Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Park Avenue Whirl

This is the second time I’ve stumbled on this enchanting little end of the year cabaret show at 59E59 Theaters. The first time was two or three years ago when a big band played romantic music of the 40s, those good old songs from “The Hit Parade.” This year’s show featured Rita Gardner in the first act and Penny Fuller in the second, both singing show tunes and sharing stories of their years on -- and back -- stage.

Even though the two acts had similar themes -- singing songs from the shows they were in and sharing their experiences with the audience -- the personalities of the these two musical theatre veterans made a great contrast, and complement, to each other. Ms. Gardner, the original Girl in the original cast of “The Fantasticks,” must be in her 70s but she’s got the heart of an ingenue, charming us with her optimism and buoyant spirit in her segment called “Try to Remember,” which featured music from Off-Broadway, or shows that at least started Off-Broadway. Ms. Fuller, for her part entitled “Friends in Deed,” was the woman who’s been around, a bit world weary but still fighting, singing songs by composers she knew. It was like going from the girl next door to the “sadder but wiser girl.” I loved both.

The accompanists deserve mentioning. Ms. Gardner’s pianist, Alex Rybeck, joined her for an occasional duet and Ms. Fuller was well served by Paul Greenwood on piano and Louis Tucci on bass and guitar.

It was an afternoon of glamor and fun, and made me determined to be at “The Park Avenue Whirl” every year from now on. It’s a refreshing break from the standard holiday fare. I get sick of Christmas carols after awhile, but I never get tired of show music. Performers like Ms. Gardner and Ms. Fuller prove there really is no business like show business. What a great way to end the holiday season, and begin a new year.

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