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Reviewed this week:
(1) "Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know" at the Triad
(2) Lilianne Montevecchi and Jean Pierre Cassel at the 92nd Street Y

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Related articles:
Bert Wechsler's CD Reviews - Broadway and Classical releases.
For the Record - NYTW reviews from earlier in the 1997-98 season.

There seems to be a fallacy out there in Cabaret Theater land. Aside from thinking that word (or the like) is screamingly funny, CT people think that, if you put four physically life-sized performers and a big piano on a small stage and serve dinner, you automatically get a show equal to the best of "Forbidden Broadway," fail safe.

Not so.

The latest attempt to sail the shoals of sophomoric spooferie during dinner is at the Triad on West 72 Street and is called Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know. Without resorting to the obvious "Smart travelers should stay off 72 Street," let's try and find out what went wrong here, as seen on November 5, live.

No, first let's rejoice in what went right. First, bassist Jay Leonhart. As all bassists worth their salt should, he looks at all times as if this stage, this theater, are the last places he would want to be caught dead on and in. God forbid he will react to or even acknowledge you, his audience. I want him to do a one-man show. His songs are on an intellectual level -- and I don't mean they're brainy but they happily complement and join with one's own intelligence -- way above anything else on 72 street or environs (Michelin travel guide word). A delight. Well worth a visit. Worth a detour. (two Michelin travel guide phrases).

Of the four nominal performers, James Darrah seems to me to have a talent beyond the just easy. Everything he does has at least a little more than is on the page, be it Lesley Davison's knowing song, "Naked in Pittsburgh" or the Noel Coward takeoff.

Of the rest, "knowing" is an operative word. The level of travel humor is not geared to the knowledgeable traveler but to the gawk-eyed who think it hysterical that there are no bowling alleys in Bruges or that foreign languages are funny. This loses me, I'm not interested in people who don't know anything: they can't be spoofed and they're not worth trying to spoof (right, Glenn?). Lyrics, rhymes, are not clever enough. Little is a surprise. I didn't feel like I was flying First Class.

The other performers are Kathy Fitzgerald, Liz Maconahay and Michael McGrath. The have their moments but are basically generic. Material seems to be by everybody around, including Stan Freeman who is also on stage at the piano. Nobody is more professional than Freeman but here he seems to be on automatic pilot. His "Salzburg" number offended me. There is a parody there but not this one.

"Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know" plays at the Triad, 158 West 72 Street, Mon, Wed, Thurs, Fri at 8pm; Sat at 7:30 and 10:30; Sun 3 and 7:30pm. $40. An a la carte menu is available from one hour before departure. No minimum. (212) 799-4599.

End of snot-nosed review. This one, anyway. [Wex]

"Cabaret" again. Legeti Artists and American Cabaret Theatre opened its four event season at the Teresa L. Kaufmann Concert Hall (92nd St. Y) on November 8. The late show, 9:30, had all the feel of a late show.

It began with the ever-redoubtable (whatever that means) Lilianne Montevecchi, with Dick Gallagher at the piano. No need to explain Montevecchi, she is ever-present and may she always be, except for this evening. Her idea of warming up an audience is by full frontal assault, horse laughs included. She was going to give a French lesson: funny, I didn't sign up for one. She pushed.

And then she sang. That was better and the selection of songs was good. It would have been better if she had tried to be herself instead of Piaf (with infinitely less range than Piaf), Liza, and maybe even June Allyson. There were still manic moments and that laugh. She did not dance.

The pianists changed without missing a note and Jean Pierre Cassel was aboard. Cassel made his first film in 1936 and has a huge film career behind him speaking French and English in mostly self-effacing roles. So when did he become a song and dance man? Never. He is relaxed, laid back, his English diction is wonderful, and he sang whatever he wanted to sing, not bothering with transitions. The fact that he can't carry a tune didn't stop him one bit. He was wearing immense taps on his shoes.

If we thought we were being entertained at our Senior Citizen Center before, we now had an exhibition of Advanced Tap for Older People (it's big in Paris). Cassel came back after that and tried to teach Tap in an embarrassing audience participation segment. "Tea for Two" went on way beyond cocktail time.

Montevecchi returned so that Cassel and she could sign off together. Why were they there? Why were we there? Had we been to school? [Wex]

Copyright © Bert Wechsler 1997

BERT WECHSLER was active in the performing arts as an actor, singer, director, coach and manager before he turned to full time writing. As editor of Music Journal for eight years, he wrote about all aspects of music and dance. He was a music and dance critic for the New York Daily News and New York Concert Review, dance critic and associate editor for Attitude, video critic for video Review, music editor of High Performance Review, dance critic for Der Tanz der Dinge (Switzerland), recordings critic for High Fidelity, correspondent for the music magazine Rondo in Finland and newspapers in Norway (regular column) and Denmark as well as other free-lance activities. He is co-author of "Dear Rogue," the biography Lawrence Tibbett, published by Amadeus Press. He was also associate Editor of Computer Buyers' Guide. He is a member of the Music Critics Association, the Outer Critics Circle, The Bohemians, an honorary life member of the New York Mahlerites, and a founder of the Manhattan Festival Ballet and the Center for Contemporary Opera. He retains his membership in four theatrical unons.

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