Cabaret: 4 Singers and Jerome Kern

by John S. Wilson

The series of salutes to composers for the musical theater that have been presented in the King Cole Room of the St. Regis-Sheraton Hotel for several years has, somewhat belatedly, got around to Jerome Kern - belatedly because Kern was the key figure in giving musical theater an American identity.

His theater songs, from "They Didn't Believe Me" in The Girl From Utah of 1914 to "All the Things You Are" in Very Warm for May of 1939, along with such film songs as "A Fine Romance," "The Folks Who Live on the Hill" and "Long Ago and Far Away," provide a rich and varied repertory to work with: In some earlier salutes, a wealth of material was not always a blessing because many of the songs were trampled on in the rush to cram in a many as possible.

But this time Jerry Kravat and Harve Brostein, the producers, and the creative team of Keith Hermann, musical director, Barry Harman, writer, and Michael Lichtefeld, director, have found a pacing that allows each song to establish its identity. Doing 26 songs with a cast of four requires considerable versatility on the part of the singers, but this quartet manages, for the most part, to adapt skillfully to the varying requirements.

Judy Kaye has a very positive presence, a sprightly manner and a big glowing voice for such songs as "The Last Time I Saw Paris" and "Can't Help Lovin' That Man." Armelia McQueen moves easily between light touches and the torch singing of "Bill," while Cris Groenendaal brings some character to what might have been a bland set of songs. The only puzzling bit of casting is Ken Page, a bubbling comedian in "Ain't Misbehavin'," who is given such great Kern songs as "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," "Yesterdays" and "Ol' Man River," for which he is totally unsuited.

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