Kevin On Kabaret :: Here’s to the Ladies of June

by Kevin Scott Hall
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jun 3, 2014

It has been three years since Amy Beth Williams has introduced a new show, but in May she finally returned with "Crazy to Love You" and has three more dates in June -- June 4th, 13th, and 20th at Don't Tell Mama in midtown Manhattan.

Since 2011, she has made appearances at the popular Sunday night Salon series and at the Park Concert Series at Tudor City. Williams also picked up the 2012 Bistro Award for her 2011 show, and this year took home the prestigious MAC Hansen Award, given to a worthy talent who is considered a bit under the radar.

As for the new show, Williams said, "The title comes from a Leonard Cohen song, which I wanted to sing. It inspired me and the show unspooled from there."

I asked her why it took three years to put together a new show. "It was mainly about whittling down the huge amount of music I wanted to sing," she told me. Williams hired Tanya Moberley as her director. "Tanya asked me, 'Which songs do you have to sing?' We narrowed it down from there."

"There is no filler in the show," she said, and then laughed. "Which is probably why it's so dark!"

Dark sides of love

Indeed, the show takes the audience to the darker sides of love, which are at times devastatingly funny and sometimes, well, just devastating. "It’s not about me," Williams said. "The songs were written by other people long before I got a hold of them. There are a lot of songs out there about knocking your head against the wall for love! But by naming the demons, you can exorcise them."

Williams has become a critics’ darling among a select few (including this one) who can’t seem to get enough of her. I asked her what it is about her that they see and appreciate.

She paused thoughtfully before answering. "People see my truth, my honesty. Sometimes it’s a deterrent for people who have heard me sing, because they don’t want to go there."

Like many in cabaret, she still struggles to find an audience at times. "How do you get an audience to come see another cabaret show if they think they’ve seen it all?" she asked. "You may not like me, but how would you know if you don’t see the show?"

Trust me. Amy Beth Williams is always fascinating and you never know quite know what to expect . . . except that it will be marked by her high level of professionalism and commitment to the cabaret art form. Check her out. . . .

Singing Judy

I was intrigued to find out about Ruth Carlin’s latest project, "A Light in the Window," a cabaret tribute to Judy Collins-a worthy and overdue subject for such a tribute.

It turns out that the title came from a lyric in Collins’ own composition, "The Blizzard," which came out in the ’90s (long after her hit-making days) and has become a minor classic among aficionados.

Carlin was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Long Island. Her mother was an actress who also sang traditional folk songs and played guitar. She also grew listening to Broadway musicals, the Beatles, and the folk music of the late ’60s.

"I was attached to Joni Mitchell before I found Judy Collins," Carlin told me. "But at some point, I was listening to the Judy Collins album ’Wildflowers’ over and over again. When I had my son, to keep him from crying, I sang to him every night, including her song ’Secret Gardens.’ When he became old enough, he told me that was his favorite song."

When deciding on a show, Carlin originally thought it would be about all the major folk singers of the era. "I became intrigued by her song choices, and we eventually focused in on her," she said. "I loved so many of her songs and it became a natural fit for me."

"She feels compelled to communicate," Carlin said of her idol. "She is a storyteller and an ambassador to all kinds of music in the world. She’s not confined to traditional folk music."

Carlin has read all four of Collins’ memoirs. "I know everything about her, and I talk about bits and pieces," she said. "But it was all we could do to cut the songlist down to fifteen songs."

She went on to explain, "She is very deep and courageous. Knowing about her has informed me and I understand the references in her songs."

Carlin herself is a talented poet -- something she used to great effect in her last show. "Judy’s songs are very poetic and her nature is poetic. That’s where I’m at home."

Ruth Carlin’s tribute to Judy Collins plays at The Laurie Beechman Theatre on Thurday, June 12th. This is a show I can’t wait to see. . . .

Performance art at its best

One performer who has been a presence in the cabaret scene for many years, often as a piano bar performer and hostess of open mics and variety shows, is Bronwyn Rucker.

I’ve often said that you can’t always judge a person’s artistry by one song performed in a variety show or in a piano bar, and this would be the case with Ms. Rucker, whose quirkiness and tendency to try out new material in front of a piano bar audience-to wildly varying effect-was always endearing but perhaps overshadowed an intelligent artistry that was in search of a proper vehicle.

That vehicle, it turns out, was a subway. I recently caught her show, "A Subway Named Desire," at The Duplex. The piece has evolved and changed over the years but, having just experienced its brilliance, I had to ask myself why I hadn’t seen it sooner.

This is performance art at is best, and by that I mean it really makes you think about the absurdity around us and how we as unique, creative people manage to fit in (or not) in this world. Don’t be put off by the "performance art" description-this is accessible and embodies the spirit of a line she says in the show: "Don’t lose your sense of humor." That may be the only thing that keeps us sane.

Taking on the character of Bronwyn duBois (and impersonating others as well), Rucker shows herself to be in complete command of who she is as an artist and, more importantly, as a human being with a heart that feels deeply.

This show is a stream-of-consciousness, high-energy narrative brilliantly written by Rucker and her creative partner, musical director Woody Regan. She often stops mid-song to jump back into a narrative, touching on difficult topics such as loneliness and the passing of time . . . while even sarcastically puncturing the greatness of icons such as acting teacher Uta Hagen.

You can bet you’ll never hear classics like "Cry Me a River" (Hamilton), "Surrey With the Fringe on Top" (Rodgers & Hammerstein), "The Trolley Song" (Martin/Blane) or "Just in Time" (Styne/Comden) like this ever again.

Some of her lines just jump off the stage with their lucidity: "Loneliness: we’re in a city of 10 million people and yet we all know it." ""I suffer from over-identification with everyone." Or, "I’m more afraid of why I haven’t lost twenty pounds in thirty years than I am of the impending nuclear holocaust." And finally this: "There is no time for lost souls, the world is moving too fast." These are words that can bring on a guffaw or suddenly catch you with a lump in your throat.

Rucker is an actress who writes and sings, in that order. Her chest voice is robust but when she leaps up into her soprano head voice, there’s a lack of fluidity that can be a bit jarring. However, in the context of this show and character, it hardly matters. She communicates the stories with such zeal and artistry and she has found the right vehicle for her unique talents. In the end, like her fictional doppelganger Blanche duBois, we find ourselves embracing Bronwyn Rucker’s flawed but beautiful humanity.

Kev’s Faves

And now, Kev’s faves: The delightful Marnie Klar is back with her new show "Home" for four dates: June 6, 10, 18 and 24-all at Don’t Tell Mama at 7:00 pm . . . comic Adam Sank is trying his hand at singing with a couple of shows at The Duplex, June 19 and 27 . . . I can’t say enough good things about Carole J. Bufford, back at the Metropolitan Room on Thursdays in June at 9:30 . . . Former piano bar fixture and rebirthed Broadway star Terri White returns to town for a one-night-only engagement at 54 Below on June 22 . . . young Bistro winner Liam Forde brings his ebullient self to Stage 72 on June 20 . . . and Broadway’s Branch Woodman teams up with Tami Petty for a concert at Middle Collegiate Church on June 9 at 7:00 pm, called "There’s No Place Like Home." Not to be missed.

That’s just a sampling of the great talent in our clubs. Until next month, let’s get out and about. I hope I’ll see you over cocktails!

Kevin Scott Hall is the author of Off the Charts! (2010, iUniverse) and the memoir, A Quarter Inch from My Heart (2014, Wisdom Moon).


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