So, I've Heard... 'Feeling Good' this Season

by Rob Lester

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday December 6, 2019

Good music in New York City's nightclubs offers endless opporTUNEities for feeling good, perhaps with even more awareness of that gratitude attitude instilled by the season. So, let's start with two shows that include the song "Feeling Good" and use it for their show titles.

"Feeling Good" found singer-actor Mark Willliam feeling good and grateful to celebrate the release of his debut CD, "Come Croon with Me," coinciding with the date of the debut of his new nightclub act at The Green Room 42. He may be holding forth on the 4th floor of Yotel on 10th Avenue, but the fellow was floating on air, way up on Cloud 9, buoyed by his obvious joy in performing (mostly) old-school standards. This very eager beaver in his mid-20s (but looks like he'd be carded if he ordered a drink in this attractive venue where, notably, there is no minimum attached to the cover charge) covers mostly long-familiar standards and show tunes in his showy way.

He recently burst onto the cabaret scene and is gathering praise for his high-energy ways with what is basically a presentational style. He'd be swell casting as a bubbly Bobby Rydell in a 1960s teen idol nostalgia act or jukebox musical, but for doing richer cabaret communication as himself, he needs more seasoning. He's a gregarious and sparkling entertainer, but at this still-early point, it may still feel at times like he's a delighted kid trying on admired fancy grown-up clothes with big shoes to fill. And that wardrobe may not be a consistently, convincingly snug fit. Mark hits his marks and, mark my words, he'll stick around and stick to it, hopefully digging more into lyrics and finding more to say than bubbling over with admiration for his favorite inspirations and idols. Patter and persona/personal image are inconsistent. Some spoken set-ups don't have payoffs or points as expected, such as a mention of Diana Ross followed by a huge medley that has NO songs associated with her. (Huh?!) A reliance on strung-together medleys can be dangerous if they are more like swinging segues for those with ADD and don't add to the illumination of a song when carefully curated to comment on another and the mash-up becomes mush that may be admittedly delightful but not insightful. But with a nifty five-piece band led by pianist Clint Edwards, there's a lot of zing in whatever Mark William may sing, his voice is solid, and his bright eyes and bright tempi earn pleasure points towards what we hope is a bright future.

Lauren Frazza drops the 'g' in the first word to call her show "Feelin' Good," but, gee, at Pangea, that same Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse show tune serves her well to celebrate the feeling (or feelin') of freedom and independence. In some song choices and tweaks, that extends to a presented mindset of not desperately depending on being half a couple, as so many older love-drenched or lamenting lyrics slavishly did. So, Ms. Frazza is not so frazzled, but feisty and free. And that's appealing, revealing, and engaging. What could otherwise be a mere trifle, "The Glory of Love," becomes a more mature learned reflection of perspective.

Pianist/musical director Gregory Toroian's inventive arrangements for trio reinvigorate numbers that we thought we knew. The repertoire plucks things from various genres and eras, allowing the strong singer with a strong personality to sound comfortable and true in each, rather than a jarringly split personality presenting tricks and masks. Likeable Lauren saves a big chunk of affection for the prized, prioritized dogs she's adopted and finds ways that don't get too treacly to treat them to tributes in song. A few adjustments to the song order and spoken material would strengthen the act with even more impact. And I'm happy to hear that she just booked a return at the club for the new year: January 30, February 8 and 21. I have a feelin' that you'll be "feelin' good" if you go.

Kevin Dozier has a warm and sincere style that makes everything he sings so touching and tender that it could possibly melt the snow or the heart of a crusty curmudgeon like Scrooge. So, this romantic balladeer is the perfect fit for Christmas time. He previously released a teaser of an EP and this year has a full-length holiday album called "Christmas Eve" with 17 tracks. He got a jump-start on the heartfelt moods by mixing in a few to a pre-season's greeting at the comfortable Upper East Side supper club, the Beach Cafe.

But he felt the crowd wouldn't be ready for a show totally wrapped in Christmas at the Cafe well before Thanksgiving, so most of the musical menu consisted of favored items from his very fine earlier recordings. Sounding involved emotionally and in excellent voice, piano accompaniment by accomplished Alex Rybeck beckoned to all to join in on feeling good and sated with romantic thoughts. Rose-colored glasses rather than rose wine in glasses may as well have been served — the outlook on life and became that seeped in the positive, with the occasional strong appearance of gloom. But mostly we were in a love-land where things are "Wonderful, Wonderful" like that Johnny Mathis hit of yore which he manages to deliver with an almost sugar-free recipe. We hear audience sighs when his voice rings out with rapture in "I Hear Bells." But it will be mostly Christmas bells to ring in the season one week before that big day when with Kevin Dozier's holiday material is delivered, with guests Karen Mason and Sean Harkness, with the location of The Green Room 42 on December 17.

Cheers and belly laughs filled the air when the very dynamic duo who call themselves the Show Broads invaded Birdland, mischievous musical masters on a mission. Alone, each is a powerhouse of pizzazz, but together Marta Sanders and Leanne Borghesi are dames of dynamite to die for. Irreverent and smartly fearless — wrapped in big feather boas, boldness, and bravos — they nail the tone of the cheeky conceit of their act: supposed competition and the imposing, edgy, boisterous Borghesi ludicrously thinking she can pass herself off as a demure ingenue. Owning her status as old-school show biz veteran entertainer, salty seen-it-all Sanders, hilariously aims daggers and digs. The banter is a hoot and a half and their timing and chemistry are spot on.

They take chances that pay off, letting the audience be in on the joke of it all, happy willing victims we. But there's much more! Costumed to the hilt, it's a visual feast, and there are more LOL lines and withering reactions than even a greedy audience members might rightly expect. But both have those knockout belting voices that match the larger-than-life personalities and then can pull back and show vulnerability mixed with quieter determination. On this front, front and center were the wistfulness and hope leading the march to triumph in Marta's "Before the Parade Passes By" and Leanne was especially stunning and original in two songs from "Funny Girl" that, with relaxed tempi but no loss of focus on the needed drive, made us listen in new ways ("Don't Rain on My Parade" and "I'm the Greatest Star"). Kudos to director Nicolas Monas and musical director/arranger Dana P. Rowe, choreographer Pim Van Amerongen, and Nathan Cann who collaborated with the stars on the scripted patter. The forces of fun fueling "Friendship" and diva-dueling and/or bonding made for a fully satisfying evening that is a no-brainer to continue as a regular razzle-dazzle rapturous audience favorite extraordinaire.

If you're looking for cabaret that communicates and entertainingly educates, look no further than the sublime-voiced and gracious ease of Lisa Viggiano. Her show at Don't Tell Mama was a survey of stars discovered and nurtured by music man John Hammond, a talent scout, whose amazing career spanned early championing of Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday to latter-day discoveries including Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen (who was the main focus of her earlier show that just touched on a few other of the Hammond associates). Singing their signature songs, it is no small feat that the lilting Lisa is convincingly comfortable with this wide range of styles, never merely attempting to karaoke-copy distinctive stylings or tentatively treading on their trademarked territory. She makes it all feel like cabaret storytelling. With musical director/pianist Tracy Stark (occasionally providing vocal harmonies) and bassist Matt Scharfglass, the treatments honor legacies, but aren't cowed by them.

Turning to folk music hero Pete Seeger, an enlivened "If I Had a Hammer" benefits from a creative overhauling of the expected rhythm that would have dully recalled too many simplistic summer camp or music class sing-alongs. The spoken material concisely informed the audience about Hammond's family background, civil rights involvement, and more. I would have welcomed additional tales or commentary in this unique presentation, as it never felt like a history lecture, but rather a fond toast to a major figure who did so much before his death in 1987. The Viggiano voice will grace the material again, with an eye for a February return, and could easily swap songs in and out for variety since the stars discussed had large bodies of beloved and interesting work.

With so much to hear and cheer all over town, there's no need to be restless in the city that never sleeps. Or, so I've heard.

ROB LESTER returns to Edge in 2019 after several years of being otherwise occupied writing and directing musical theatre shows, working as a dramaturg, arts consultant, and contributing articles and reviews to various outlets. His long-running "Sound Advice" column covering cast albums and vocal CDs has been running regularly at for almost 15 years.