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Cabaret Articles

Cabaret Hits Right Note at Club Cafe
Boston Herald, by Robin Vaughan

On Monday night, "Boston Sings Boston" plays to its third full- house audience at Club Cafe. The show, which features local musical theater and cabaret singers doing new songs by Boston songwriters, was originally scheduled for only four Monday-Tuesday performances, but it has been a surprise hit.

The response has been so enthusiastic that at least four more performances are planned for January (dates to be announced), and maybe additional runs beyond that, says producing artistic director Joe Antoun, a co-founder of Centastage.

It's a simple idea - a collection of sentimental cabaret tunes written in the standard tradition - presented straight, which comes as a bit of a surprise in this venue, where cabaret hot tickets tend to run more along the lines of P-town star Varla Jean Merman. The show, which tonight draws a mixed crowd of gay men and women and older straight couples (the Tuesday show will have a different demographic, with 25 guys from the Boston Gay Basketball League in attendance), isn't entirely irony free.

Jon Blackstone and Gregory Bouchard, the jaunty guys-in-ties trading verses with eyelash-batting gal Melinda Stanford, are about as convincing as straight suitors as Frasier and Niles Crane (who would love this show). Offstage, the male singers are a couple who met while doing Gilbert and Sullivan's "Ruddigore" at the Publick Theatre and celebrated their 10-year anniversary doing "Pirates of Penzance" there, and the relationship is glibly referred to in tunes such as "Baseball Man" ("The public's not buuuuying that you're straight" is one line that gets a laugh from the crowd).

Even Stanford, whose gee-whizzy, farm girl delivery tilts the scales in this show from camp to cornball (Dietrich she's not), gets in a wisecrack or two - she remarks at one point, for example, that she's probably the only person in the room who doesn't know how to wear a feather boa. But for the most part, it's a sincere tribute to the standard form, tunefully sung, with lots of spirit if not much sexual steam.

The songs are uniformly catchy and well crafted, and some are so beautiful that they beg for just a little more heat under the hood (Stanford gives her best performance applying her supple voice to some nice vamping on Stephen Murray's gorgeous "Little Grey Cloud"). But the bouncy Broadway tone has its own artless charm, and the songs hit their mark in the best sentimental cabaret tradition when they elicit that involuntary lump in the throat, as in "Chandler Street," the ensemble closer about longtime neighbors (when someone's cat died, the "whole building cried"). Guest singer Kerry Dowling's set of old standards (including a crowd pleaser from "Gypsy") is an engaging addition to the repertoire in Act II.

Antoun, who named the show after the "singer-sings-songwriter, Ella Fitzgerald sings Cole Porter" model, is a music fan whose tastes run from rock to country, but he says the cabaret form is nearest to his heart. "Jazz standards from the '40s and '50s - that style is pretty much my style," he says. "Boston Sings Boston," driven by melody, lyrics and heart, couldn't be a more respectful tribute.

Copyright 2001
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