Ken Haller, notable pediatrician, actor, writer, singer and performer extraordinaire, unveiled his newest cabaret act last weekend at the 2017 edition of The Presenters Dolan’s Gaslight Cabaret Festival.
He joked during his 75-minute performance that when contacted by Jim Dolan to do a show, he said, “No problem, I’ll just dust off one of my previous acts.” Nothing doing, replied Jim, I want a new one for this edition.
So, Haller devised Happy Haller Days!, a play on words, of course, but also a deeply felt observance of several holidays throughout the calendar year and what they mean to Dr. Haller, from his childhood in New York to his career as a physician in Omaha, South Carolina and St. Louis for the past 30 or so years.
Haller arrived on stage with a bright Christmas tie and stocking cap and immediately launched into an entertaining version of We Need a Little Christmas, Jerry Herman’s sprightly melody from Mame.
He then showcased a droopy little fir which immediately brought to mind Charlie Brown. Ken reminisced about seeing the original presentation of A Charlie Brown Christmas on CBS-TV in 1965, with Vince Guaraldi’s and Lee Mendelson’s poignant Christmas Time Is Here playing in the background.
Next came a quick-paced rendition of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas from the 1944 film, Meet Me in St. Louis, followed by an amusing turn as a little kid defiantly belting out I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, complete with a raspberry finish.
There was an affecting version of Danny Boy, the traditional and melancholy Irish ballad, for a St. Patrick’s Day reflection about Haller’s own cousin Patrick’s death at a very tender age in the early ‘80s.
Haller frequently complimented the reliable efforts of his musical director, accompanist and pianist Martin Fox. The latter provided persuasive harmony on a number of efforts in the show, including a witty take-off of Frank Loesser’s Christmas tune, Baby It’s Cold Outside, titled Marty, It’s Hot Outside, as Haller cajoled Fox this summer into rehearsing this act.
Dr. Haller, who has served the less fortunate in our community both in East St. Louis and for the last 20 years at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, offered an affecting reflection on Independence Day with Neil Diamond’s soaring salute, America, to immigrants who have built this nation on their dreams for several centuries.
His heart-on-his-sleeve political beliefs came through additionally with a Labor Day vignette, When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich, by E.Y. “Yip” Harburg and Burton Lane, as well as Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?, another Harburg collaboration, this one with Jay Gorney, in Haller’s salute to Memorial Day and Veterans Day and all of the men and women who have served in our Armed Forces through times of war and peace, including his own father.
Haller and Fox merged their musical talents with an amusing tribute to Michael Jackson’s hit Thriller for a paean to Halloween, complete with Fox’s maniacal laugh. A warm-hearted version of Irving Berlin’s I’ve Got Plenty to Be Thankful for/Count Your Blessings medley from the film Holiday Inn followed in observance of the nation’s Thanksgiving celebration.
Although he admitted to missing a lyric or three along the way in his one-act presentation, Haller’s ingratiating personality more than made up for any shortcomings. Exemplifying this was a tender delivery of the anthem Light from Brian Yokey’s and Tom Kitt’s Broadway smash, Next to Normal.
At his request, the packed house then joined Haller and his talented colleague Fox for a charming sing-along of Berlin’s timeless classic, White Christmas. Sitting at center stage was a small Christmas tree which Haller has touchingly brought out every holiday season since he was a resident at Lennox Hill Hospital (I think) for lo these many years.
Thanks goes out not only to Dr. Haller and Fox but also to Jim Dolan, who directed Haller’s performance and who tirelessly puts together these cabaret festivals each year.
Still to come is a performance by Katie McGrath on Friday, November 10 as well as Haller’s encore presentation on Thursday, Nov. 9 and a sold-out performance by Broadway legend Emily Skinner on Nov. 11. Buy a ticket if you can to share in the vibrancy and intimacy of the theater art known as cabaret.
Cabaret: Happy Haller Days!
Company: The Presenters Dolan
Venue: Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle
Dates: November 9
Tickets: $30; contact www.GaslightCabaretFestival.com or 725-4200
Photo courtesy of Presenters Dolan