This month I attended a remarkable double feature, as it were, at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. One show featured heavenly harmonies, the other was a fascinating true story of one man’s downfall and redemption.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a harmony junkie, and Those Girls gave me my fix!
Those Girls is a MAC Award winning close harmony group featuring four lovely, talented ladies - Eve Eaton, Rachel Hanser, Karen Mack, and Wendy Russell, who create fabulous, nuanced harmonies, singing an eclectic song list that includes everything from The Beatles, to U2, Dolly Parton, and Prince...with a little Broadway thrown in for good measure.
Making their entrance like nuns in church, the Girls opened with Lady GaGa’s “Bad Romance,” which sounded at first like a Catholic Mass, but then went up to tempo, with clever choreography - complete with the well-known Little Monster claw gesture. GaGa would’ve approved! As the evening continued, Wendy Russell took the lead on a mash-up of “Feelin’ Groovy” and “Saturday in the Park” that started with a 1940’s feel, and transitioned into a jazz-waltz/rock tempo. “Steam Heat,” from Broadway’s The Pajama Game featured a cute percussion break, and the soft harmonies on Lennon & McCartney’s “I Will,” highlighted the tenderness of the song. Eve Eaton showed off a great rock belt on “Turn On The Radio” and Rachel Hanser took the lead on the bluesy “If It Hadn’t Been For Love,” recorded most notably by Adele.
A medley of U2’s prayer-like “40” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)” began quietly and reverently, then broke into a glorious 4-part vocal on the chorus of “Pride.” They then did an about-face with “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens,” a novelty song from 1947. One of my favorite moments in the show, it included a mid-song interpolation of the wonderfully silly clucking chickens version of “In The Mood.” Ya gotta love four fabulous singers who can fill our souls with the music of U2, and then “baulk-baulk” their way through a piece of classic comedy like that!
A tribute to some of the stars we lost in 2016 was anything but sad, featuring David Bowie’s “Fame,” George Michael’s “Faith,” and more, all wrapped up in “Let’s Go Crazy,” by Prince. Back in the land of the living, Karen Mack gave us a hard driving lead vocal on Don Henley’s “New York Minute,” showing us just why she’s won 8 MAC Awards!
They closed the evening a jaunty Celtic work shanty called “Haul Her Along”, and an inspired encore called “Jolene-acuda,” with gorgeous, layered harmonies, and the country feel of Dolly Parton’s classic giving way to a rocking finale that was a surprising moment in an already wonderful show.
In my years in cabaret, I’ve been lucky to encounter shows that are an absolute joy. Those Girls is one of those shows. Director Lennie Watts made tremendous use of a small stage, keeping the staging fluid and fun. The band, headed by Musical Director Steven Ray Watkins, provided tight, lively arrangements that had me rocking in my seat.
Let Those Girls rock your world!
Those Girls will appear at The Laurie Beechman Theatre on June 4th at 4pm and June 17th at 7pm.
For more information, go to www.westbankcafe.com or www.thosegirlssing.com
Dan Ruth: A Life Behind Bars
Towards the end of Dan Ruth: A Life Behind Bars, Dan tells us “If life gives you booze, make some art.”
And make art he has. His funny, moving one man show documents his life in the New York bar and restaurant scene, and the hard toll it took.
Entering with a stack of glasses and a bar rag, Ruth treated us to a series of personal recollections and character studies - some hilarious and some devastating. He seemed to have a love-hate (or maybe its hate-hate) relationship with bar culture, which came out almost immediately, as he explained that some customers are just plain stupid! When asked what they’d like to order, they often responded with inanities like “What’s GOOD?’ or “What do YOU like?” or worse, “Surprise me!!”
The show’s humor kicked into high gear when Ruth introduced us to some of the characters he’d encountered in his career. In a piece entitled Service Me, he portrayed a high-maintenance, self important douchebag - man bun included - taking selfies, snapping for service, complaining about immigrants, and pissed to be relegated to Brooklyn. In Honey (parts 1 & 2), we met a loudmouthed theater party lady - very ‘Long Guy-land’ - who expressed her love of Andrew Lloyd Webber and got drunker and drunker. Furious when her friend took her to Dance Of The Vampires, she screamed that Michael Crawford belonged back in Phantom!
In a segment called Inside, Ruth told us “Like most bartenders, when I wasn’t working, I was out drinking,” after which he described in hilarious detail, a drunken night, meeting and seducing a hot, young skater punk named Braden. One of the night’s biggest laughs came when he described running his hands all over the boy, secretly searching for hidden weapons. When the audience reacted to this, he asked “What?! None of you people frisk your street trash?!!”
In The Celebration, after the death of his nosey, crazy landlady, he was so relieved to be free, he celebrated. Celebration led to self-medication, and self medication led to self destruction. In The Fall, he described cowering in his apartment, hallucinating and shaking, and eventually being saved by a call to 911. Dan Ruth has now been sober for 11 years!
Dan Ruth is a winning performer, and even as he shows you the worst side of himself, you can’t help but laugh with him, feel for him, and eventually, come to like him. Director Tanya Moberly, who was there to see Ruth’s descent into alcoholic madness, keeps the staging brilliantly simple, with just a few props, allowing Ruth’s scathingly honest performance to be the total focus of the audience. One of their most brilliant touches was a moment of self-confrontation using an old photograph, which moved me to tears.
A Life Behind Bars is beyond cabaret. It’s theater. Theater of the best kind: raw, open, terrifying at times, and above all else, funny! How lucky for us, that Dan Ruth survived his life behind bars!
Dan Ruth will appear at The Laurie Beechman Theatre on June 6th at 7pm
For more information, go to www.westbankcafe.com