Kevin on Kabaret :: The Top Ten of New York Cabaret 2015

by Kevin Scott Hall

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday January 4, 2016

It is always a difficult but thrilling job to come up with my year-end list of favorite cabaret shows in New York. Although I saw over eighty shows this year, it never feels like quite enough, as there is always talent I wasn't able to see. As is my habit, I try not to name folks I've named before, in an effort to spread the wealth.

This year there is a tinge of sadness, as I this will be my final "Kevin on Kabaret" column. After six and a half years writing it, and over twenty years before that involved in all aspects of New York's cabaret world, I feel it is time to move on. Next month, look for my new column, "Kevin Scott Hall's Broadway and Beyond."

Rest assured, I will always take a part of the small stage with me wherever I go.

Without further adieu, though, here is my Top Ten list for 2015. Some shows were spillovers from the previous year, which I finally managed to see this year.

Shows are listed alphabetically.

Ruth Carlin. Carlin's tribute to Judy Collins first appeared on stage in 2014. Although Carlin's alto does not resemble Collins' voice, it took a poet like Carlin to bring the songbird's decades of exquisite taste in music to full flower. Carlin captured the beauty of the words and music and, in between, charmed the audience with her unpretentious, humorous patter.

Tim Di Pasqua. This award-winning singer/songwriter embarked on a new project this year, unveiling his entire catalogue plus new songs in monthly shows at Don't Tell Mama. Although Di Pasqua writes terrific songs for the theater, when he sings his own songs that he has written for himself, it's about as close to a channel to the divine as you are likely to encounter.

Brian de Lorenzo. Although I saw a few good tributes to Sinatra this year, nobody brought such fizzy joy to the centennial occasion as De Lorenzo. A consummate musician who makes you feel he's having the time of his life every moment he's on stage, which only adds to your enjoyment.

Jeff Harnar and KT Sullivan. These veteran cabaret artists brought us Act II of their acclaimed collection of Sondheim songs, "Another Hundred People" (as a follow-up to 2014's "Our Time"). Largely eschewing patter, the pair expertly weaved their way through the canon, revealing both emotional depth and transcendent vocal power, when the songs called for it. When great material is done this well, no need for extra bells and whistles.

Karen Jacobsen. This Aussie born, recently crowned American citizen has been impressively building up quite a catalogue of her own. The delightful "Destination Christmas" CD was her ninth recording. In her live shows at Stage 72, she plays piano while she sings a few covers and many of her own compositions, demonstrating a vocal palette than can sound both kittenish and roaring tiger. And she's a terrific storyteller to boot.

Telly Leung. Although an accomplished Broadway actor (now in "Allegiance"), when Leung took to the stage at Joe's Pub to introduce his second album ("Songs for You"), he showed his headlining chops, dazzling like the bright skyscrapers of his parents' Hong Kong or his own New York City. The voice is astonishing and Gary Adler's arrangements on some well-known songs brought new life to them.

Carol Lipnik. With a weekly residency at New York's Pangea every Sunday, singer/songwriter Lipnik has gained an avid following, also boosted by her very fine fourth CD, "Almost Back to Normal." In a world of many imitators, Lipnik is a complete original. Every song is a surprise and every word and gesture adds to the magic.

Karen Mason. In one of the most triumphant returns ever, Mason returned to Don't Tell Mama, where it all began for her thirty-three years before-and for Don't Tell Mama too, as she was the room's first act. Accompanied by the brilliant Christopher Denny, it was just songs and stories with Mason at the mic. Again, when it's brilliant, no need for more.

Adam B. Shapiro. Shapiro's "Nothing Normal" (a play on the film title, The Normal Heart, in which he appeared in a small role) showed off the actor/singer as both a deft comedic talent and one who can pull your heart out with a ballad. Shapiro can also sing show tunes and jazzier tunes with aplomb. Expect more from this talented teddy bear in years to come.

Seth Sikes. Young and energetic Sikes, whose background consisted of some acting, directing, and assistant directing on and off Broadway, took on the daunting task of presenting Garland's songs in many of her same keys and arrangements, in his sellout shows at 54 Below. Like the trouper she was, Sikes jumped on stage and belted out a succession of mostly uptempo songs, displaying all the bravado and bluster of a conquering army. While he saved a couple of quiet moments for later in the show, it was hard not to fall in love with that energy and powerhouse delivery.

Honorable Mention: I wanted to mention a couple of shows that have been around for years, and deserve to be around for several more. Another centennial celebrated this year was Billy Strayhorn's, and Darius de Haas brought all his passion and astonishing vocal work to the Birdland stage. De Haas's return to Strayhorn is always most welcome. And Sue Matsuki and Edd Clark returned with "Sue and Edd's Fabulous Christmas." The material presented was top-notch, and the jazz stylist and legit tenor blended very well together. Also, the chemistry of their friendship is like being around the hearth any time of year. I saw it in July, and it was evergreen even then.

Kevin Scott Hall is the author of Off the Charts! (2010, iUniverse) and the memoir, A Quarter Inch from My Heart (2014, Wisdom Moon).