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That’s Entertainment: Dietz & Schwartz and Friends

K.T. Sullivan                                               Photos by Seth Cashman



                                                   by Deirdre Donovan


Fans of Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz recently were treated to a smorgasbord of their songs at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall on June 20th, courtesy of the Mabel Mercer Foundation.  Hosted by the luminous KT Sullivan, who now serves as the Foundation’s Artistic Director, it was a delicious evening of mostly Dietz-Schwartz classics.   


The program, entitled “That’s Entertainment: Dietz & Schwartz and Friends,” featured the crème de la crème of the famous songwriters plus a few latter-day songs to tickle the ears of the audience.  Sullivan was accompanied by 16 notables of the cabaret world, each artist bringing his or her own verve to the stage.  But whether interpreting a Dietz-Schwartz standard or a new tune, the artists were first and foremost celebrating the cabaret tradition and those who have contributed to the quality of American musical life.  Musical director and pianist John Weber kept the musical proceedings harmonious—and the two-act concert glitch-free.


The always-poised Sullivan dove into the first song of the program, “Confession,” delivering it with an equal blending of playfulness and sophistication.  Sullivan, who is well-known for her operatic soprano voice, allowed the lyrics to float like gossamer through the air before bringing them back down to earth for the song’s coy ending.


Seth Sykes


Seth Sykes stepped in next to sing the concert’s title song, “That’s Entertainment!” Sykes put his own personal stamp on the standard, which caught the public imagination when it was featured in the 1953 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film The Band Wagon.  No, Sykes wasn’t trying to outshine the great Jack Buchanan, Fred Astaire, Nanette Fabray, and Oscar Levant, all who collectively sang the anthem in the Hollywood film.  But Sykes did invite us to ponder, once again, the mysterious beat that makes something gain a pulse on stage.


Sidney Myer


One iconic song followed another in Act 1.  But Sidney Myer truly charmed the audience with his tongue-in-cheek rendering of Dietz and Schwartz’s “Rainy Night in Rio.”  This tune, which comically catalogs what folks do in Rio (or anywhere) when the rain keeps raining down, was a glove-in-hand fit for Myer’s distinctive talent.  Myer’s phrasing was excellent as he proceeded unhurriedly through the tune.  “Whadda they do on a rainy night in Rio?”  Well, let’s just say that Myer infused a lot of pregnant pauses and ham into his delivery.

Alexis Cole

Alexis Cole closed out Act 1 with Dietz and Schwartz’s celebrated “You and the Night and the Music,” doing double duty as both vocalist and pianist.  Arguably, this enchanting melody is the best thing that survived from Dietz and Schwartz’s 1934 Broadway show Revenge with Music.  In Cole’s new take on the classic, she emphasized its poetic mood and the song’s seamless craft, letting the words dissolve into the music, and vice versa.

Act 2 was garnished with some of Dietz and Schwartz’s vintage melodies and a few contemporary creations.  Sullivan, who had worn a chic tailored outfit in Act 1 returned to the stage after intermission in a stunning metallic gown.  Indeed, it served as a visual prelude to the glittering numbers in store.


Sean Harkness & Karen Oberlin

First up was Karen Oberlin, who performed ”Rhode Island is Famous for You,” accompanied by Jon Weber at the piano.  This witty ballad, which is a brag sheet of sorts for the individual states, is awash with homeland pride and heart.  Although Oberlin was faithful to the original lyrics and music, she clearly gave it New York flavor and edge.

Darius de Haas

True, Dietz and Schwartz’s songs claimed the lion’s share of the program.  But there were some impressive offerings from the eponymous “friends” as well.  In fact, the formidable Darius de Haas performed the wildly witty “Trotsky in Mexico” by Renee Rosnes and David Hajdu, with Tedd Firth tickling the ivories.  He then segued into the Dietz-Schwartz iconic tune “Shine on Your Shoe.” Immortalized by Fred Astaire in the film The Band Wagon, De Haas performed the piece with his own consummate craft.


While “That’s Entertainment” left out many Dietz and Schwartz’s favorites, it did offer enough from their oeuvre to keep the audience leaning in—and smiling with recognition to the familiar tunes.  What’s more, Sullivan added some between-song patter that scratched beneath the famous songwriters’ skins and revealed the breadth of their talents.  Who knew, for instance, that Dietz created the image of Leo the Lion for Goldwyn Pictures and proposed their slogan “Ars Gratia Artis”?


If you missed this event, you missed an opportunity to reacquaint yourself with a legendary team who have left an indelible mark on the musical world.  Why not make it a point to catch the next concert sponsored by the Mabel Mercer Foundation?


One performance only, June 20th

Weill Recital Hall, at Carnegie Hall, 154 W. 57th Street, Manhattan.

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Running time:  approximately 2 hours, with one intermission.