Love Is In The Air at Ptown Cabaret Fest

by John Amodeo
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Apr 8, 2013

When people say, they don't write 'em like they used to, Bob Levy, a contemporary songwriter, is there to prove them wrong, with the type of sophisticated jazz standards that appear to have come straight from the Great American Songbook, with influences like Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen, and E.Y. "Yip" Harburg. While he will occasionally dabble in composing, lyrics are his real stock in trade, allowing him to collaborate with some very capable composers, such as our local songwriters, Harriet Goldberg, Krisanthi Pappas, and Dennis Livingston, as well as several New York-based composers Ronny Whyte, David Coons, Jerry Lundy, and the Grammy-nominated songwriter Boris Midney. His latest album, "A Little Bit More: The Songs of Bob Levy & Jon Burr" features his latest collaborator, composer, arranger, acoustic bass player extraordinaire Jon Burr.

If 99% of the songs written are about love, Levy's oeuvre is proof positive, though he certainly explores the gamut of romantic experience with such evocative titles as "Lonely Seranade" and "Why Haven't I Heard From You?" to "If Your Heart Could Fly," and "My Never Ending Dream." Cabaret and jazz performers nationally have sung and recorded his songs, including Barbara Brussel, Laurie Krauz, Sue Matsuki, Dane Vannatter and Will McMillan, and he is frequently sought after for songwriter showcases.

In 2007, "A Musical Celebration," a showcase of his songs, was held at the Laurie Beechman Theater in New York. His song, "This Time," written with Australian-born songwriter Karen Jacobsen, was a 2008 MAC Award nominee for Outstanding Song of the Year. In 2009 his songs were featured in a Boston Association of Cabaret Artists (BACA) Special Cabaret Showcase at the Calderwood Pavilion, and in 2010, his song "Paris Without You" was featured in the film "You Again," starring Betty White, Victor Garber and Sigourney Weaver.

His money-maker

As his star continues to rise, he will be the featured songwriter for this year’s Cabaret Fest 2013, the 5th Annual co-presented by the Provincetown Business Guild and producer/musician Bart Weisman, held at the Crown & Anchor Hotel, Provincetown on April 12-14, 2013, with headlining vocalists Dane Vannatter, Lynda D’Amour, and Jan Peters, each singing selections from his songbook.

"Everyone has their money maker, and this is mine," Levy admits, referring to his song, "Paris Without You," and its use in White’s film. "In this movie, my name was in the credits. It was so large on the screen, I cried." Astonished at his own success, he adds "I’m still getting royalties 3 years later. And with Betty White in it, they will be showing this until Hell freezes over," in spite of the film’s dubious quality, he explains. "The best part was the credits!"

But what Levy loves the most, much more than the royalties, is hearing his songs sung. From his Fairfield County home in Ritchfield, CT, which he shares with his partner, Les, he waxes eloquent on the topic of who has sung or recorded his music, rattling off names one after the other: Barbara Brussell, Perry Danos, Ronny White, and newcomer Marcus Goldhaber. But he is especially excited about the lineup for Cabaret Fest Provincetown, where Vannatter, D’Amour and Peters, all singers he met through BACA, will showcase his songs.

Mutual admiration society

Vannatter, who was a Boston-based performer until a few years ago, has since moved to Pittsburgh, but continues to perform in Boston. He has several recordings, sings with jazz combos and big bands in Boston, Provincetown, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and New York, and has won Bistro and MAC Awards for his performances and recordings.

"Dane is doing six of my songs, some of them written with Harriet Goldberg," Levy shares. "Harriet [Goldberg, last year’s featured songwriter at Cabaret Fest Provincetown] really told me how much she liked lasts year’s singers," of which Vannatter was one. "He’s doing a whole set of my songs. I love that!" gushes Levy. The feeling appears to be mutual, as Vannatter enthuses about the material Levy wrote that he will sing. "I’m singing a song of Bob’s called "What Are We Doing Here" that I’ve been singing since I met Bob and his partner Les almost 10 years ago," notes Vannatter. Vannatter will also sing Levy’s song "Someone’s Waiting" (music by Harriet Goldberg), as well as a new song by Levy, "What Else Can I Do?" (music by Alex Rybeck).

Levy has in fact struck up a partnership with Alex Rybeck (first cousin to Abe Rybeck, artistic director of Boston’s Theater Offensive), who is a renowned musical director, arranger, composer, pianist, who also tours the country with Faith Prince, Liz Callaway, Ann Hampton Callaway and other top tier cabaret vocalists as their accompanist. Levy is especially excited to work with Rybeck. "The unpredictability of his melodies is just gorgeous," he said.

All verklempt

Jan Peters will be doing, "He Remembers, She Remembers," another Levy song written with Alex Rybeck, which has Levy all verklempt. "His melodies bring tears to my eyes. His theatre experience is so evident," marvels Levy. "This one is so beautiful and sentimental. Joyce Breach recorded it. Maureen Kelly is going to record it in May, but it has never been performed in public. I said to Jan, this is one song I’d love you to perform if you like it. Jan said, ’I don’t like it, I love it!’" Peters’ lush alto and cabaret sensibility is well suited to Levy’s sentimental ballads, such as "Paris Without You," and "Tell Him Now," (music by Goldberg), which she will perform.

Levy loves how intuitive Lynda D’Amour is when choosing the songs of his she will sing. "[She] has surprised me. She picked out all the songs that were sung by others, or on TV without even knowing it." D’Amour notes that she will be singing "You Won’t Be Breaking My Heart" (co-written with Goldberg), but in a more strident anthem tempo, rather than the slow ballad arrangement it was originally written in. "As I reviewed the lyrics, I heard it more from the perspective of someone a bit savvy about the reality of love or at least the search for it."

D’Amour’s solo CD "Ordinary Fool," released in 2012, resulted in two Broadwayworld.com nominations, one for Best Female Vocalist and one for Best CD release, and she has performed her various cabaret shows in Boston and New York to wide acclaim. She premiered Levy’s song "If Your Heart Could Fly" in her cabaret show, "This Eager Heart," and will reprise it at Cabaret Fest. She also plans to feature songs from "Ordinary Fool."

While Vannater has been a regular at Cabaret Fest, he plans to vary his fare this year. "I’m getting interested again in the TSOP songs - The Sound of Philadelphia - and all those great soulful tunes that came out post-Motown and sort of pre-Disco," he explains. "Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes, The Spinners, Major Harris, The Manhattans. So I’ll mix it up a little with those."

Peters, who has done the reverse of Vannater, and moved back to Boston recently after 5 years in Pittsburgh, has been a regular performer at the Club CafĂ©, as well as formerly holding court for many years as song hostess a The Encores Cabaret Lounge, also has two lush big band-type CD’s, several songs from which she will feature in her set.

Provincetown is also being featured in this Cabaret Fest, and how could it not? Provincetown may mean leather bars, White Party’s, and Bear Week for some, and for good reason, while others love Provincetown for those things and more, including its Cape Cod charm, salty air, and laid back atmosphere. Peter’s just loves the "...beautiful setting, [as well as] connecting with old musical friends like Dane and Lynda, and making new musical friends with the Bart Weisman Trio, as well." Vannatter proclaims, "It’s like coming home again! Provincetown has been part of my life since 1985. I miss the dunes, the bike trails, the music, the queens, the food. Provincetown audiences appreciate songs and they always make me feel welcome."

D’Amour echoes this, noting," As a performer I enjoy that the festival audience really tunes in to the performer and the performance," and continues with, "The location is also amazing and inspiring." So inspiring, she has built it into her show, with another Levy song choice. "’We Can Be Alone’ brings to mind a vision of a wonderful seaside romantic getaway - and I felt that it lends itself perfectly for the location of the festival."

The Provincetown Business Guild presents Cabaret Fest 2013 on April 12-14 at the Crown & Anchor, 247 Commercial Street, Provincetown, MA. Prices: weekend packages range from $25-$75. For more information, visit the Provincetown Business Guild website at http://www.ptown.org/cabaretfest.asp or by calling 508.487.2313.

John Amodeo is a free lance writer living in the Boston streetcar suburb of Dorchester with his husband of 23 years. He has covered cabaret for Bay Windows and Theatermania.com, and is the Boston correspondent for Cabaret Scenes Magazine.


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