In the musical husband-wife tradition of Jackie Cain and Roy Kral, and John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey, we now have ace pianist Eric Comstock and his wife, Barbara Fasano, who pop the cork on the 2011 cabaret season with a new act at the Algonquin called “Helluva Town,” a compilation of carefully picked tunes about the love-hate relationship New Yorkers have with the noisiest, filthiest and most exciting town in America.
A true New Yorker is one who knows everything that’s wrong with the city but wouldn’t live anywhere else. One of the best songs ever written about that subject was penned by the late, great supper-club icon Portia Nelson called, aptly, “Confessions of a New Yorker.” Nothing has explored the wonder or the hell of life in the Big Apple better. Inexplicably, they’ve overlooked it here. But if songs about New York and its overcrowded populace (“Some come to stare, some to stay,” wrote Sondheim) are a dime a dozen, Mr. Comstock and Ms. Fasano showcase some splendid ones. From Leonard Bernstein, Comden and Green and Cy Coleman to Harry Warren songs from the old Gold Diggers movies, the duo, effortlessly and tastefully supported by the brilliant and understated bass lines of Sean Smith, impart the meaning and subtexts of lyrics with humor and style, opening a new window to their hearts as well as your own.
Highlights: Frank Loesser’s reflective “My Time of Day” from Guys and Dolls and Marvin Hamlisch’s gorgeous ballad “I Cannot Hear the City” from the floppola adaptation of Sweet Smell of Success. Blending their voices like ingredients in a perfect soufflé, they rub a patina on the joy of two people so in love they can ignore the distractions of the city cacophony outside their window. Caveats: bizarre choices by Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and Burt Bacharach that have nothing whatsoever to do with New York. It’s nice to hear a New York celebration that nose-thumbs ossified standards like “New York, New York,” “Manhattan” and “New York State of Mind,” but of the 26 songs, a few are a waste of time, and a big chunk of the repertoire constitutes a stretch of pure elastic. Oh well. If you can refrain from analyzing the repertoire and just enjoy it, there’s a lot to savor. Where else are you going to hear disc jockey Jim Lowe’s clever and amusing spot-on spoof of “The Hamptons” (“Where the literati glitter and the glitterati litter”)?
The Comstock-Fasano team is a winning combo of sophistication and friendly accessibility that makes you yell for more. Their playful, reverent and touchy-feely affection for each other also shines through. Time well spent in their company makes you feel like you’re in love, too-even if you’re not.
rreed [at] observer.com