Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Cabaret Review: Michael Isaacs in Isaacs Schmisaacs at Don’t Tell Mama, NYC 5/20/09

Decked out in a bright green shirt and equally garish tie under a bathrobe, tumbling onstage with bottle in hand, 2009 MAC nominee Michael Isaacs effectively evoked the blithe yet doomed spirit of late 60s/early 70s pop crooner Harry Nilsson in an impressively well-chosen 21-song revue lit up with some sparkling comic bits and an outstanding supporting cast, imbued with characteristic out-of-the-box spontaneity by director Kristine Zbornik. A favorite of the Beatles, cult songwriter and Hollywood bad boy with several pop hits to his name, Nilsson (1941-94) walked a tightrope between sensitivity and schlock. Thankfully, Isaacs focused far more closely on the former than the latter, balancing boozy bravado with a significant undercurrent of unease. Ranging from a smooth, breathy lounge-pop croon to a showy glamrock baritone, he delivered the songs with a remarkably self-aware comedic timing that had him breaking the fourth wall whenever things threatened to go completely over the top.

While no amount of good comedy could rescue the show’s opener – the odious Three Dog Night hit One – from schlockville, things got brighter in a flash as the ensemble (the incomparable Bobby Peaco on piano, System Noise’s MAC-awardwinning Sarah Mucho on acoustic guitar, Elaine Brier, Maria Gentile and Jay Rogers on vocals plus a subtle, supple rhythm section featuring Dan Barton on bass) took the stage. Driving Along became an exercise in road rage, as Isaacs explained beforehand, speeding up to the point where the band couldn’t play it anymore and then stopped cold. Isaacs’ bathrobe finally came off for a medley of the Tin Pan Alley-esque 1941 (the year of Nilsson’s birth) and Daddy’s Song, Mucho singing the first verse with a vividly bitter astringence before passing the mic off to Isaacs. The Puppy Song and Best Friend got a vaudevillian treatment from Brier that brought the house down, punctuated by a hilarious sequence involving dog poop (it ended up with a couple at one of the front tables).

Peaco illuminated a wonderfully nocturnal version of Moonbeam with gentle rivers of triplets, Nashville gone glampop. In his cameo, Rogers offered a gentle, wistful take on another proto-power ballad, Lifeline, followed by Gentile raising the ante with her big, affecting vibrato on Without Her. One of the prettiest, warmest songs of the night belonged to Mucho, just her and Peaco taking a pensive, wary stroll through the abandoned gardens of Morning Glory.

Unsurprisingly, they saved the best for last. The best single song of the night was a hauntingly beautiful take of All I Think About Is You, Peaco singing with a tremendously moving, stark unsentimentality, Isaacs at the piano adding strikingly pointed jazz inflections. They wrapped it up with just Isaacs and Mucho on guitars and some devious, was-this-scripted-or-is-this-totally-improv moments, the guy cajoling and toying with the increasingly irked siren on soulful versions of  I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City (written for Midnight Cowboy but rejected by the producers) and then finally the one song that Nilsson didn’t write (that was the late Fred Neil) but won a Grammy for, Everybody’s Talkin’. This was the show’s last night, and it screams out from the gutter to the stars to be resurrected.

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May 21, 2009 - Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. The reviewer of the show simply did not “get it. ”
    That is such as shame because the show as an whole, as an entity as well as the truly authentic and gifted artists (individually and as a group) and the inimitable and incredible Michael Isaacs, were fantastic, the say the very least. I am glad that I “got it” and thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the shows – yes, I went both nights! Thank you for reading my comments … Susan F., Yonkers, New York

    Comment by Susan F. | September 28, 2009 | Reply


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