Friday, September 20, 2013

Cabaret Music: Sutton Foster @ Café Carlyle, Laura Benanti @ 54 Below

Sutton Foster
Performances through September 28, 2013
Café Carlyle
35 East 76th Street, New York, NY

Laura Benanti
Performances through September 21, 2013
54 Below
254 West 54th Street, New York, NY

Today’s best singing actresses aren’t only shining on the Great White Way. Sure, Laura Osnes is a delight in Cinderella and Kelli O’Hara returns this winter in the new musical of The Bridges of Madison County, but these ladies also show off their talents at closer quarters in Manhattan’s cabaret rooms.

Two of these intimate spaces are currently home to a pair of our premiere performers. Sutton Foster, Tony-winning Reno Sweeney in 2011’s Anything Goes revival, at the Café Carlyle through September 28; Laura Benanti—Tony winner for Gypsy in 2008—at 54 Below through September 21, plugging her new CD, In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention.

Sutton Foster at Cafe Carlyle (photo: Lars Klove)
During her Carlyle shows, Sutton Foster proves once again that her crystalline voice and natural stage presence make her one of our most engaging performers. During her hour-long set, Foster and piano accompanist Michael Rafter—perform 20 songs ranging from a medley of tunes she’s sung during her performing life—“Not for the Life/NYC/Astonishing” from Thoroughly Modern Millie, Annie and Little Women—to a stirringly passionate Sondheim pairing, “Anyone Can Whistle/Being Alive.”

In lovely renditions of John Denver’s “Sunshine on My Shoulders” and Paul Simon’s “Old Friends” (the latter a duet with her friend Megan McGinniss), and an encore of James Taylor’s “You Can Close Your Eyes,” Foster demonstrated her grace and naturalness, and even a self-mocking sense of humor with her between-songs patter. After a gentle but moving version of “Georgia on My Mind” (far from Ray Charles’ legendary take), Foster mentioned that she grew up in Georgia until, when she was 13, her family moved to Detroit. “That’s where I got my edge,” Foster quipped.

Laura Benanti's new CD, recorded at 54 Below
Quips will surely be plentiful at 54 Below this weekend, as Laura Benanti—another gorgeous voice, accompanied by glorious wit—appears to celebrate her new CD, recorded during her last stint there. The disc alternates her songs with her amusing stories, as did her performance last year at Lincoln Center’s Allen Room, which was memorable as much for her hilariously self-effacing asides as by her luminous singing.

Benanti—who describes herself as a “human lady” on her must-follow Twitter feed—explores  the American Songbook with her pianist Todd Almond. On the CD, songs by Maury Yeston, Lerner and Loewe and Jerome Kern were sung beautifully, as were Joni Mitchell’s “Conversation” and Harry Chapin’s “Mr. Tanner.” Benanti also showed off her abilities on the ukulele with a self-penned “The Ukulele Song” (what else would it be called?), which combines her vibrant musical and comedic talents.

No comments: