Attention cabaret newbies! If you want to see cabaret done right, get yourself to the Duplex Piano Bar and Cabaret Theatre to see Monday in the Dark with George!
Monday in the Dark with George is a re-production of a revue done originally in 1992 at Eighty Eights Piano Bar and Cabaret on West 10th Street in Greenwich Village. The show featured clever, situationist songs by the clever, situationist George Winters, sung by Helen Baldassare, Jay Rogers, and Mr. Winters himself, along with the late, great Dick Gallagher at the piano.
Well, as they’ve stated, “they’re back and older than ever!” Directed, as before, by Gerry Geddes, the original cast has returned with Bobby Peaco at the piano, and though I’d never seen the original production, I was familiar with many of the songs, and they seem as fresh, funny, and relevant now, as when they were first written.
At the club, the room was packed with old friends from my 30-plus years in the cabaret scene. Karen Miller and Rochelle Seldin, two of the original owners of Eighty Eights were there, along with Maggie Cullen, Andre Montgomery, Luis Villabon, Scott Barbarino and more. It was like a family reunion!
So, with a room full of friends and great energy, the show began, and as each cast member was introduced, they hit the stage to cheers of love and recognition. The opening number was called, appropriately, “Enjoy the Show,” which laid out all of the standard rules for being a good cabaret audience, including one about drinking which reminded us that ‘the more you drink, the better we look and sound!’
The opener was followed by a solo from each singer - Winters gave us a send up of an old-style melodramatic weepy, called “She Was Pure As the Snow,” Baldassare brought huge, knowing laughs with a riff on “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” about her clueless family’s misconceptions of life as a New York performer, and Rogers gave us a distinctly gay twist on Sir Arthur Sullivan’s “Major-General Song,” from Pirates of Penzance!
In one of the quieter moments, Winters explained that as a kid, he’d had bullies and haters who’d tried to break him down. In order to pass his strength along to the next generation, he used his life experience to create a touching new song for the show, entitled “It Gets Better.” The message that everyone has the right not to fit in; the right to be different and be themselves, shone most brightly in the lyric ‘...the life you want to lead begins the day you choose to live.‘ It was a beautiful sentiment that’s still important and unfortunately necessary today.
In a recent review, I wrote about a performer who had charmed me with a wonderfully simple cabaret show. With MITDWG, I saw, once again, that return to simplicity - just 4 talented performers, a piano, and great material, all brought together by Gerry Geddes’ witty direction - perfect examples of Geddes' skill were evident in “You Lit Up My Life (In a Dim Little Way)”, as Baldassare sang a hopeful song about a somewhat hopeless romance - ‘...we never got to Paris. Just...TRENTON!’ Helen began singing upstage center, and before a brief dance break, handed the microphone to George, who sat stage left. As the vocal kicked in again, Jay appeared unexpectedly on the opposite side of the stage, handing her a different mic. As Rogers twirled her about, she wrapped the mic cable around her body, singing and executing flawless cable-ography! There was also some fun staging during “Perestroika,” Bobby Peaco’s solo about the travel woes suffered on a trip behind the Iron Curtain. Brought out from behind the piano, Peaco sat reluctantly, center stage, while Helen accompanied him. She was then joined by Jay, and finally by George for a playful bit of three-handed keyboard work!
After Jay’s wistful “I’d Planned You a Marvelous Funeral,” and a goofy monologue by Helen as Joan of Arc doing a PSA for fire safety, we got one of George’s best known songs, “Eggs in the Rain.” Now, many of George’s songs are patter songs, but rather than being “laundry lists,” his patter songs tell stories. Here, George portrayed a nerdy young man who’d saved a young lady from a robbery in the park. She was so grateful she invited him to dinner for beans and rice. How he ended up standing in the rain with a half a dozen eggs is a story you need to hear for yourself, and you’ll hang on every hilarious word!
A few more noteworthy moments in a show filled with great moments: “(What’s So Great About) The Great Outdoors,” with Jay portraying feisty matron Letitia Van Rensselaer (Call me Sissy, everyone does!), who sang about the horrors she avoids by not going exploring with her husband, singing ‘...I do better in Chanel, to hell with L.L. Bean!’ There was also, Helen’s signature piece, “The Girl Who Put the Sin in Cincinnati,” a gloriously verbose song about Hattie, a girl loved the world over for her talents, with clever lyrics like ‘She didn’t know how much to charge in Argentina, but she collected lots of checks in Mexico,’ and ‘She lost a bundle at her bar in Barcelona, she couldn’t make two bucks in Timbuktu!’ Brilliant! And finally, the 11 O’Clock number, called, of course, “The Eleven O’Clock Number from Anna Karenina,” in which the men sang ‘Who’s that RUSSIAN down the track?!’, to which Helen responded, ‘My name is Anna. Anna Karenina. I haven’t had a poke since you-know-when-ina.’
Trying to describe this show’s fun, humor and intelligence in writing was daunting. My mere words can’t equal how funny these songs are. And I hope their run is extended, because whether you saw it back in the day or not, you owe it to yourself to hear these incredible words flying fast and furious from the lips of the fabulous singers who’ve lived with them for so long. So, as I said earlier, get yourself to the Duplex and enjoy Monday in the Dark With George. Oh, and remember, as George told you, the more you drink...