Jonée & Cabaret Kick Off the 4 th
By Bruce-Michael Gelbert
Photos by Joseph R. Saporito

To start the Fourth of July weekend with flair, Jacqueline Jonée and Uptown Express, the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus’ pop septet, mixed a bit of Bastille Day with their Independence Day and came up with a festive “Born on the Fourth of Jonée” for the Arts Project of Cherry Grove (APCG), at the Community House last Saturday. Assisting were Mark Haddad on bass, Mary Rodriguez on percussion and, sharing the keyboard with the diva, James Followell, Music Director of Uptown Express, whose members are Christopher Caswell, Mark Danis, John DePalma, Jace Garfield, Kenneth Gartman, Alex Goro, John Raterman and Phil Zipkin. Brett Oberman directed and Matt Baney and Allison Brackman shared technical responsibilities.

A symphony in red, topped with red, white and blue feather headdress, la Jonée, singing from the keyboard, began by informing us, in a rousing title song from Cole Porter’s “Can-Can,” “Baby, You Can Can-Can, Too,” with a few Fire Island twists (“If a boy in the Pines with a tan can, /If a butch and a femme lesbian can, then you can can-can, too”) and some interpolated Offenbach.

Explaining the Gallic overtones, Jacqueline offered, “What could be more American than France? We have the Statue of Liberty, French fries, French kissing …” She told a tale of love south of the border, to strains of the Habanera from Bizet’s “Carmen,” and launched into a torrid tango about “your lips of fire.” She evoked a crazy carnival of life in a dizzying, tongue-twisting “Carousel,” of Jacques Brel, and took temporary leave of us with her own virtuoso arrangement of “I Got Rhythm,” from Gershwin’s “Girl Crazy.”

Led by Followell, Uptown Express charmed us by harmonizing on the Supremes’ “Up the Ladder to the Roof,” serenading us with romantic accounts of Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose” and Edward Heyman and Oscar Levant’s “Blame It on My Youth,” and declaring fervently, “You’re All I Need to Get By,” in Marvin Gaye’s song. Reminding us that gay interest in cowboys predates “ Brokeback Mountain,” the guys went Wild West with Porter’s “Don’t Fence Me In,” from “Hollywood Canteen,” and then got hot with his “It’s All Right with Me,” from “Can-Can.”

“In memory of those who have given their lives for freedom,” Jacqueline tenderly delivered Joe Howard, Harold Orlob, Frank Adams and Will Hough’s “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Him Now,” in English and, in French, as “Qui a ses baisers maintenant.” To save us from possible terrorist attack on the holiday, our heroine enlisted the aid of her (stuffed) “FBI sniffing dogs,” as well as DePalma and Caswell, and Followell at the piano, and told us, in China Forbes and Thomas M. Lauderdale’s chanson, of her flat refusal to work (“Je Ne Veux Pas Travailler”) or do much of anything but smoke (“Et puis, je fume”).

For a grand finale, the ensemble, taking the part of Seymour, reassured a suddenly platinum Jonée, portraying Audrey in a leopard print and wrong side of the tracks accent, in Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s “Suddenly Seymour,” from “Little Shop of Horrors.” For a spirited encore, the company invited the audience to sing along with George M. Cohan’s “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” from “George Washington, Jr.”


Vive Le Cabaret

On Sunday, the eclectic, gender-bending music, comedy and commentary troupe Le Cabaret Mélange, based in Philadelphia, returned to APGC and the Community House, for a second consecutive year, to intrigue and entertain us anew. The performers were androgynous high tenor Jeffrey Marsh, wearing high heels, flowered jacket and short skirt, gold shirt and wide tie; barefoot Rick Sorkin on guitar; and Jefferson Kidd on drums. Matt, Sherri and Bonnie handled technical responsibilities.

Al Dubin and Harry Warren’s “We’re in the Money,” from “Gold Diggers of 1933,” was the performers’ upbeat opening, followed by Jeanine Tesori’s advice, “Forget about the Boy,” from “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”

Kurt Weill’s compositions, to Bertolt Brecht’s words, play an important part in Le Cabaret Mélange performances. Marsh boasts the requisite mixture of earthiness and clear, penetrating vocalism to pull off such songs, sung here in English and German, as “Seerauber Jenny” (“Pirate Jenny”), from “Die Dreigroschenoper” (“The Threepenny Opera”), blending wonder and bitterness, and “Surabaya Johnny,” from “Happy End,” conjuring illusions turned to disillusion. Marsh offered another mélange—of head voice and chest register—singing Howard Arlen and Ira Gershwin’s “The Man That Got Away,” while strumming a ukulele and introduced a moody original melody about Toulouse-Lautrec, sung partly in French.

Kidd delivered a “Future Talk,” careening from a comparison between Microsoft and Firefox to the benefits of having a life partner to the destiny of robots to come to be “85 percent sex-bots, 15 percent sex-bots/repair-bots.” With the assistance of audience members Cooley, Panzi Hansen, Richard (Urban Sprawl) Cooley and Joe Saporito, Kidd demonstrated his Lee Strasburg Actors Studio-cultivated method of transforming “secret handshakes” with “closeted frat boys” into intimate encounters. Sorkin’s solo was a gentle song he addressed to “Beautiful Friend,” with a rueful refrain recognizing, “There’s No Second Chance.”

The trio concluded with a singalong of Petula Clarke’s 1960s hit “Downtown.” An encore, in English and German, was Marlene Dietrich signature tune “Ich Bin Von Kopf bis Fuss” (“Falling in Love Again”), from “Der Blaue Engel.