Monday, April 18, 2011

The Salon Wrap-Up for April 17, 2011: "The Great Escape"

Donna Coney Island busts it out.
 Salon was in "exile" (Mark Janas' words!) on Sunday, as the San Martin restaurant on East 49th Street became our home away from Etcetera Etcetera for the week. The theme was certainly one of travel, adventure, and that urge to just run away and join the circus: "The Great Escape." Co-hosting the evening was the effervescent Donna Coney Island, whose name reminded us that Coney Island officially opened up this weekend for the Spring and Summer seasons. Donna (musical theater, voice over, and television actress) has a special place in The Salon's history, having been a charter member from the days that "Talk of the Town" played at the Algonquin hotel. She started the evening off with a bright, peppy and positive ditty by Mel White entitled "Dress Up For Your Life."

Mark Levy, with imaginary ladies twirling feathered fans, sang the tongue in cheek "All I Care About is Love" from Chicago. He was then greeted by Donna with a little easter basket/tupperware case containing a one-of-a-kind decorated Easter egg specially made by David Gillam for all the evening's attendees. They all had a little Salon note attached and can be hung on one's Easter tree! After Mark, Barb Malley led a rousing and quick singthru of "Goodbye My Coney Island Baby," which I had never heard the full lyrics to (although it's a short song) until that moment. She then sang the ebullient "Look Who's Dancing" from the musical A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, singing the parts of both sisters. Next stepped up Lea McKenna-Garcia, who sang the quite appropriate, belty merry-go-round themed "Willing to Ride" from Steel Pier (the New Jersey version of Coney Island). She will be in the show Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights next week!

Christine Reisner gave us an escape into more sophisticated sounds as she sang lead vocals on Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek" AND played violin to Mark's jazzy piano. Donna noted that Christine could understudy Chita Rivera with her haircut, and definitely play violin much better! After Christina, we heard from The Whistler Steve Herbst, although this time he sang "Joey, Joey, Joey" from The Most Happy Fella in his deep baritone-tone. He then was encouraged a mini-encore in the form of a whistled "Standing on the Corner" from the same show to offer up his award-winning skills to audience members who hadn't heard him whistle before. We then heard from Lindsey Holloway, who has a nice, easy jazz tone, sing the popular bluesy number "Black Coffee." Lindsey is excited to perform a reading of the Dusty Springfield musical "(Stay) Forever, Dusty" at The Urban Stages on June 6th - they're not quite sure if the "Stay" in the title will...uh...stay or be nixed by the time the reading comes around.

Christine Reisner tucks it under her chin.
Lindsey croons "Black Coffee"
Many of Donna's good friends were in the audience, and Tony Quaranti was one of them from her days singing with Donna (Tony as Frank Sinatra, Donna as Liza Minelli). He flawlessly sang through "The Summer Wind," a classic Frank Sinatra favorite. Next, Andrea Marshall Money sang the crowd-pleasingly funny "My Simple Christmas Wish." After the laughter subsided, we had our first spoken word entry at Salon in a while - Kevin McMullan, freshly returned from his own Great Escape (a trip around the world, scattering the ashes of his late partner and composer Jim Fradrich). During this multi-month trip, Kevin kept a blog going of his adventures, and with Mark Janas providing some mood music, Kevin read from the entry about scattering Jim's ashes near the Taj Mahal, and how a moment of synchronicity between Jim's ashes, flowering trees, and a children's chorus gave him a moment of spiritual pause. You can read his entire blog ("Kevin's Cosmic Dashes-To-Ashes Wildcat World Tour With Jim") at, and feel free to give him some stars under "About This Blog" - this blog is the start to a new book Kevin will be writing! To round out the first half of the singers for the evening, us two "San Martinettes" - Sierra Rein and Marnie Klar - belted out two numbers. I sang "Anything Goes" in honor of my in-laws Bill and Janet, who has been wining and dining my husband and I with shows ranging from Anything Goes to the uproariously crass The Book of Mormon (talk about only using "four letter words writing prose!).  My group Marquee Five is nominated for our 2nd MAC award, and will head into the studio in a few weeks to record our debut CD.  Marnie then sang the torchy, yet hesitantly optimistic, escape song "Maybe This Time" from Cabaret.

Mark Janas' Classical Corner was all about Preludes - the equivalent to the modern Overture in musical theater. Preludes can trace their history back tot the 1600's as short pieces that lead to something else musical. They used to be written down purely in note form (no rhythms), so the lute players of the time had leeway on how the notes were expressed. Preludes are based on one repetitive mode or theme, and these patterns are structured and given shape and a formal ending with proper composition. Mark started out his expression of the Preludes by playing Bach's "First Prelude in C," which is sometimes mistaken for the accompaniment to "Ave Maria." He then explained that Bach and his fellow composers of the time would have to write preludes for all keys; indeed, they would have a set of preludes and fugues in every key. This evolved a bit with Chopin, who wrote in relative minor keys and 5ths. Pieces were then either used as solos or as complete sets of prelude works. Mark reminded us of the "Prelude in E minor," which he played once in another Classical Corner to demonstrate falling 1/2 steps to create a tragic, lingering melody.

Mark then played a piece by Alexander Scriaben, a Russian composer who homaged Chopin's prelude and is said to have been the first composer to write for mixed media. Mark then compared Chopin's "Raindrop Prelude" to an equally robust and dramatic piece by Rachmaninoff, and showed how Barry Manilow's "Could It Be Magic" accompaniment could have magically been lifted from one of Chopin's or Scriabin's works. We then heard Mark play two very unique works to round out the Classical Corner: he played Shastakovich's "Prelude 142," which played around with an audience's musical expectations by twisting and turning the melody and rhythmic works. Then, he answered the question "What is the sound of one hand playing?" by placing his right hand upon the piano bench and performing purely with his left hand! The piece was one of Sciraben's preludes, written by the composer during the time that his right hand was indisposed with arthritis or some other ailment. Fellow pianist Tommy Shull, our sound man, moved to a seat behind Mark to witness the keys directly. The work was full of sound, and it was incredible to witness a left handed piece played so brilliantly. After the thunderous applause for Mark died down, we all took a break.

Mark wows us with the sound of one hand playing.
The Second Set had co-host Donna Coney Island in her element - singing some great uptempo songs with spunk and humor. She started out with an oldie from her days with Mark and cast members at the Algonquin - "Dream A Little Dream of Me." Then, she herself took a place behind the piano and played a combination of classical music and "honky tonk" with the fun "Honky Tonk Girl" from the show Cowgirls. She then gave over the piano bench to composer Nicholas Levin, who played for her on a composition of his, the show-stopping "Rootin' Tootin' Teuton Man."
We then heard the ultimate in "plaintive escape" songs from musical theater, as Tanya Moberly sweetly sang "Somewhere That's Green" from The Little Shop of Horrors with tears in her eyes. Gayle Humphrey grabbed her place behind the piano to play an original piano piece called "Homecoming," a rhythmic yet flowing work. Next, we heard "Stormy Weather" sung by Allyson Johnson in artistically strong vocal stylings, as an homage to one of her (and our!) icons, Lena Horne. We then heard from Julie Reyburn (with Bill Zeffiro at the piano) sing through "Fable" from A Light in the Piazza, utilizing The Salon to rehearse for an audition on Tuesday (break legs, Julie!). Bill then stayed at the piano to sing his bitingly funny song, "Better Than Nothing." Bill is still performing at San Martin every Tuesday (no cover, no minimum), and will return to La Mediterranée French Bistro in May. To close the evening, Donna Coney Island (once again accompanied by Nick Levin) sang "Come Back For More," a song which had 11 o'clock number written all over it!

NEXT WEEK - NO SALON on April 24th! Happy Easter!

THE WEEK AFTER THAT - MAY 1st, I am happy to reveal that the theme will be "Not Just For Kids,"and the co-hosts will be myself and Kay "ThePal" Pringle, a single blue female friend of mine with parallel dreams of singing stardom from my own.  Come with songs from your childhood, songs that remind you of being a child, or songs that you wished you could sing in your age'd years, but can't due to party-pooping grownup rules. Etcetera Etcetera will become our "playground" for the evening, and is open for everyone, no matter your age! And please feel free to bring your heart-felt-made friends too. Kay and I look forward to seeing you there!

-Sierra Rein
The Blogette for The Salon
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