Friday, December 2, 2016

Cabaret songs survive the din of the Waypost

It was still Happy Hour when I stepped up to the bar at the Waypost to order a draft IPA. Besides libations, the Waypost, located on North Williams Avenue, has an intimate concert space with seating that is barely separated from the bar area. It’s definitely a non-traditional venue for musicians who don’t plan to use amplification. That was the intent of the cofounders of Northwest Art Song – soprano Arwen Myers, mezzo Laura Beckel Thoreson, and pianist Susan McDaniel – who bravely tested the cozy confines of the Waypost with baritone Deac Guidi on Sunday (November 27) for an evening of cabaret songs.

The professionalism of the performers was of the highest order, because they gave an outstanding performance in spite of the constant din of noise from the patrons near the bar. Anyone who sat in the first four rows probably heard most of the words, but it was difficult beyond that arc – especially when the music was mezzo piano or quieter.

Still there was much to be enjoyed, starting with Thoreson’s singing of four William Bolcom numbers, including a sultry “At the Last Lousy Moments of Love” and an enticing “Amor.” Myers didn’t miss a beat in her set of Britten tunes, excelling with the witty “Tell me the Truth about Love” and the pell-mell “Calypso.” Guidi brought down the house with his terrific singing of Cole Porter’s “The Tale of the Oyster.” All three collaborated in singing Bolcom’s “Minicabs,” with its delightful non-sequiturs.

The second half of the show began with several arrangements of popular numbers by Bob Kingston, who served as Portland Opera’s historian and lecturer for many years. Thoreson delivered the bitter sweet vibe of “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.” Guidi put a light touch on “The Way You Look Tonight.” Myers sang “Somewhere over the Rainbow” with heartfelt poignancy that actually got the people in the bar to stop talking and listen. Rounding out Kingston’s offerings – all premieres – were lovely arrangements of “I’ll be Around,” “A Foggy Day,” and “Lush Life.”

To conclude the concert were three numbers from Bernstein’s “Candide.” Myers positively bubbled with “Glitter and Be Gay,” touching all of the high notes with a delightful élan. She teamed up with Thoreson to give a wonderfully funny “We are Women,” and Thoreson and included some sly gestures. With Guidi and an unnamed tenor, Thoreson and the ensemble did a smashing job with “I Am Easily Assimilated.” That got the crowd off their feet, so Myers and Thoreson topped it off with the “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” with a hilarious alternative text that riffed on music like “You say staccato and I say legato.” It was a great way to end the evening with ovations for all, including McDaniel, who provided masterful accompaniment for each piece.

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