Description: Impresario Jim Dolan and his company, The Presenters Dolan, have delivered hundreds of cabaret shows since 2006 in venues around town. Dolan, Tim Schall and others have helped propel cabaret’s increasing popularity here in the last several years with both nationally renowned performers and home-grown talent.
Kicking off Dolan’s ambitious, two-month Gaslight Cabaret Festival at the Gaslight Theater in the Central West End on February 20 and 21 was native son and national star Ken Page. The gifted singer/actor/writer/director brought his act, Old, New, Borrowed and Blue, to the intimate Gaslight Theater stage before packed houses on both evenings.
With the invaluable assistance of music director and pianist Henry Palkes, drummer James Jackson II and bass player Vince Clark, Page regaled his receptive audience with a reprise of the act he unveiled triumphantly at the 54 Below club in New York City last year.
Its title, says Page, refers to his inclusion of familiar tunes (such as Sonny & Cher’s The Beat Goes On, made over with Page’s own wry lyrics), old standards including Broadway hits as well as a paean to Fran Landesman and her halcyon days in the original Gaslight Square, some tunes “new” to Page and even the blues genre itself.
Looking resplendent in a black coat and slacks offset by a red boutonniere and scarf, Page delighted the full house with his resonant renditions of a pair of tunes by Thomas “Fats” Waller. The pair of numbers, from the Broadway musical, Ain’t Misbehavin’ (which featured Page in the original cast), included the wistful title tune and the novelty song, Your Feet’s Too Big, which Page delivered with a playful touch.
He updated the lyrics to The Beat Goes On, which helped put Sonny and Cher on the musical map in the 1960s, with references to tweeting and Miley Cyrus. He offered a heartfelt version of Landesman’s enduring ballad, Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most, with Landesman’s lyrics fitting the jazzy music of Tommy Wolf, after a humorous explanation of Barbra Streisand’s exasperation with the “really long” title.
Page was genial and generous in his praise of his tight cabaret accompanists, all of whom were given their moment in the musical sun. At the end of the 75-minute set, the veteran performer of more than 20 seasons at The Muny as well as the original Broadway productions of The Wiz and Cats (he delivered his own affecting version of Midnight) came out and performed not one but two encores for his warmly receptive audience.
Old, New, Borrowed and Blue offered a rousing start for Dolan’s sprawling showcase, which also featured a performance by Schall last Saturday night. Future presentations include performers who are part of the Cabaret in a New York Key portion of the festival, such as Marissa Mulder’s The Songs of Tom Waits, on February 27, 28 and March 1. Emily Bergl, Storm Large and Lara Teeter are other upcoming vocalists under that umbrella title.
The St. Louis Grown singers are comprised of Schall, Ken Haller, Joe Dreyer & Rosemary Watts, Connie Fairchild, Morgan Faulkner, Katie McGrath, Todd & Kelly Decker and Taylor Pietz. Check the above web sites for specific dates and ticket prices.
Judging by the bar established by Page, it’s likely to be a memorable cabaret extravaganza for audiences and performers alike.
Cabaret: The Gaslight Cabaret Festival
Company: The Presenters Dolan
Venue: Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle
Dates: February 22 through April 26