By Stanford Friedman
New York’s newest music venue is inside one of its oldest. The 100-seat Birdland Theater opened this month in the renovated downstairs of the Birdland Jazz Club, that 68 year old Manhattan institution on West 44th Street (with prior homes on W. 52nd and W. 105th). Lucie Arnaz christened the cabaret space, while forthcoming acts include Marilyn Maye and Anita Gillette. And bursting its way through the schedule like a twice-monthly display of fireworks, comes a new revue called The Lineup. Consider it the brat sister of Jim Caruso’s Cast Party, the long running songfest that plays Birdland’s main room every Monday. But instead of Cast Party’s open mic approach, The Lineup has a hand-picked roster. And instead of the sly and suave Jim Caruso, The Lineup is hosted by the risk-taking and hilarious Susie Mosher.
In the social media lead-up to The Lineup’s opening night, Ms. Mosher promised to spin like a top and set her hair ablaze. Mission accomplished. If no actual flames spouted from her head, there were sparks aplenty from the comic segues she provided between each act. Having hosted similar shows at the Laurie Beechman and 54 Below, Ms. Mosher has perfected the rare art of the improvised comic recitative. Where some people eat their feelings, she belts hers out, accompanied by her long-time pianist co-hort, Brad Simmons. The laughs come from dark messages sung gayly. Imparting wisdom to an imaginary newcomer to the big city, she riffs that “Things are gonna get better…then they are going to be bad again.” And proving that there is no such thing as too much information, she sweetly, if matter-of-factly, intones that her father “ruined four women’s lives.”
More impressive than her comic prowess, Ms. Mosher’s curation skills shine. If this first collection of diverse and crazy-talented acts is any indication, future performances will be well worth staying up late for on a Tuesday night. Vocalist Natalie Douglas led things off with a fine cover of CSNY’s Woodstock. I’ve heard the song a million times but it took Ms. Douglas’s version to bring home the symmetry between the verses “We are billion year old carbon” and “We are caught in the devil’s bargain.” Next came the renown Julie Halston, the perfect comic foil for Ms. Mosher. As Ms. Halston bemoaned the fact that she constantly gets cast in Broadway musicals despite her inability to sing or dance, Ms. Mosher’s that-must-be-rough attitude was priceless. Then, opposite of Ms. Mosher’s improvisational approach, Ms. Halston performed a verbatim recitation of a New York Times wedding announcement with a comic precision that brought down the house.
Nicholas Rodriguez, who has played Tarzan on Broadway, returned to the wilds for a stirring rendition of Stephen Schwartz’s Meadowlark, while Broadway mainstay Gaelen Gilliland kept it lovely and domesticated with a tune about the joy of dogs. Siren, a trio that give pop songs a Western flair, brought their formidable harmonies to bear on Kesha’s Praying as well as Hurricane from Hamilton. Joe Ardizzone, David Perlman. Natalie Weiss and Juwan Crawley all showed off insane pipes in this embarrassment of riches. And, while Liza Minnelli has been known to drop in at Cast Party, The Lineup not only had Ms. Minelli, but also Elaine Stritch, Patti LuPone and Bernadette Peters, all in the body of impressionist/singer/actress Carly Sakolove. That more-divas-for-your-money approach was an excellent deal, especially at the bargain basement ticket price of $25 cover with a $10 minimum.
The Lineup with Susie Mosher; Brad Simmons, Musical Director.
The Birdland Theater, 315 W. 44th., 212-581-3080, https://www.birdlandjazz.com. $25 cover, $10 minimum. Every first and third Tuesday at 9:30 pm. Running time: approx. 2 hours.