Len Cariou at 54 Below


Reviewed by Joe Regan Jr.

November 19, 2012

Len Cariou opened his cabaret act at 54 Below with a trio of songs:  “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” “The Best Is Yet To Come” and “Just in Time.”  He confessed that these were the songs he sang in his first cabaret act, 52 years ago, in his hometown of Winnepeg, a cold Canadian town just across the border from North Dakota.  He introduces his great trio:  Walter Usiatynski on drums and percussion, Ritt Henn on bass, and Mark Janas, his musical director/arranger/pianist.

The autobiographical show includes many songs from his Broadway career laced with wonderful personal stories.  For instance, he tells us that while he was acting in Stratford Shakespeare theatre in Canada, Michael Langham told the company that Duke Ellington would attend a rehearsal.  Cariou was bold enough to tell Ellington that he sang his songs in his cabaret act and that his favorite song was “Sophisticated Lady.”  Ellington stood at the piano and played the melody and Cariou sang the whole song.  Afterwards Ellington nodded and asked him what was he doing playing Shakespeare, he should be in musical theatre!  We had the great treat of Cariou singing a complete “Sophisticated Lady” for us.

In 1970 he made his Broadway musical debut in Applause with Lauren Bacall.  The score was by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams and the book by Betty Comden & Adolph Green.  All the famous actors, directors and writers would come to Bacall‘s dressing room after the performance and she always told Cariou to come there so she could introduce him.  That’s where he met all his idols.  Then he explained that he had the opening song in the show, “Think How It’s Going To Be” and he sang it with great feeling.

He told a funny story about the night Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne and Noel Coward were there.  Each one had a special compliment for him and Fontanne’s was to keep his hair off his forehead because he had such a great profile but imitating Coward, Cariou enacted Coward’s comment and it was uproariously droll with sexual ambiguity .  Then he movingly sang Coward’s song from Private Lives, “Someday I’ll Find You.”  Although Cariou’s voice is not what it was, he dramatically gave his all to every number and the audience loved him for it.

Yes, there was a section on Steve Sondheim.  He was introduced to Sondheim when he sang “Marry Me A Little” at a birthday celebration.  On Broadway he was lucky enough to create two signature roles in the original Broadway productions of A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd.  Cariou’s Sondheim selections were funny and then dramatic, melding together “Soon,” “You Must Meet My Wife,” “The Barber and His Wife” and “Pretty Women.”  He described the rehearsals for A Little Night Music and how he was promised the eleven o’clock number.  When the scene was re-written, suddenly the song was Glynis Johns’ “Send In the Clowns.”  Cariou beautifully sang it for us.  He was also daring enough to sing the male lyrics to Judy Garland’s trademarked “Trolley Song” and he didn’t miss a lyric with the trio rocking behind him.

His last Broadway musical was Dance A Little Closer which closed after one performance.  It was Alan Jay Lerner’s last Broadway show and co-starred his ninth wife, Liz Robertson.  The musical was based on an old Lunt-Fontanne hit play, Robert E. Sherwood’s Idiot’s Delight.  He got to introduce a Charles Strouse/Alan Jay Lerner song that has become a cabaret standard, ”There’s Always One You Can’t Forget,” and Cariou’s performance of that number was stunning.

His final number, sending everyone out into the night with a bright glow, was Strouse and Adams’ “Put On A Happy Face,” and we were gifted with fun solos by his great trio.

Len Cariou repeats his show on Monday, November 26 at 7 PM at 54 Below, 254 West 54 Street, New York, New York.  For reservations call 866-468-7619 or www.54below.com .  Use code CARIOU10 for $10 off the cover charge.

 

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