Stephen Hanks Presents:
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors
Cabaret is the perfect genre in times of upheaval. Disparate messages take root, develop, spread their words and often change the tenor of the times. The genre of cabaret had its birth in Europe where intimate spaces featured artists who stirred up society mixing comedy and songs as undercurrents of socio/political viewpoints.
Currently, we are in a significant era of political upheaval and social turmoil, a time perfect for cabaret. And so, just as he did two years ago with his series to benefit new Democratic congressional candidates, Stephen Hanks, cabaret’s entrepreneur, writer, singer, is again stepping into the fray. He has created a show to benefit Fair Fight 2020, in a brand-new venue, the intimate Hidden Cabaret at the Secret Room. The date was set for January 20, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Hanks was inspired by former Georgia state legislator, Stacy Adams and her stand promoting voting rights. As she stated, “The future of our democracy depends on correcting all that is wrong with our voting process, including the insidious practice of voter suppression. And we must remind voters of their power to be seen and to demand action not simply on election days but every day."
Steve Hanks’s new political production was decided -- Fair Fight 2020.
You don't need to be a political activist to enjoy the lineup of enthusiastic performers, like Lisa Viggiano, who reminded us that “The Times They are A’ Changin’” and sassy, slinky Brenda Braxton, who raised the roof with Smokey Joe Café’s, “I’m a Woman!”
The show was bookended with two patriotic songs. With spunk and animation, Sierra Rein opened with “The Flag Song” by Stephen Sondheim for Assassins. For the finale, glamorous, N’Kenge, offered three renditions of Samuel A. Ward’s pictorial “America the Beautiful,” all rousing with the emotion and passion of gospel and the exhilaration of jazz.
Several singers turned to the 1960’s folk and rock songbook for their messages of inspiration. Rembert (Remy) Block recalled the shocking memory of “Birmingham Sunday” (Richard Farina/Joan Baez) and Mary Sue Daniels delivered Dick Holler’s hit for Dion, “Abraham, Martin and John.” A creative arrangement of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On?” was presented by April Armstrong with her vocals enhanced by a rhythmic conga and Tomas Cataldo on guitar.
In the early ‘70’s, Paul Simon and Hans Leo Hassler wrote “An American Tune,” a look back at depression and fatigue, sung and played on piano by Blair Alexis Brown. In a similar somber vein, Katie Dunne McGrath recited a poignant “Lullabye” (Shawn Mullins) with Rick Jensen deftly accompanying her with vocals and piano. Flashes of current immigration problems came to mind d when Dawn Derow with Jason Reiff sang “Safe Place to Land” (by Lori McKenna and Sara Bareilles for John Legend).
Sandra Bargman and pianist Ian Herman presented a lusty “They Don’t Call Them Spirits for Nothing.” Janice Hall put on a blonde wig for a Hillary Clinton look and added original “Hillary” lyrics for “Barbara’s Song” (originally by Kurt Weill, Marc Blitzstein).
Soprano Sarah Rice, musically versatile, was “Feeling Good” by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. Meg Flather blended “A Cockeyed Optimist” and “A Million Dreams” from shows by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Laurie Krauz' standout vocals in jazz, theater, and rock, the truth emerged with clarity from Barry Manilow’s “One Voice.” (“I'll fight when they try to strip me of my rights and won’t, I won’t accept defeat. I may be down but I will not be beat.”)
Stephen Hanks produced a winning show of music and viewpoints. As host, he also had an original song of his own to open the show, “The Great Blue Wave” by Michael Roberts and updated verse by Blair Alexis Brown. Musical Director and accompanist for most singers was Ian Herman. Two additional pianists included Rick Jensen accompanying Mary Sue Daniels and Katie McGrath; Mark Janas supported Julie Reyburn.
Shows like this, and performers this talented can't help but stir up your patriotic spirit.
Blue Wave 2020:
The Voting Rights Show
Hidden Cabaret at the Secret Room
707 – 8th Ave, New York, NY (44th and 45th St)
Jan. 20, 2020, from 7pm to 9pm
Cast: Sierra Rein, Janice Hall, Blair Alexis Brown, Sandra Bargman, Laurie Krauz, Julie Reyburn, Rembert Block, Sarah Rice, Mary Sue Daniels, Dawn Derow, Katie Dunne McGrath, Ian Herman and Meg Flather
Musical Director: Ian Herman
Producer and Host: Stephen Hanks