Hopelessly in Love: The Lyrics of Tom Toce
Saturday, June 8, 2013
By Jerry Osterberg
To paraphrase one of Tom Toce’s most delightful songs, the words ‘You Make Us Smile’ are surely consistent with the lyricist’s intention. But Tom also made us laugh, recall sweet memories, and, perhaps more than anything else, feel. His magnificent creations are filled with tenderness, love, joy, heart, and are capable of bringing an audience to tears.
And so it was that NYSMS members had the good fortune of being present at a private performance of a well- received production that had graced the stage of the Metropolitan Room several times during the 2012-2013 cabaret year. Although this was not the only time that one of our directors has produced a show just for us, it must certainly be one of the few instances when a member presented his own program of superb music.
When one appreciates the number of composers Tom Toce has written with, and the exceptionally qualified singers on stage: Carole Bufford, Jack Donahue, Jennifer Sheehan and Hilary Gardner, in addition to excellent musicians such as Musical Director Matthew Martin Ward, bassist Boots Maleson, and the program’s Director, Peter Napolitano, the entertaining afternoon was a virtual music hall revue.
The entire company opened with two numbers “Listen” (Zina Goldrich) and “Hopelessly in Love” (Douglas J. Cohen), making for a lively, bouncy beginning in which Carole, Jack and Jennifer traded lines back and forth while achieving some gorgeous harmony. Jennifer’s first solo “Say You’ll Remember” (Peter Millrose), conveyed a warmth and wistfulness that was touching. Having heard her sing “You Make Me Laugh” (Shelly Markham) on three occasions, accompanied by her fantastic smile, I can’t imagine anyone else doing this audience pleaser much better. In “The Wrong Man” (Douglas J. Cohen), with a “Tara’s Theme” introduction by Mathew Martin Ward, Jennifer’s character imagines her life as if it were a movie, perhaps one by Hitchcock, but more likely starring Peter Lorre rather than Cary Grant.
Jack Donahue, who has personality to spare, got to perform “Michael’s Song” (David K. Israel), a Broadway style show-stopper if there ever was one, building to a dramatic crescendo that stilled the room. His best performance, without a doubt, was “After All” (Kim Oler), a romantic tear-jerker tale of a man speaking to his lover, reminding her What really matters is the life I share with you. Jack’s rendition was clearly a tour de force. For something completely different, he sang “Got to Learn to Emote” (Jeff Lazarus), a hysterical West Indian type tune, which allowed the audience to participate (as if they could have resisted) whenever the line sha la la la appeared. The audible foot tapping might have easily migrated to a Conga line!
Carole Bufford, a natural comedienne, was joined by the entire crew in “Bye-bye, Aloha, Yo!” (Jeff Lazarus). Her very amusing persona was a perfect match to the lyrics. There were moments when the presentation had the feel of a Big Band number from the 1940’s. Further along the spectrum, Carole demonstrated that she also has the wherewithal to put over a formidable ballad in “Rid of You” (Allan Garb), about a smart woman who survives a breakup and comes back with more confidence than she had before. Carole returned to her forte with a hilarious “Shalom, Santa” (Douglas J. Cohen), who as “Margaret Guggenheim Kelly” told us ‘My daddy is a lapsed Catholic and my mamma is a cultural Jew.
The remarkably talented Hilary Gardner made a special guest appearance, performing “The Night I Fell in Love With Paris,” with words and music by Tom Toce, a sweetly romantic tune with the potential of reaching the star status of a cabaret and recording standard. The lovely song, perhaps more personal to the songwriter than not, has all the sensitivity of a gentle lullaby. It was beautifully rendered by Ms. Gardner. Throughout the entire program were several excellent examples of effective harmony, enhanced from time to time by Matthew Martin Ward and Boots Maleson, two of the most talented and sought-after musicians in the business. The last song “Ask for the World,” (Tom Toce), was performed in that same vein. The inspired arrangement provided a strong foundation for the cast to underscore the meaning of the lyrics most effectively.
All and all, it was a wonderful way to end another successful season. It’s gratifying to realize that there are busy and talented creative artists in our midst like Tom Toce. And how could the NYSMS not feel good about the fact that so many excellent performers have given generously of their time so that our members can enjoy a pleasurable Saturday afternoon in New York City? As full- fledged citizens in the world of popular music, we should feel proud that our stage continues to represent one of just a few low- risk venues for aspiring professionals to be heard.