Photo Credit: D. Sabella
Ride the Blue Wave
The Hidden Cabaret
Jan 20, 2020
Walking through the easily missed (yet copper-plated) door and down the stairs to the “Hidden Cabaret” at the “Secret Room” certainly gave Stephen Hanks’ latest edition of Ride the Blue Wave a scintillating atmosphere. As if that weren’t enough, hearing sixteen powerful women sing political and social anthems gave the evening a definite counter-culture/subversive overtone.
New York City in 2020 might as well have been the Berlin of WW II depicted in John Kander and Fred Ebb’s musical, Cabaret, with sixteen outstanding Sally Bowles singing for freedom from oppression, freedom of expression, and equal rights. This reviewer is sad that such awareness and consciousness raising shows are even necessary in this day and age, and yet exceedingly glad to have been in the room for these powerhouse performances.
Hanks himself opened the show with the title song The Great Blue Wave, written by Michael Roberts. The song was well crafted and delivered and set a jovial tone amidst serious business. What happened next was a cavalcade of female voices and compelling lyrics.
Sierra Rein sang a rousing and moving interpretation of The Flag Song (Stephen Sondheim, cut from “Assassins”). Remy Block delivered a haunting Birmingham Sunday (Richard Farina), which was answered by Lisa Viggiano in an uplifting rendition of The Times They Are a Changin’ (Bob Dylan).
April Armstrong took the stage and accompanied herself on the conga, with guitarist Tomas Cataldo, to ask the audience “What’s Going On?” (Renaldo Benson, Al Cleveland, Marvin Gaye) after-which Blair Alexis Brown play the piano and sang Paul Simon‘s An American Tune.
Next up were Mary Sue Daniels and Katie McGrath accompanied by Rick Jensen. Daniels sang a wistful Abraham Martin and John (Dick Holler) and McGrath delivered a gut wrenching Lullaby (Shawn Mullins, with adapted spoken lyrics by McGrath herself). McGrath’s lyrics told the story of a 5 year old migrant child separated from her family at the boarder, singing herself to sleep. The sorrow and anxiety in these performances hung heavy in the air and contributed greatly to the evening’s counter culture, speakeasy, club-verboten atmosphere.
Julie Reyburn masterfully cheered things up with her own updated lyrics of Noel Coward‘s song Twenty-first Century Blues, proving the old adage that sometimes laughter is the best medicine for the unfortunate reality we find ourselves in.
Dawn Derow gave us a “Safe Place to Land” (Sarah Bareilles, John Legend), aided by the handsome and talented Jason Reiff, the only other male singer on the program. And, Brenda Braxton literally tore up the place with a rousing rendition of her Tony Award winning performance of I’m a Woman (Jerry Leinberger, Mike Staller, from “Smokey Joe’s Café”).
Janice Hall both lifted our spirits and broke our hearts appearing as none other than Hillary Clinton, and singing the Kurt Weill and Mark Blitzstein favorite Barbara’s Song (with additional lyrics by Hall herself), just before Sandra Bargman reminded us of those bygone speak easy days with a song she co-wrote with Ian Herman, They Don’t Call it Spirits For Nothing.
Hall and Bargman ushered in a lightheartedness which carried the show to its ending including the ebullient Sarah Rice singing Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse’s Feeling Good, Meg Flather’s determined rendition of A Cockeyed Optimist, coupled with A Million Dreams (Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein/Benj Pasek and Justin Paul), and Laurie Krause assuring us what One Voice (Barry Manilow) could accomplish in times of adversity. N’Kenge closed the evening with a powerful rendition of the Ray Charles arrangement of America TheBeautiful (Samuel A. Ward).
This particular iteration of the Blue Wave was produced by Hanks in support of voting rights, with proceeds going to ensure voting rights are upheld in the upcoming election. Funds are targeted as needed for strategic democratic races, and so far this series has raised over $6000 for democratic candidates. So, if you have a desire to be
more politically active, to stand up, stand out, or even sing out, then check out future iterations of the Blue Wave 2020. Also, be on the look-out for future Stephen Hanks productions, including a “Best Of“ series of shows, bringing back award-winning shows from many different artists. And by all means please welcome the “Hidden Cabaret” at the “Secret Room” as the newest member of the cabaret venue family. The new room is located at 707 East Ave. between 44th and 45th St., right behind the copper-plated door, and down the stairs. You’ll be glad you did.