the wonderful Lennie Watts so for me, it's a win-win-win! For more information please visit: www.FrankDain.com
EDDIE BRUCE's CELEBRATION OF TONY BENNETT - THE MUSIC, THE AR T... THE MAGIC! - With Special Guest Bennett Biographer David Evanier ONE VERY SPECIAL NIGHT ONLY! - Sunday, October 7th at 8:30 at FEINSTEIN'S at the Regency Hotel (540 Park Avenue, NYC - 212-339-4095 - ). Eddie Bruce performs some of the most significant music in Tony Bennett's career with the Tom Adams Trio. He celebrates the astounding career of Mr. Bennett as he enters his 87th year. The show will feature an interview with Bennett Biographer David Evanier, author of the highly acclaimed book All the Things You are: The Life of Tony Bennett, who shares great insight about Tony as a civil rights advocate, painter and more.... If you do not know Eddie's work, you need to know Eddie Bruce. He is equally as wonderful in his big band shows but I love this particular show on him. He has an incredible voice and is SO charming that you will totally love this evening ... what's not to like about Tony Bennett?! Join me on the 7th!
Thank you to all of you who came out to see my Steve & Eydie Show with Edd Clark, "It's Us Again!" We are bringing it back to DON'T TELL MAMA (343 West 46th Street, NYC - 212-757-0788 - ) on Monday, October 1st at 7:00 pm & Sunday, October 14th at 3:00 pm.
I'll also be performing and opening a new series called "Legends" up in South Salem, NY starting with my Ella show on Sunday, September 30th followed by Marcus Simeone in his Tribute show to Darrin, Mathis & Bennett on Sunday, October 28th.
Here's some information on the first event:
MATSUKI / ALBANESI PRODUCTIONS PRESENTS: Le Cabaret at Le Chateau - Legends: ELLA & ME - A Tribute to the First Lady of Songwith Musical Director, Tracy Stark. Sunday, September 30th - at LE CHATEAU (1410 Route 35, South Salem, NY - 914-533-6631 - ). Music/Dinner from 5:00 pm - Show Time 6:00 pm. 3-course Dinner/Show package $50. MAKE YOUR RESERVATION TODAY!
Dream it, Believe it, DO IT!
e-mail me at SueMatsuki@aol.com
For more information on me or to read my resumes/reviews please visit my personal website at http://www.SueMatsuki.com/