Lost in the stars with Annaleigh Ashford

Annaleigh 2
Annaleigh Ashford, a Tony Award winner for You Can’t Take It with You, closed out the season for Bay Area Cabaret with a sterling concert at the Venetian Room in the Fairmont Hotel.

Anyone who laments the lack of spectacular new Broadway stars need look no further than Annaleigh Ashford, a bona fide star if ever there was one. A Tony Award-winner for You Can’t Take It with You and former star of Wicked, Kinky Boots and, most recently, Sunday in the Park with George opposite Jake Gyllenhaal, Ashford is smart, charismatic and so loaded with talent it’s almost an embarrassment of riches.

Ashford’s act (Still) Lost in the Stars was the season finale for the Bay Area Cabaret season, and if you like fireworks with your finales, you would have loved this show.

It’s not everyone who can deliver within the same sharp cabaret show a 10-minute Donna Summer medley (complete with original rhyming text about the scene in Studio 54), make jokes about golden showers and yeast infections and deliver the most eloquent moving take on Stephen Sondheim’s “Children and Art” (from Sunday in the Park) imaginable. Ashford is that kind of performer – sincere, silly, elegant, buffoonish – but above all, she has a spectacular voice with which she can do just about anything and do it perfectly.

With a bouncy head of blonde curls and a sparkly ballroom dancing dress (she says she found it on eBay), she looked a bit like a feral Tammy Wynette, which suited the comedy (doing death-drop splits during the disco bit) and the drama (“Love Hurts”) equally well. Her three-piece band, headed by music director/arranger Will Van Dyke, skillfully navigated her changes in tone and ably handed everything from wacky disco to ukulele-inspired reinvention.

Not content to simply reinterpret pop songs (“Crazy” – Gnarls Barkley not Patsy Cline) or standards (“Come Rain or Come Shine” in the style of Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s “Over the Rainbow”), Ashford also likes to play with her audience. She pulled up a game fellow during her “Broadway medley madness” segment in which she had the volunteer help the audience match the songs with the shows as she sang a tune from each of her Broadway gigs. Later in the show, she had volunteers cue the audience for sing-along/callback moments in take on Alanis Morissette’s “One Hand in My Pocket.”

That’s all very entertaining, but it’s when Ashford really connects with a song, as she does on “Children Will Listen” or on the passionate show-closing take on Jacques Brel’s “If We Only Have Love” that she shines brightest. And that’s not a normal “bright” – that’s a blinding, Ashford-level bright. Star bright.

Click here for more information about Bay Area Cabaret. The new season will be announced soon.

Judy Collins warbles Sondheim

Judy Collins 1
Judy Collins translates her hit with Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” into an evening of the composer’s works in Judy Collins Sings Sondheim, a presentation of Bay Area Cabaret at the Venetian Room in the Fairmont. Photo courtesy of Judy Collins

It’s only logical that Judy Collins would end up doing a show devoted to the songs of Stephen Sondheim. The legendary American singer is, after all, the only one to deliver Sondheim an actual hit. Her version of his “Send in the Clowns” (from A Little Night Music) is his only radio hit – it was on the Billboard charts for 11 weeks in 1975, peaking at No. 36. Then, rather amazingly, Collins’ recording charted again in 1977, peaking at No 19. The recording also nabbed a Grammy for song of the year.

Some three decades later, Collins, more gorgeous than ever at 75, is parlaying her success with “Clowns” into an entire act. Judy Collins Sings Sondheim made its debut Saturday night as part of the Bay Area Cabaret season at the Venetian Room in the Fairmont San Francisco. Accompanied on piano by Russ Walden Collins launched an ambitious show that is clearly still a work in progress.

Collins’ voice is as pure and powerful as it ever was, and when she truly connects to a song, there’s no better place to be than sitting rapt in her audience. Quite often in the show, though, Collins relied heavily on lyric sheets to make her way through the labyrinth of Sondheim’s dexterous verbosity. That reliance kept her from fully investing in the songs, although musically she was on far surer footing.

Collins is also attempting, in her patter, to interweave her autobiography with Sondheim’s life story. The results are awkward, and, for the most part, unnecessary. We don’t need to know that Sondheim was 9 when Collins was born in 1939 or that the hit song of the day was “Over the Rainbow” (although hearing Collins sing a little of that song is delightful) or that maybe Sondheim’s parents took him to see the movie. The attempt at twin narratives is really a way for Collins to sneak in some of her own hit songs.

We hear “Both Sides Now,” “My Father,” “Some Day Soon” and “Chelsea Morning,” and it’s interesting when she’s singing one of her well-worn songs, how much more effective and connected she is than when she’s tentatively stepping through the Sondheim material.

That’s not to say, however, that it’s a trial to listen to Collins sing Sondheim. On the contrary, it’s fascinating to hear what she does with the intriguing material she has selected. The trio of songs that, to my mind, have the potential of being “Send in the Clowns”-worthy interpretations are “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” from Sweeney Todd, the title song from Anyone Can Whistle and “No One Is Alone” from Into the Woods. Each song benefits from Collins’ shimmering soprano, and she finds a trenchant folk element in each.

For someone who says she didn’t know who Sondheim was before she recorded “Clowns,” Collins has clearly become an enthusiast. Her song choices stretch from the better known (“Being Alive” from Company, “I’m Still Here” from Follies, “Not a Day Goes By” from Merrily We Roll Along) to the wonderfully obscure (“Take Me to the World” and “I Remember” from Evening Primrose, “The Road You Didn’t Take” from Follies). She honors Sunday in the Park with George with a full medley that includes “Children and Art,” “Sunday,” “Finishing the Hat” and “Move On.” When she fully masters this medley, it’s going to be magnificent.

And that’s pretty much my feeling about Judy Collins Sings Sondheim – it’s a great idea for a great performer and is well on its way to being a glorious showcase for the talents of both Sondheim and Collins.

[bonus video]
Here’s Judy Collins singing “Send in the Clowns” with the Boston Pops in 1976.

Judy Collins Sings Sondheim has one more performance at 5 p.m. March 1. $60 general, $45 subscribers. $90 premium includes post-show meet and greet. Coming up in the Bay Area Cabaret season at the Venetian Room: March 21 Ramsey Lewis and John Pizzarelli; April 19 Annaleigh Ashford; May 31 Bobby Conte Thornton at 5 p.m. and Lillias White and Billy Stritch at 8 p.m. Call 415-392-4400 or visit www.bayareacabaret.org.

Norm Lewis brings on the leading man charm

Norm Lewis 1
Norm Lewis dazzled the Bay Area Cabaret audience Sunday night in his local concert debut. Photo by Peter Hurley

More than two dozen songs and four standing ovations later, Norm Lewis has officially made his San Francisco splash. The Broadway leading man and golden-voiced baritone made his long-overdue Bay Area concert debut Sunday night at the Fairmont’s Venetian Room as part of the Bay Area Cabaret’s 10th anniversary season.

Most recently, the 50-year-old Lewis nabbed a Tony Award nomination opposite Audra McDonald in The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, but his impressive resume also includes Javert in the revival of Les Misèrables, King Triton in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, the Sondheim revue Sondheim on Sondheim and Side Show. He also has a recurring role as a senator on ABC’s “Scandal” and will be starring opposite Bernadette Peters and Jeremy Jordan in A Bed and a Chair conceived by Sondheim and Wynton Marsalis. So all of that to say: Norm Lewis has chops, and he’s not afraid to use them.

Outside the Broadway world, Lewis is less celebrated than he should be. He’s got a superb solo album, 2008’s This is the Life! (check it out on Amazon here), and he’s as charming as he is handsome (which is saying quite a lot). Why he’s not a massive star remains a bit of a mystery, but if Sunday’s concert is any indication, this is a performer who won’t be anybody’s secret for long.

With the help of music director Darius Frowner on piano and Paul Bonnell on bass, Lewis performed a generous slice of show tunes, standards and pop. Wearing a shiny gray suit, Lewis took the stage with a two-song tribute to Tony Bennett, “The Best Is Yet to Come” (whose lyrics Lewis, um, improvised) and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” followed by another shout out to a Venetian veteran, Peggy Lee, with “Fever.”

From here, Lewis got biographical, talking about growing up in Eatonville, Fla., and spending lots of time in church. His medley of spirituals mixed with pop songs like “ABC” and “Rock with You” could have gone on for another 20 minutes and lost none of its appeal. He paid tribute to Johnny Mathis, one of his favorite crooners, with “Misty” and revealed one of his mother’s guilty pleasures, Tom Jones with “It’s Not Unusual,” which included a ’70s-style saunter through the audience.

Once Lewis dove into the Broadway songbook, the show really took off. We got “Be a Lion” from The Wiz, “Corner of the Sky” from Pippin and his jubilant “Before the Parade Passes By” from Hello, Dolly! to name a few.

From the shows he’s been in, he offered “You Should Be Loved” from Side Show, “I’d Rather Be Sailing” from A New Brain and two songs from Les Miz, “Stars” and “Bring Him Home” (the first of the four standing ovations). From Porgy and Bess he smiled his way through a warm and wonderful “I Got Plenty of Nothing” before launching into a grab-bag section that included “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Sorry-Grateful,” “Paris Blues,” Oleta Adams’ “I Just Had to Hear Your Voice” and a rousing “Being Alive.”

For his encores, Lewis sang “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” and David Friedman’s “We Can Be Kind.” This is a guy with a killer belt – killer – though he doesn’t always show a deep emotional connection to a song.

Norm Lewis, as polished and accomplished as he may be, is in the middle of a terrific career, but it seems in some ways he’s just beginning. He’s a Broadway star gaining traction outside of New York, and as he sang at the top of the show, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

[bonus video]

Norm Lewis singing “Before the Parade Passes By” from Hello, Dolly!

Lea Salonga: Broadway star, Disney princess, cabaret chanteuse

Lea Salonga 2
Tony Award-winning Broadway star Lea Salonga brings her cabaret act to the Fairmont’s Venetian Room as part of the Bay Area Cabaret season. Photos courtesy of Lea Salonga

It’s the day after the Richmond-Ermet AIDS Foundation, and Lea Salonga, visiting family in the Bay Area, is still glowing because, at the curtain call, she got to hold hands with Shirley Jones.

“Some of the 20somethings there had no idea who Shirley Jones was,” Salonga says. “My jaw dropped on the floor. Come on, people! Watch a rerun of The Partridge Family at the very least. See Oklahoma! or Carousel! She has done Broadway and film and television and she still looks and sounds amazing. If you don’t know Shirley Jones, woe be to you. Those of us from New York all know who she is.”

Salonga is no slouch herself. A Tony winner for Miss Saigon, she is married, has a 5-year-old daughter and makes her home in Manila, in her native Philippines.

She continues to work on stage – her most recent Broadway show was the revival of Les Miserables from 2006 to 2008. Though she’s performed in concert since she was a kid, she’s doing the more mature thing now. With her debut last year at New York’s Carlyle Hotel, she’s officially a cabaret chanteuse.

Lea Salonga 1She’ll make her San Francisco cabaret debut later this month as the season opener for Bay Area Cabaret, now in its second season in the Fairmont Hotel’s venerable Venetian Room. Her original date on Sept. 16 sold out quickly, so a second show, at 5pm on Sept. 17 has been added.

Earlier this year, Salonga turned 40. If it seems she should have hit that mark a while ago, it’s a testament to her already storied career, which became an international success when she was cast as the title role of Miss Saigon at 17.

“Around my birthday, I looked in the mirror and said, ‘If that’s what 40 looks like, bring on 50!’” Salonga says. “I think getting older is great. Actresses worry about people knowing their ages, and I understand that because people are judgmental. But people know my story. I can’t lie about my age. I’m primarily a singer, so age doesn’t matter. The 40s are wonderful so far. You’re young enough to enjoy life, old enough to kick some ass and no one questions you.”

Lea Salonga CD coverSalonga received some glowing reviews for her Carlyle cabaret shows, and she recently released a live CD, recorded in that lovely Manhattan boite, called Lea Salonga: The Journey So Far. The disc surveys her entire career, including her gigs as the singing voice for Disney princesses Jasmine (in Aladdin) and Mulan (in the movie of the same name).

Recently dubbed a Disney Legend, Salonga and fellow princess voices Anika Noni Rose (The Princess and the Frog), Jodi Benson (The Little Mermaid) and Paige O’Hara (Beauty and the Beast), received awards and sang their signature songs.

Salonga’s daughter was in princess heaven at the ceremony, scoring autographs from all the famous ladies – including her own mother. “She was looking up at me saying, ‘Mommy sign my book?’ I said, ‘Honey, I live with you. I can sign your book any time.’ But I thought that was sweet. I actually matter to my daughter!”

In addition to her concert and cabaret work, Salonga is heading back to the musical theater stage with a show called Allegiance with music and lyrics by Jay Kuo and a book by Kuo and Lorenzo Thione. The show, set during the Japanese internment during World War II, will open at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre in the summer of 2012.

The musical had a workshop in New York earlier this summer, and the cast included George Takei and Telly Leung. Salonga says the workshop “went really well.” And the really great thing, she says: “My mother really liked it and loved the music. She said based on the music alone the show will fly. Believe me, she minces no words if she thinks something is bad. But this is a show she enjoyed. We’re all excited about the show. I consider myself a transplanted New Yorker, so I’d be very happy if the show ended up there.”

Lea Salonga is in concert as part of the Bay Area Cabaret season at 8pm Sept. 16 (SOLD OUT) and at 5pm Sept. 17 in the Fairmont Hotel’s Venetian Room, 950 Mason St., San Francisco. Tickets are $60 general with discounts for subscribers and those younger than 18. Call 415-392-4400 or visit www.bayareacabaret.org.

[bonus video]
Here’s Lea Salonga singing “Reflection” from Mulan at the Disney Legends award ceremony last month at the D23 Expo.

The blossoming of Anika Noni Rose

Anika Noni Rose

Watching Anika Noni Rose (seen above, photo by Andrew Macpherson) on the cabaret stage, you sense a superstar in the making.

The gorgeous Rose, all of 38, has already made a name for herself in the theater, winning the Tony Award for her performance in the Tony Kushner/Jeanine Tesori masterwork Caroline, or Change. On screen, she provided the voice of Tiana, Disney’s first African-American princess (in The Princess and the Frog) and she smooched and sang with Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce in Dreamgirls.

She has conquered stage, screen and TV (The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, The Good Wife) – the cabaret stage is about the only performance arena she hasn’t yet made her own. But she’s working on it. In only her second solo cabaret act – her first in San Francisco – Rose demonstrated a sassy onstage persona, an appealing voice and a vintage collection of songs.

Part of the Bay Area Cabaret season at the Venetian Room in the Fairmont Hotel, Rose’s concert, which she had presented earlier this month at Lincoln Center as part of the American Songbook concert series, served a tribute to her late grandmother. The songs, mainly from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, showcased Rose’s high, bright soprano and her charming, sassy way with a lyric.

Looking absolutely gorgeous in a sparkly gold dress, Rose opened the show in the audience, inviting audience members to “Come On-a My House” while pianist/music director Eugene Gwozdz provided playful accompaniment from the smalls stage.

Though she warned that she wasn’t a “patter girl,” Rose’s between-song comments were actually a highlight of the hour-long concert. She said that being in San Francisco was “like coming home” because of the time she spent here in grad school at American Conservatory Theater (indeed, Carey Perloff, ACT’s artistic director, was at a table near the stage). In describing the songs to follow, she described them as songs she grew up with because they were her grandmother’s favorites. She also took a moment to diss popular music: “I don’t know if there’s anything on the radio right now we’ll be singing in 50 years.”

Some of her show’s highlights include Eartha Kitt’s “I Want to Be Evil,” “He’s Funny That Way” (a Daniels/Whiting hit for Billie Holiday), Kansas Joe McCoy’s “Why Don’t You Do Right?” (a Peggy Lee/Benny Goodman hit) and a spirited “Relax Max,” a Dinah Washington tune that involved some slapstick from pianist Gwozdz.

Like Diana Ross, Rose has a beautiful, light tone that is brightest in the upper registers and all but disappears in the lower. Miss Rose uses her voice more effectively than Miss Ross often does, but her song choices don’t always highlight the best part of her voice. For instance, the bluesier Harold Arlen numbers “Blues in the Night” and “When the Sun Comes Out” both showed Rose’s limitations more than her strengths, though the final note of the set-ending “When the Sun Comes Out” was the evening’s most satisfying big, old Broadway belter moment.

Rose seemed to have fun in her cabaret moment, especially on numbers like “Goody Goody” and “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” (incorporating some clever flavors of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf), and though the show, as Rose promised, wasn’t heavy on emotion, she came close with an introspective “Willow Weep for Me.”

Self-deprecating and diva-ish, Rose can joke about herself and her cabaret fears (“It’s scary – it’s just me, no character”) one minute and yell at the bartenders in the back of the room the next for rattling (very loudly) their ice buckets during her numbers. She’s got a lot of star power and charisma – the next time she brings us a cabaret show, chances are pretty good it will be even better than this one.



Upcoming for Bay Area Cabaret:

March 1, Patti LuPone in conversation with Steven Winn (presented in association with City Arts & Lectures) at the Palace of Fine Arts

March 13, John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey at the Venetian Room (5pm show sold out, tickets still available for 7:30pm)

May 1, Bay Area Teen Idol singing contest, a benefit for the San Francisco Arts Education Project at the Venetian Room

May 14, Lillias White’s tribute to Cy Coleman at the Venetian Room

Visit www.bayareacabaret.org or call City Box Office at 415-392-4400.


Chita’s jazz…and all that

Chita headshot

Chita Rivera, a true Broadway legend, wowed a capacity audience at the Venetian Room as part of the Bay Area Cabaret Series. Photo by Laura Marie Duncan. Below: Rivera as Anita in West Side Story. Photo by Leo Koribbean. Bottom: Rivera with the songwriting team Kander and Ebb and Liza Minnelli. Photo by Martha Swope.


Last night I fell in love with a 77-year-old Broadway legend.

Actually, I started with a giant crush that developed during a recent phone interview with Chita Rivera (read the story in the San Francisco Chronicle here), and then that crush fell off the deep end when I saw her in person at the recently re-opened Venetian Room in the Fairmont Hotel as part of the Bay Area Cabaret series.

About 13 years ago, when I was the new theater guy at the Oakland Tribune/ANG Newspapers, I had the chance to interview Rivera in person at the Clift Hotel. She was launching a Broadway-bound autobiographical show called Chita & All That Jazz. On my way to the interview, I passed a flower stand, and on impulse, I bought her a gardenia. I knew that’s not what a seasoned professional would do, and my purpose wasn’t to butter her up – it was more about honoring her extraordinary career. To arrive empty handed felt like…not enough. When I sat down with her and gave her the flower, her eyes welled up, and the interview was wonderful. I got a big hug at the end, and I was happy.

Chita West Side

The problem, a few weeks later, was the show. It was like a big cruise ship entertainment with a glossy spin on Rivera’s storied career. A legend deserves better. She tried again with The Dancer’s Life, another autobiographical show scaled to Broadway size. But it didn’t do as well as people had hoped. That’s when Rivera decided to scale it down for cabaret. She started at Michael Feinstein’s club in New York and has since taken it around the country. She works with a trio (because she thinks it’s sexy to be able to say, “And now I’d like to introduce you to my trio.”) and with bigger bands and orchestras. And the one-on-one aspect of the cabaret arrangement is a wonderful way to experience the Chita magic.

At the 380-seat Venetian, with a show called Chita Rivera: My Broadway, she was incandescent. She walked on stage (from the kitchen, which is how you do it at the Venetian) in a sparkly red dress and matching jacked. With her trio behind her, she launched into a medley of “I Won’t Dance” and “Let Me Sing.” Over the course of the 90-minute show, she would actually dance – maybe not full on choreography but just enough to let us know she’s still got the sharpest, sexiest moves around – and we would have let her sing all night if she had been willing.

Rivera exudes charm but doesn’t actively try to charm. Her expertly structured and scripted show seems casual and off the cuff. She’s warm and funny and dazzling in the most appealing show-biz way. She radiates Broadway pizzazz but comes across as a grounded gal you’d love to pal around with. That’s the kind of combination that let’s you get away with anything.

Not that Rivera takes advantage. We’re in the palm of her hand, but she never coasts. She takes us through highpoints (and a few low) of her career with stops along the way for her mega hits: West Side Story’s “A Boy Like That”/”America,” Sweet Charity’s “Where Am I Going?,” Bye Bye Birdie’s “Put on a Happy Face”/ “How Lovely to Be a Woman”/ “A Lot of Living to Do” and Kiss of the Spider Woman’s “Where You Are”/ “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”

Before launching into her signature tune, “All that Jazz” from Chicago, Rivera noted that when Rita Moreno played her role of Anita in the movie version of West Side Story and Catherine Zeta Jones played Velma Kelly in the movie of Chicago, both won Oscars. Rivera, a two-time Tony Award winner, said that was OK with her. “I’d rather get there first anyhow.”

Chita Liza Kander Ebb (fix)

Paying homage to her dear friends John Kander and Fred Ebb, she sang “Love and Love Alone” from the still-gestating musical The Visit and a wistful “I Don’t Remember You” from The Happy Time and “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer” from The Rink in which she starred opposite Liza Minnelli as her daughter.

Rivera’s voice these days is husky but expressive. She swings almost as well as she moves, and her rapport with the adoring audience is cabaret ecstasy.

Reminiscing about her experiences in San Francisco, Rivera said she first visited the city at age 17 when she was in a tour of Call Me Madam starring Elaine Stritch. She’s been back many times and still loves the city even though her tour of Kiss of the Spider Woman wasn’t the hit here that she had imagined. She came here as a well-trained musical theater neophyte and this weekend returned as theater royalty. She made a cabaret room feel like a Broadway stage and we were all up there with her doing high kicks in the spotlight.

That’s a great feeling, and it’s only something you can experience when a performer as talented and generous as Rivera opens her heart and lets you in.

Here’s a treat – Rivera singing Kander and Ebb’s “Love and Love Alone” from The Visit:


Visit Chita Rivera’s official website here.

The Venetian Room and the way we were

Venetian Room

The Venetian Room as it appears today. Below, the Venetian Room in the 1950s and opening-night headliner Marvin Hamlisch.

Sometimes I feel like I got to San Francisco just a little bit too late.

By the time I got here in 1990, the cabaret heyday was long past, and just a year before, the famed Venetian Room in the Fairmont Hotel – where Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne and Sammy Davis Jr. had all performed and where, in 1962, Tony Bennett introduced a little tune called “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” – shut its doors as a musical venue after more than four decades and became just another overly ornate meeting room.

Tonight, I’m happy to report, the Venetian Room reopened as the new home of Bay Area Cabaret, Marilyn Levinson’s seven-year-old nonprofit fighting to keep classy cabaret alive in San Francisco.

Levinson called the re-launched Venetian room a “secret dream,” one that has now been not-so-secretly realized.

Though the cigarette girls are no longer roaming the room, the glamour quotient for the Bay Area cabaret scene has risen a few notches. At Sunday’s opening-night gala, there were indeed ladies in furs and that classic cabaret mystique – part sophistication, part see and be seen, part icy martini – was back in play. It’s hard not to get caught up in the swirl of excitement when you walk through the lobby of the Fairmont to get to the Venetian Room – it’s so opulent, and not in that faux Las Vegas wannabe way. This is the real thing.

Venetian Room 2

If the lighting and sound in the room aren’t perfect, and if the tables are wobbly and the chairs crammed too close together, it was hard to mind. Levinson’s joy at the room’s re-opening, echoed by Tom Klein, the Fairmont’s general manager, was contagious.

The opening-night entertainment fell to Marvin Hamlisch, an unlikely superstar. But how else to describe the man who shared a Pulitzer for his first Broadway show (A Chorus Line) after he’d already racked up three Oscars for his work on the movies The Way We Were and The Sting. He has Tonys, Emmys and Grammys as well, putting him in that elite, multi-award-winner circle that will forever attach awards to his name.

Hamlisch has quite a polished act. He tickles the ivories to be sure, but he’s a heck of a comedian. Noting that performers really do have to walk through the kitchen to get to the stage, he said, “The cantaloupe looked good.” Hamlisch is also a generous composer who happily shares the stage and his piano playing with Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers. Though he’s won just about every award imaginable, he shared a medley of Academy Award losers that included “The Look of Love,” “Cheek to Cheek” and “Nobody Does It Better.”

Marvin Hamlisch

For a medley of songs by Richard Rodgers (his mother’s favorite composer – don’t ask), he was joined by Les Miserables journeyman J. Mark McVey, whose gorgeous baritone was especially well utilized on “It Might As Well Be Spring” and “Some Enchanted Evening.” McVey also deigned to do one of his own standards, “Bring Him Home,” which he described as the “prayer from the second-act barricade.”

After saying he likes to write to titles, Hamlisch entertained audience title suggestions then proceeded to compose a song to match. The evening’s newly minted song was “Letting Go the List,” which also worked in a rejected audience offering, “Oh No You Didn’t!”

Maria Friedman, the special guest for the evening, had just flown in from London, where she is in rehearsals for The Invisible Man, a new musical based on the H.G. Wells tale. The winner of three Olivier Awards and considered an eminent Sondheim interpreter, Friedman punched through “Being Alive,” “Broadway Baby” and “Send in the Clowns.” She’s lovely, but I was underwhelmed. When Friedman returned later in the show to sing “The Way We Were,” she started off with the wrong lyrics and asked to start over. Let’s credit that to jet lag and move on.

Hamlisch trotted out a trio of songs he wished he’d written – “Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me,” “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewidlered” and “Somewhere” – and then launched into three songs of his own, “three songs only four people know,” which was a bit of an exaggeration. “Falling” from They’re Playing Our Song, “The Last Time I Felt Like This,” the Oscar-nominated theme from Same Time Next Year and “If You Remember Me” (lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager) are not exactly obscure, but it’s always good to hear them.

The evening ended, somewhat ironically, with an overture – the never-used A Chorus Line overture, but before that, Hamlisch had an observation. “This room has a great vibe,” Hamlisch said, surveying the jam-packed Venetian. “It has always been a great room.”

And it looks as though it will continue to be. Sometimes, when you’re lucky, it feels like you’re in San Francisco at exactly the right time.


The Bay Area Cabaret season includes Chita Rivera’s My Broadway Nov. 5; Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp’s Adam & Anthony Live: the Guys from Rent Nov. 21; John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey in The Carlyle Show March 13; Anika Noni Rose in concert May 1; and Lilias White in a Cy Coleman tribute called My Guy Cy May 14. Tickets range from $35 to $60 with discounts (and reserved seats) for subscribers. Call 415 392-4400 or visit www.bayareacabaret.org for information.