Cabaret Stars Rock the Metropolitan Room to Help Hurricane Sandy-Ravaged Rockaways
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by Stephen Hanks
Cabaret Review by Stephen Hanks
"You don't have to review this show, just relax and enjoy it," Lauren Fox told me at around 10:30 pm last night at the Metropolitan Room, before she and the all-star cast she assembled for the one-shot benefit show, Cabaret Rocks the Rockaways, tried to squeeze in one last mini-rehearsal. Unlike some cabaret performers who might say that to a reviewer due to fear a show may not be quite ready for judgement, Fox exuded sincerity even though she and her troop had managed just one full rehearsal-at her parents' home yet.
Fox came up with the idea for a benefit show in early December after witnessing first-hand some of the devastation that hit New York's Rockaways--the vulnerable Queens community on the peninsula of Long Island--during early November's Hurricane Sandy. This rising cabaret young star with an angelic face and voice was also an angel of mercy in the aftermath of the storm, trekking out with some of her friends and cabaret buddies to places like Breezy Point with a plethora of supplies and a wealth of good cheer. Last night's show, the box office proceeds of which will go to Rockaways relief efforts, was a natural outgrowth-but certainly not a culmination-of Fox and company's efforts to help thousands in that area who are still trying to rebuild their homes and their lives.
So any glitches in a fairly hastily put together variety show (a format that for the most part I do not love), could be forgiven and the reviewing mode set to off. But damn, if Lauren (right in photo, with Marissa Mulder) and a group of real cabaret pros didn't pull it off. And starting at 11:30 on a Friday night no less. Not review this show? Are you kidding? If any bunch of performers deserved some recognition for this kind of effort under tough circumstances it was this one. Somehow, I managed to take copious notes, sing along with many of the songs under my breath, and have a blast at the same time.
With a supportive and almost full house ready to rock and roll, Cabaret Rocks the Rockaways got off to a rollicking start with a powerhouse duo of Natalie Douglas and Heather Mac Rae nailing Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush." I got a rush when after Mac Rae sang the second verse of the song, Natalie smiled and laid her head on Heather's shoulder. Next up was a totally rocking Stacy Sullivan on Bob Dylan's "Simple Twist of Faith." If that wasn't enough of a departure for a singer currently dazzling the cabaret world with her Peggy Lee tribute show, Stacy came back later and produced a haunting and understated rendition of Stevie Nicks' "Landslide," featuring great support from the band of Musical Director Jon Weber on piano, Ritt Henn on bass and Ted Stafford on guitar.
Although Fox is definitely more a Joni than a Janis, she had the guts to take on Joplin's "Piece of My Heart," and pulled off an unplugged version featuring just Henn's bass as accompaniment. Ted Stafford, who joined the group just one day before the gig (as a fill in for Peter Calo) but definitely didn't show it, did a audience-pleasing version of the J. Geils Band hit "Centerfold," which culminated (with some urging from the mischievious Henn) with a transition into a "Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, Hey Jude" ending riff. Heather Mac Rae (photo above) returned (with Sullivan, Douglas and Fox--oh my!--as backup) and was gloriously gospel-like on Paul Simon's "Gone at Last." Douglas remained on stage to beautifully backup T. Oliver Reid's subtle and soulful "Desperado" and you could hear the faint sound of an entire audience unable to resist singing along. The biggest surprise of the show may have been next when the usually sweet sounding Marissa Mulder channelled her inner Ann Wilson on Heart's power ballad "Alone." (Please click on Page 2 below to continue.)
Mulder was a tough act to follow but Ritt Henn came through poignantly on "Dry River" by Grammy Award winning alt-country/blues guitarist and songwriter Dave Alvin, a 1991 song the L.A. Times called "a blues lament about parched trees and severed roots." After Sullivan's "Landslide," Karen Oberlin was fun and contemporary on a medley of songs by the pop rocker Pink-"Stupid Girls" and "Eighteen Wheeler"-which is featured in her current cabaret show I'll Be Hard to Handle: Songs of Dangerous Dames (at the Laurie Beechman on January 9 and 23 at 7pm). Natalie Douglas (photo, right) returned and offered a rousing, audience-sing-along version of the 1967 Youngbloods hit "Get Together," before Emily Bergl brought the comic relief with the "Prince Medley," from her 2012 Cafe Carlyle show NY, I Love You, a humorous mashup-if a bit off theme and topic-of "Someday My Prince Will Come" with Lou Reed's "I'm Waiting for the Man" and Prince's "I Wanna Be Your Lover."
After supporting everyone superbly all night with his piano and backup vocals, Jon Weber got his chance to solo on Dave Edmund's 1970 hit "I Hear You Knocking." Fox returned to deliver Jackson Browne's "Before the Deluge," one of the many powerful numbers from her current show Canyon Folkies (which will be back at the Met Room on January 15, 16, 17 and 24). Towards the end of this number, the cast rose from their front row seats to join Fox on stage for an acapella ending and then remained for the big finale, T. Oliver Reid leading the group on Robbie Robertson and The Band's iconic "The Weight."
Lauren Fox, her selfless group of cabaret cohorts, and all those in the audience who attended this joyful and entertaining benefit show (that ended at 1 am), certainly did their small part in bearing some of the load and taking some of the weight off those people out in Queens still suffering from Sandy. Rock on Rockaways!