By Marilyn LesterEach 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
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