For one night in August, the Music Academy of the West (MAW) goes cabaret. On Thursday, August 12, musical director Gerald Sternbach and Marilyn Horne’s 2010 voice fellows teamed up with MAW special events manager Brooke Jacobs and her staff to create an intimate-feeling supper club that filled the Plaza del Sol at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort with the elegant and generous friends of the Academy. While a short portion of the evening is given over to an auction benefiting the Academy’s fellowship fund, the main attraction is a two-hour concert/jam session in which all the great singers come out to show their stuff in a popular music setting. There’s a set program, although maestro Sternbach, who conducts from the piano in true cabaret style, allows the students to juggle the order a bit, and it’s one highlight after another. For instance, Zachary Altman, who sang the role of Don Giovanni at the Granada just four days earlier, gave an outstanding rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Water.” Some other memorable solos included Marina Harris, in purple, doing “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” from the balcony above the stage, and Jessica Stavros’s clever interpolation of operatic passages into the nightclub classic “Fever.”
The fare was by no means confined to the familiar American standards. José Rubio sang Maria Graver’s beautiful “Jurame,” and baritone Joseph Lim and bass-baritone Eui Jin Kim impressed with a rousing Korean song, “Mountain Landscape.”
Some of the evening’s most exciting moments came when singers joined together in duets and larger groups. Karen Vuong, Marina Harris, and Deborah Nansteel made a perfectly appropriate near-riot of vocal exuberance out of Stephen Sondheim’s “You Could Drive a Person Crazy.” Marco Stefani and “the guys,” as the other male voice fellows were billed, gave a rocking workout to “Just a Gigolo.” And the duet on a medley of “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” and “Baby It’s Cold Outside” between Brandon Cedel and Julia Dawson positively sizzled with wit and verve. A final medley by the entire company of Amanda McBroom’s “The Last Rose of Summer” and “The Rose” sent everyone home with a song in their heart and one more reason to appreciate these musical visitors.