Kevin On Kabaret :: Into the Awards Seasons
"Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour" - John Boswell
As we head into Awards season, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Tanya Moberly, who will be bringing home her own Bistro Award when they're given out March 4th. She takes home the honor for her theme show, "I Love New York Songwriters," which she will reprise at Don't Tell Mama on February 25th.
I like to call Moberly the current MVP of the cabaret scene. For you non-sporties, that's Most Valuable Player. Although Moberly has been performing regularly herself in the clubs since the late '90s, she has become an asset to the movers and shakers around town.
Moberly has helped behind the scenes at the Bistro Awards, at the Concerts for City Greens at Tudor City Park every summer, and, most prominently, as producer of The Salon, an open mic at Etcetera, Etcetera (325 W. 44th Street), with Mark Janas as musical director, that gets an almost religious following of singers parading through its doors every Sunday night from 7-10:30 p.m. (singer sign-up begins at 6:30). As producer of the series, Moberly has won the MAC Award four times.
"Salon really put me on the map," Moberly told me. She took over after its tenure at the Oak Room. "I fell so much in love with it. I wanted to nurture it and I have all these administrative skills."
In fact, she recalls how one of her other jobs came about. "Raissa Katona Bennett [producer of Concerts for City Greens] saw me breaking down a set in my high heels and mini skirt and came over and said, ’I want you to work for me!’"
However, Moberly is thrilled to be getting her first award as a performer. "I’m so grateful to Sidney Myer, who gave me a home at Don’t Tell Mama. I’ve been singing there for fifteen years. Mama’s was my Salon before Salon was my Salon!"
The energetic and industrious Moberly was born in Omaha, Nebraska, but grew up in Rhode Island until her mother moved to New Jersey when she was about twelve.
"My Dad died when I was seven," she said. "But when we were in New Jersey, my Mom had a boyfriend in Manhattan. I knew that’s where I wanted to be."
Tanya was enrolled in the famed Professional Children’s School in midtown, for kids who want to fast-track into the arts as a profession. "I was auditioning at age 15, and I skipped 11th grade to go on tour."
Although she had early training in dance, Moberly was most moved by the acting and singing.
"I was auditioning a lot but not getting good work, so I put together a show called ’The Blonde Leading the Blonde’ with my partner back in 1997 as a benefit, and then it ran for several more performances," she recalled. Moberly has since gone on to present several new shows, mostly around a theme.
Moberly has also become a sought-after director for cabaret shows. "My goal is to make my living in cabaret," she said. "And I’m almost there."
As for "I Love New York Songwriters," she says, "My ideas come to me, and I listen," she laughed. "Much of this show was inspired by Salon. I either met the songwriters at Salon or the songs were performed at Salon."
Moberly continued, "There is a New York sensibility to the writing, and I think these writers love New York as much as I do." She then let out another roar of laughter. "Basically, the show is about being lonely and horny!"
Songwriters featured in the show include Jeff Blumenkrantz, Tim Di Pasqua, Richard Eisenberg, Steven Lutvak, Jill Sobule, and many more. Catch Tanya’s show at Don’t Tell Mama on the 25th of February and picking up her Bistro at Gotham Comedy Club on March 4th.
Moberly, who is also an Associate Producer for the Bistro Awards, quipped, "I’m sure I’ll be changing my shoes and running up on stage to do my song!" . . .
Putting her spin on Kander & Ebb
Next up is Nikki MacCallum, who will present her new show, "Familiar Things," at the Duplex on February 21st and 28th. Her show celebrates the music of Kander and Ebb. The title is a song from "The Rink."
MacCallum, who hails from the small town of Hamilton, Massachusetts, on the state’s north shore, told me, "I grew up on Kander and Ebb. I used to dance around my living room and sing to the "Chicago" cast album-it was a way for me to be able to swear without it being an issue!"
I mentioned to her that, these days, young cabaret artists don’t do as many musical theater composers, and that doing a Kander and Ebb show was both retro and cutting edge.
"The challenge is that there are a couple of revues out there-"The World Goes ’Round" and "First You Dream," I think-so I had to be very mindful of the selection of material and also try to put a unique spin on it," MacCallum explained.
MacCallum went to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts to study musical theater, and since then she has continued to study with the best in the business.
"I’m also a writer and I’ve always gravitated toward cabaret," she said. "Last year, I went to the O’Neill Cabaret Conference and had Donna McKechnie and John McDaniels as mentors. How they spoke about cabaret as an art form and the collaboration between the singer and the musical director and band . . . it got me really excited to do this again."
MacCallum made her first splash in cabaret a few years ago with a musical piece she wrote, "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," "I’m Willing to Settle . . . a Musical Guide to Internet Dating." That show went through several workshops, a few festivals, and a cabaret run, and garnered a lot of press.
I had to ask how the dating thing was now going for her. MacCallum laughed. "I’m still single! I spent the greater part of my twenties searching for a boyfriend, but now I realize my life is so rich with friends and creativity. How long will I have to be single and this creative?"
Nikki MacCallum tackles Kander and Ebb at the Duplex, 21st and 28th-with the stellar talents of Mark Hartman as musical directr. I can’t wait to see and hear it . . .
Just as this was going to press, I received the brand new CD from Shaynee Rainbolt and Donn Trenner, "Two for the Road." This follows the remarkable show the two did for several dates over a year ago. Trenner is an Emmy-nominated pianist (he played for the Steve Allen Show back in the ’60s and had lengthy collaborations with Bob Hope and Ann-Margret, among others).
While the studio recording doesn’t capture the joyous on-stage chemistry they shared, it does showcase Rainbolt at her vocal best, and Trenner, at age 85, is a sublime musician and accompanist to Rainbolt’s jazz stylings.
The eleven selections are a nice combination of familiar and less familiar standards. I especially liked Rainbolt’s take on Irving Berlin’s playful and rare "This Year’s Kisses" and a sumptuous blending of the Beatles’ "Yesterday" with the Kern/Harbach tune, "Yesterdays." Trenner has a great solo introduction on Michel Legrand’s "I Will Wait for You/Watch What Happens." I myself can never get enough of Legrand’s music, and in the hands of a master pianist . . . magical. Finally, my favorite song is one of Trenner’s own (lyrics by Margot Jackson), "In the Glow of You." It could be a modern-day standard.
Rainbolt and Trenner’s CD would make for a nice evening at home with your loved one on Valentine’s Day . . .
And now, Kev’s Faves for February: Another 2014 Bistro winner, the multi-talented Nathan Chang, is back at Don’t Tell Mama on February 7th . . . Barbara Malley is back at the same club on the 20th with her terrific show "Out of Order" . . . The Nunziata Brothers bring their charm and vocal pyrotechnics to 54 Below on the 6th . . . and the great Linda Eder pops by the same club, February 22-24 . . . and Frenchie Davis, of TV’s American Idol and The Voice, as well as Broadway and dance clubs, stops by the Metropolitan Room , February 8-10.
That’s just a small sampling of what is being offered in our great city this month. I’ll be out and about until next month. Until then . . . I’ll see you over cocktails.