"By Marilyn Lester"
Each May the Mabel Mercer Foundation (MMF) salutes the work of a great American songbook composer at a fête in NYC’s Weill Recital Hall. It’s always a happy, festive affair, as a bevy of cabaret artists take the stage to interpret the work of the honoree. This year’s tribute to Jerome Kern was no less a celebratory success. An excellent cast highlighted the work of the man most noted for the classic musical, Showboat, but who also wrote many of the great standards we know and prize. As always, MMF Artistic Director and cabaret doyenne, KT Sullivan, hosted with gracious aplomb, herself offering the comically infused “Just Let Me Look at You” and “Bungalow in Quogue” as well as a heartfelt “The Last Time I Saw Paris.”
A delightful irony of All the Things You Are was the thread of jazz that ran through the show. Kern, born in 1885 and classically trained, did not like jazz. His work evolved from roots in European musical traditions –– a far cry from ragtime and early blues. This aspect of his catalog was evident in Renee Katz’s delightful, softly operatic delivery of “Don’t Ever Leave Me” (with John M. Cook at the piano). Yet, Kern and the tradition he sprang from had a profound influence on the development of American musical theater. And, as with any good, solid body of work, Kern’s stands the test of time; modern and innovative arrangements bring his music well into the 21st century, plainly evident in All The Things You Are.
The 29th New York Cabaret Convention The Best of Jerry Herman
Hosted by Klea Blackhurst
Rose Theater, NYC, October 11, 2018
Reviewed by Todd Sussman for Cabaret Scenes
Photos: Maryann Lopinto
It was the best of times. Period.
Iconic Broadway songwriter Jerry Herman, who Liza Minnelli once referred to as a poet laureate, has been top of mind, once again, ever since Bette Midler starred in a sell-out, award-friendly revival of Hello, Dolly!, premiering in early 2017. But Herman doesn’t have to promise to never go away again. You see, he never really left.
Last Thursday night, the brightest stars of the cabaret world paid tribute to him in the elegant Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center. And, as cabaret artists so often and eloquently do, they collectively did a deep dive into Mr. Herman’s catalogue—not only the critical and commercial successes (Dolly, Mame, La Cage aux Folles)—but also the lesser received works (Dear World, The Grand Tour, Mack and Mabel) that, at first blush, may have not had the impact of his hit shows but have, over the years, gained momentum and status in the Herman canon.
If “It Only Takes a Moment” is about having found love, “Ribbons Down My Back”—another famous ballad from Dolly—is about the hope of finding it. Herman is an expert at expressing love in all its stages. Renee Katz, in her illustrious soprano, amplified the hope and longing as the song progressed. She brought Herman’s message to vivid life. Once again, all that was needed to go with her performance was John M. Cook’s masterful piano.
"By Sandi Durell"
What more appropriate title for a show than Only From the Heart Can You Touch the Sky from the beautiful soul of Renee Katz?
How can one explain the feeling of being wrapped in the tender, caring arms of this lovely soprano whose heart is like an open book? The audience is hers from the moment she utters her first sound. It feels unusual, yet familiar.
With musical director-arranger John M. Cook on piano, Renee Katz soars like an eagle with joy, having chosen songs that express her genuine nature . . . “I Wish It So” (music/lyrics Marc Blitzstein, from Juno); “Ferris Wheel” (music Alan Menken, lyrics Victor Joseph) and “I Can’t Take My Eyes From You (music/lyrics Alan Menken).
She poetically introduces many a song that communicates what lies beneath – – passion, sincerity, love, thoughtfulness, new beginnings.
An extremely focused rendition of Skylark (music Hoagy Carmichael/lyrics Johnny Mercer) took on new meaning bringing a warmth and tenderness, only to be equaled by the sad, yet stunning reality of “Meadowlark” (music/lyrics Stephen Schwartz from The Baker’s Wife).
Her positive persona is easily explained in “Everything Is Possible” (music, David Spangler/lyrics Christopher Gore, from Nefertiti) where “the world is born anew.”
Renee Katz sings of hope, with a grace and kindness that is limitless. She also reaches for new horizons with some swinging jazz stylings, i.e. “The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea” (music Harold Arlen/lyrics Ted Koehler) and “Blue Skies” (music/lyrics Irving Berlin) that add an attention-grabbing dimension.
You can experience Renee Katz at Don’t Tell Mama again on Saturday, August 4 and August 11 at 8 pm. I urge you to attend, to give yourself a time out from the extremes we deal with daily and find a gentler, kinder experience that can provide an underlying strength
"By Matt Smith"
“Of all the energies that drive us, there is only one that can never be transcended into negative actions toward others, and that is the energy of compassion.” — Dr. Howard A. Rusk
We’re just three songs into Renee Katz’s solo show, Never Been Gone. The lights blackout completely, and Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” plays through the sound system. The classically trained singer rocks slowly back and forth to the song, while images of the album cover flash on the wall behind her. It’s jarring, to be honest. It’s unsettling, and frankly, it seems egregiously out of place. That is, until the big reveal.
The song’s lyrics, as Katz explained, reference “a girl they pushed in front of the train, took her to the doctor [and] sewed her arm on again.” It’s in this moment that Katz reveals herself to be the subject of this musical phrase. For those unfamiliar with this woman and her work, it’s a pretty surprising twist, as the messages touted within the evening’s program continue to take on completely new meaning from this point forward, shaping the evening around this particular event. But have no fear; it’s a story that must be told, and it’s one that will shake you, inspire you, and ignite the fire within you like never before. You just have to trust in Katz and come along for the ride.
It was June of 1979, at 8:14 in the morning. Katz, then a fresh-faced 17-year-old, just days shy of graduation at LaGuardia High School of Music and Art, before packing up and heading out to the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music was waiting for the train to school. Mere minutes before boarding, the prodigy, classically trained in piano and flute, was unexpectedly thrown from a subway platform and onto the tracks. She thankfully skirted death by rolling out of the way of the metro, but was unable to save her right hand, instantly severed by the oncoming E train. Her future as a musician eradicated before her eyes, she was immediately thrust in the national spotlight, as she navigated rehab, receipt of letters from well-wishers and inspired individuals, and, of course, the multiple surgeries she went through to successfully re-attach her right hand to her body, and learn how to live independently once again.
This account is at the heart of her show, which brings her back at Don’t Tell Mama’s through Oct. 15 — the venue where she first revived her cabaret career back in July. Accompanied by pianist Tedd Firth, who displays effortless proficiency in gliding across the keys, she weaves her harrowing tale through a delightful evening of powerful song, with anecdotes of her time spent as one of “Bellevue’s shackled prisoners,” encounters with kind strangers, and the gratitude she feels she owes her personal heroes all serving as fitting introductions to the numbers that followed.
The autobiographical evening mixes somber selections that illuminate the issue, with more buoyant ones that celebrate life as it is — her accident having opened her eyes up to “appreciating what’s less visible to others, as time is so precious,” all interspersed with expertly utilized projections, courtesy of her high school pal Michael Kolomatsky, that outline the scenes she details, and excerpts of her own writing, from her book of the same name, which delve further into her emotions of the aftermath of that faithful day. It’s clear the set list was carefully chosen; some numbers are tributes — one to “her someone,” Barry Packer, who, despite her injury, “loved me for me,” and another to former mayor Edward Koch whom she wholeheartedly credits with revitalizing her career (“he gave me recognition as a singer, not just as a crime victim”) — while others, like “Keep Smiling at Trouble” and “I Got The Sun In The Morning,” serve to emphasize where her attitude lies on this whole devastating situation.
And while her rich, resonant soprano and commanding stage presence would make these songs enjoyable regardless, lyrics such as “When did I last throw my arms up in glee?” and “I don’t curse what I can’t change / I just play the hand I’m dealt” pack an extra powerful punch, considering the context from which she’s sharing them.
Simply put, the effervescent Katz is not, as she sings, a stranger to the rain, but she also doesn’t let it define her. If you push her, to quote the aforementioned Grandmaster Flash hit in which she was featured, she’ll push back. She won’t take “no” for an answer. She’s got that “can-do” attitude that brands her as a fighter for life. As she comments in a particular point in the evening, “I focus not on what I lost, but what I was lucky enough to keep….My voice [is] my salvation, and I feel really blessed to be able to sing.”
Her positive outlook is further brought to the forefront when, in a particularly heartwarming moment, she mentions her parents — her father, a Holocaust survivor, and her mother, an expert composer and pianist, despite suffering significant hearing loss at birth — both of whom she considers to be the epitome of the “fighter,” exemplifying the strength she needs to soldier on, before proceeding to perch herself at the piano and perform one of her mother’s original compositions.
Despite a slow start and visible difficulty in playing with a mangled hand, she’s showing the audience she’s got the strength, like her parents, to push on. Sure, it’s difficult, but she’s got something to prove, and she won’t allow obstacles to set her back nor slow her down.
And maybe, in a way, that’s the point. Whoever you are, whatever your struggle, however “different” you may feel, you can do anything you set your mind to do. It may not sound the same as what your neighbor is doing, but you come from different places… different backgrounds… different struggles… and different stories. If your heart’s in it, you can prevail. You, too, like Renee and her parents, can “proudly reclaim your wildflowers and daisywishes.” You will not be silenced.
To that end, it’s all the more poignant that Katz then finishes the show with the title number from The Sound of Music, defiantly declaring, “My heart will be blessed with the sound of music, and I’ll”—despite all odds—“sing once more.”
Indeed she will, and presumably more than just once. It’s apparent as she sings: she’s herself on that stage, in her element, basking in all her limelit glory. It seems, at long last, she’s finally home. But, truth be told, it’d be inaccurate to call her show a homecoming. ‘Cause, after all, as we know, she’s really never been gone.
Renee Katz is a bubbly, happy, friendly, loving, loving person. It’s impossible not to want to be sharing whatever venue she’s performing in with her."
By Myra Chanin
"I was so moved, so inspired and thought Renee's message is one of hope and appreciation for the gift of life-that everyone can use now more than ever!!!"
Manager, Don't Tell Mama
"Accompanied by the always-welcome piano Tedd Firth, she displayed a sweet and strong soprano on such songs as "I Could Marry The Rain" (Peter Allen) and "The Human Heart" (Stephen Flaherty, Lynn Ahrens)."
"She's lived through a miracle, she IS a miracle, and she'll always remain a miracle. Buy the book. Buy the CD. Buy them both. You'll be missing out if you don't, and it would be a downright shame."
"Katz still holds the audience with an outstanding voice, storytelling ability and the fact that she can still play the piano."
Bayside Times Ledger
"A multi-modal art performance, Katz's cabaret journey show features musical numbers, poetry readings and a slideshow with supporting photographs, quotes and thoughts."
“She has not spent the past 33 years being a victim. Far from it. Right at the start, a nurse at Bellevue told her, ‘You have five minutes out of every day to feel sorry for yourself. The rest of the time you’ve got to get up and do something."
Clyde Haberman, The New York Times
Matthew Martin Ward December 17, 2018 ·
I saw Renee Katz’s Show “Winter Awakenings” last night. What an exquisite feast! The main course was Maury Yeston’s December Songs. This is a true song cycle; the narrator examines one experience, the end of a romance, from many angles, framed in an exploration of NYC in December. Renee’s concentration and deep subtext made the whole cycle greater than the sum of each song.
She wisely framed the cycle with instrumental selections. Après un Rêve, by Fauré, was a solo for cellist Alon Bisk, and set the mood of romantic melancholy. After the cycle, musical director John M Cook performed a Rachmaninov Prelude in G, a palate cleansing promise of Spring.
The entire evening, starting with a smoky Deep Purple and ending with I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm for dessert and Noël Coward’s Come the Wild Wild Weather as cognac, was an artistic achievement of high order. Kudos to all!
“Sidney Myer, who is manager of the cabaret where Renee will perform, said that “there are two things I respect in this woman. One is her musical ability. The other is her spirit. She will go far because she is talented and a hard worker.”
Dennis Duggan, Newsday
“Her life changed in a split second,” observes occupational therapist Pat Casler, “but that wasn’t going to stop her.” Nor was it going to rob her of her considerable store of compassion. “There is always an area within yourself that you can develop and give to other people,” she says.
Arlene Gottfried, People Magazine
“She was eating yogurt with her left hand, a small tribute to the years of therapy that transferred such skills from her right side to her left. “It’s a question of concentrating not on what you’ve lost but on what you’ve been lucky enough to keep,” said Dr. William Shaw, an associate professor at New York University Medical Center and head of plastic surgery at Bellevue Hospital."
Lisa Wolfe, The New York Times
"My heart was deeply touched by your tragic, but courageous story- a story that best describes how you turned your "scars into stars," rather than choosing defeat."
Robert Schuller, Crystal Cathedral
“Katz’s lovely lyric soprano vocals are one of cabaret’s best-kept secrets, and the secret should get out soon – her handling of a variety of numbers are just beautiful to behold. She brings class and great style to anything she decides to sing.”
Andrew Martin, CAB Magazine
“Clearly some standouts demand individual mention. These include Renee Katz’s beautifully phrased “On My Way to You.”
John Hoglund, New York Native
“She brought Stephen Schwartz’s “Meadowlark” to new heights, while her coverage of Maury Yeston’s “December Snow,” Blitzstein’s “I Wish it So,” and LeRoy Anderson/Walter Kerr’s “I Never Know When to Say When”- proves her taste in music. She’s a find!”
MaryAnn Lopinto, CAB Magazine
“And then there’s the music. It never stopped. Maybe it no longer flows on the piano or the flute, but she has a voice, put to sweet use.”
Clyde Haberman, The New York Times
“Her name will be in bright lights one of these days, and the room will be so full they’ll have to put the rope up, standing room only, sorry. Ladies and Gentleman, Renee Katz.”
Dennis Duggan, Newsday
"But more than this, the imagery she spins with such poems as "Wildflowers and Daisywishes" (a recurring theme in her poetry), "Chained Intensity," "A Valentine's Hug of Passionless Regret," "Our Moment," "The Pirate and the Gypsy" and "My Baby Boy," don't merely show an other-worldly glimpse into her spectacular life but could well cement her as one of the greatest poetesses of our current-day experience. And those are merely the tip of the haunting iceberg. The CD, which is included with a copy of the book, is something else again. Katz emerges as always a truly stunning soprano, with absolutely brilliant skills of communication and exceptional understanding of lyric."
“She’s a warrior woman, this Renee Katz. I have written about Renee over the years since that terrible accident and I have yet to see her back down from a challenging life."
~Dennis Duggan, Newsday
“She’s not just a singer, but someone who caresses lyrics in a very delicate way.”
~MaryAnn LoPinto, CAB Magazin