The Blue Angel, Bully and Love’s Labour’s Lost

Karen Wyman resurfaces at The Blue Angel, Bully means well, and Love’s Labour’s Lost was hilarious if disjointed fun!

The Blue Angel   (3 ½ stars)
Bully   (2 stars)
Love’s Labour’s Lost   (4 stars)

On August 6 the indispensable Mabel Mercer Foundation presented an evening celebrating the golden era of New York cabaret as part of Urban Stages’ ‘Summer Series.’  Hosted by noted author James Gavin, The Blue Angel evening honored the legendary nightclub that was the height of sophistication.  The evening got off to a rollicking start with jazz pianist/singer Alex Leonard, who had composed a new song for the evening, “Intimate Nights,” to honor Gavin’s terrific book, Intimate Nights: The Golden Age of New York Cabaret.  It’s snazzy tune and delicious lyrics perfectly encapsulate Leonard’s breezy delivery and obvious passion for the American Songbook.  Next up was the lovely and talented Joanne Tatham whose smooth swinging style was matched by her sexy voice.  A highlight of Tatham’s set was her beautiful rendering of “Places That Belong to You,” the theme from Barbra Streisand’s The Prince of Tides, which – somewhat unbelievably – I can’t recall ever hearing in a cabaret show before.  It’s a haunting song and Tatham sang it with simplicity and understatement – exactly the treatment it deserves.  Following Tatham was the evening’s comic relief in the form of actor, comedian and writer Taylor Negron, a quirky performer whom you sense is a lot smarter and more subversive than his initial impression belies.  Negron, with his ‘sidekick’ Logan Heftel on guitar (and Leonard lending a hand at the keyboard), offered up some comic ditties that were are ridiculous as they were hilarious.  But bringing the evening to a close was headliner Karen Wyman, a spectacular singer who’s just now reemerging on the scene after a self-imposed absence of more than thirty years.   Wyman burst on the scene in the late sixties as a mere teenager, appearing on the Dean Martin and Ed Sullivan shows.  But even though she had a voice that marked her a successor to the likes of Judy Garland, Eydie Gorme and Barbra Streisand, she ultimately arrived on the scene too late so she left the business to marry and raise her kids in New Jersey.  Well, cream still rises to the top and Wyman still looks and sounds like a million dollars. Singing “Where or When,” “Always” and one of her signature songs, “Why Can’t I Walk Away,” it’s thrilling to report that Wyman is back…and better than ever.

There’s plenty of heart in Lee J. Kaplan’s autobiographical, one-man show, Bully.  But Kaplan, like many actors who write shows to star in, falls prey to a self-indulgence that eclipses his subject matter and dilutes his impact.  Kaplan’s biggest enemy is his own over-caffeinated performance which starts out at a fever pitch and has no where to go.  Inspired by his sixth-grade journal, Kaplan, who is straight, was bullied as a child and performing Bully no doubt provides a catharsis for him that’s therapeutic.  But Kaplan isn’t able to make his story anything more than what it is – his story.  That’s a shame because the potential is there for Bully to step outside itself and be far more powerful than it is.

Like a silly, college, variety show you laugh at in spite of yourself, the recent Love’s Labour’s Lost at The Delacorte (July 23 – Aug 18) was a bit of a mess, but delicious fun all the same.  What a shame it had such a short run.  Ingeniously directed (but clumsily adapted) by Alex Timbers, with tuneful songs (heavily borrowed) by Michael Friedman, the same team who gave us the critically acclaimed (yet financially disastrous) Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, this Love’s Labour’s Lost succeeded in large part to its wondrously talented cast.  It was great seeing Colin Donnell (Anything Goes) back on a stage and even better to hear him sing again.  Lovely Patti Murin (Lysistrata Jones) has come into her own as a savvy ingénue with as much substance as style.  Donnell, Murin and the rest of the terrific cast threw themselves into Timbers and Friedman’s craziness with zest and abandon.  It didn’t really matter that much of it didn’t make any sense.

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