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Cabaret Spotlight: Two Good To Be True

Collectively, John Lloyd Young and Spencer Day make the kind of music you're only lucky to hear in a club once every ten years.

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John Lloyd Young (Photo credit: Maryann Lopinto)

John Lloyd Young (Photo credit: Maryann Lopinto)

John Hoglund

John Hoglund, Critic

If you’re stuck in the city in the hot summer, there’s good reason to come to the cabaret. All the Manhattan clubs have impressive lineups for the summer months. Some of the most entertaining and musically refined engagements can be found at Feinstein’s/54 Below as they offer rosters that are hard to top. Two recent engagements stand out.

One is an established star with a plethora of theater awards under his belt including a Tony Award for outstanding leading actor in a musical. The other is a respected, fast rising, award-winning star from the West Coast with a fan base that is rabid and growing and who is a threat to any male singer/songwriter. Both are unique. And, both are winners in the heartthrob department. Each made some hot summer nights cooler with sold out shows at Feinstein’s/54 Below.  Collectively, they make the kind of music you’re only lucky to hear in a club once every ten years.

John Lloyd Young made his Feinstein’s/54 Below debut for a run with his new show.  Entering offstage in a leather jacket, tight jeans and sunglasses, he greeted (and touched) his enthusiastic fans crooning “Stardust”(Hoagy Carmichael), as he made his way to the stage. He set a cool, in your face tone that drove his fans wild. Why is he so special? Aside from a beautiful pop tenor and effortless falsetto, he is committed to entertaining his audience in a manner not often seen in intimate rooms these days. Today, most singers concentrate on some form of technique to dramatize what they’re emoting. The results are mixed; often technically proficient yet emotionally chilly.

John Lloyd Young (Photo credit: Maryann Lopinto)

John Lloyd Young (Photo credit: Maryann Lopinto)

Mr. Young’s instrument is so natural, he doesn’t have to rely on technique. Also he also never distances himself from the listener. He can sharpen the blurred lines between imagery and reality in a song and reveal hidden elements in the lyrics so boldly, so bravely truthful, they startle you into paying closer attention. This was repeated throughout his set and was most effective on the likes of the commercially popular “Unchained Melody” (North-Zaret). Instead of walking through this schmaltzy mainstay and chirping out the requisite top notes for effect, Young exuded a freshness that was like hearing the song for the first time.

Clearly, this handsome singer had the room in the palm of his hand as he flashed a million dollar smile along with this eclectic, crowd-pleasing set that hit every mark. He even got three standing ovations. His voice alternately hovers between a soft, lyric tenor and towering falsetto. Whatever he did, he charmed the room. What he might have lacked in traditional cabaret intimacy and structure, he made up for with abundant conjuration and a natural star quality that can’t be bought. There is nothing mediocre about a John Lloyd Young show. That’s one reason why he is so special.  This is a singer who has so much going for him, he could bring back the Rat Pack days (if he chose that weary route.) Regardless, Young reads his audience well. Instead of trying to reinvent himself to suit a traditional cabaret style, he runs with it and confidently knows who he is. The results were golden for this old-fashioned entertainer with the pretty sounds.

Young will always be remembered for his star turn playing Frankie Valli in the original cast of Broadway’s Jersey Boys. Perhaps his most unique quality when he sings is the ability to convey the romantic essence recalling star crooners from yesterday. This was most evident on the likes of some doo-wop such as the Smokey Robinson-Peter Moore rock n’ roller “Ooo, Baby, Baby” and The Platter’s “My Prayer” (Boulanger-Kennedy). He poured a lot into “Manifesto” (Jure) sung in Spanish about the sad ending of a man. His tenor was at its best on a full throttle “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” (Noble). Here, he was most comfortable and nailed this gem from the 1950’s that still sets hearts fluttering; something he is used to by now. An original, “Slow Down Calling,” written with his musical director Thomas Faragher, showed promise of more songwriting ahead. He also sang a Japanese tune that scored well. The ladies love this multi-talented guy and his future is secure no matter where he hangs his hat. And, with good reason. There’s a lot of love coming from that stage and it rubs off in spades. Hopefully, he won’t change. Hopefully, he’ll be back soon.

Spencer Day (Photo credit: Reisig Taylor)

Spencer Day (Photo credit: Reisig Taylor)

His name is Spencer Day. He’s played Birdland in New York, the Hollywood Bowl, Jazz Alley in Seattle, the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts, etc. The most remarkable thing about him is that he’s not a household name – yet. He will be.

He lives in California (by way of Utah) and is a contemporary jazz singer/songwriter who has been churning out some great albums and successful appearances mostly on the West Coast for over a decade. That needs to change. For him to achieve the fame and recognition he deserves, he has to broaden his visibility. This is an artist who can clearly take Manhattan – and then some. If his recent one-nighter at Feinstein’s/54 Below is any indication, that household name status is on the rise with a bullet. He has amassed a battalion of loyal fans and writers have run out of adjectives describing his songwriting, lyrical ability and the sincere presence of this handsome talent. His album “Daybreak” debuted at #1 on iTunes Jazz Charts. Things are happening.

Vocally, his smooth baritone has a youthful innocence that enhances an  innate wisdom that makes his interpretations sultry. This only adds to his natural boyish appeal. Seeing him on stage is a treat. His songs have a personal touch that is endearing. Another note is that his original songs are all so good. This was particularly so in the new show LOVEFOOL – predictably, all about the ups and downs of romance and its foibles. The evening also included some pop classics and his spin on contemporary standards.

Spencer Day (Photo credit: Alyse Gafkjen)

Spencer Day (Photo credit: Alyse Gafkjen)

It was an evening filled with highlights such as “You Don’t Know You’re Lonely,” “Never My Love” and even that throwaway “Goody Goody” (Malneck-Mercer) which he made his own. “Till You Come to Me” has a driving jazz/pop beat that only grows in substance as it unfolds: … I want you back again… I can’t remember when you and I were one… so I’m gonna bide my time… Just you wait and see babe, you’ll come back to me. This sardonic message is delivered with a wink and great style. On his “Movie of Your Life,” Day is again seductive and sexy as he delivers an ode to a former lover’s choices through a flashback movie: … Did you have a happy ever after underneath a Technicolor sky? Did it ever make you want to cry? Did you want your money back? It’s yours to own. Such profound thoughts to an ex-love sung with a no-nonsense flair and a half-smile are hallmarks of this artist’s whimsy and intelligence. Ultimately, Day balances two sides of his personality when he performs. His light banter comes across like a gregarious stand-up entertainer dispensing light shtick with a sharp wit and that of an intimate crooner wistfully dreaming out loud.

Spencer Day is a magnetic artist who paints a subtle tapestry of moods and colors. Through his go-getter charisma and benign smile, he creates an illustrative narrative that’s infectious. All this gives him a special relationship with his audience and shapes the artistic character that is another of his trademarks. In other words, he is a star. But, it can’t be emphasized enough – if he wants to get to the top, where he should be, he needs to get more exposure. This is one singer/songwriter who has the goods to make the cut – big time. His steamy band did a terrific job with Yair Evnine (guitar/cello), Natt Aronoff (bass) and Jared Schonig on drums.

Resized 350 - Spamilton Poster

Get in line. Gerard Alessandrini (the mastermind behind Forbidden Broadway fame) is presenting  Spamilton – a spoof on the obsession with Broadway’s Hamilton that opened at Stage 72 at The Triad on July 13 and runs through August 23. The cast of unknowns consists of: Juwan Crawley, Chris Anthony Giles, Nicholas Alexander Rodriguez, Dan Rosales and Nora Schell. Strong word of mouth indicates that it’s all a laugh riot. The cast auditioned by rapping Hamilton songs. Forbidden Broadway mainstay and cabaret-musical theater star Christine Pedi stars and is scheduled to play an assortment of fierce divas from the stage. Not bad for this long standing cabaret/theater space that has had several names and owners over the decades.

Mary Foster Conklin (Photo credit: Janis Wilkins)

Mary Foster Conklin (Photo credit: Janis Wilkins)

Popular jazz/cabaret singer Mary Foster Conklin has started hosting a weekly radio show on WFDU 89.1 FM every Sunday from 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM (EST). It streams on their HD2 channel called Jazz and What’s More. It can be found on the Internet at http://www.wfdu.fm  by clicking on “Listen to HD2.” You’ll be connected to channel instantly. There is also a free app to download for iPhone and Android.  The program is called “A Broad Spectrum” and features an assortment of music by Women Who Inspire: writers, composers, instrumentalists and vocalists. Male artists will also be included.

TheaterScene Cabaret Pick

CAROL WOODS

Mondays in August at 8:30 : Metropolitan Room

Carol Wood

Carol Wood

2008 Grammy Award artist for the nominated soundtrack of Across The Universe,

Carol Woods’ Broadway credits include show-stopping turns in Chicago, One Mo’ Time,  2001 revival of Sondheim’s Follies, Smokey Joe’s Café, Stepping Out (directed by Tommy Tune), The Goodbye Girl, Big River and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

Ms. Woods’ nightclub and cabaret performances span the globe-from London to Tokyo, from Las Vegas to Honolulu. In New York, she has appeared at 54 Below, Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops, The Village Gate, B. Smith’s, Rainbow & Stars, Michael’s Pub and Town Hall.

The Metropolitan Room is located at 34 West 22nd Street (between 5th & 6th Avenues), in Manhattan. For reservations: call 212-206-0440

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