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by Michael Portantiere

Each Day is Valentine's Day

  • Comstock-Fasano.jpg

    Each Day is Valentine's Day

    I would describe Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano as "The Lunts of Cabaret," except that they're much younger than my image of Alfred and Lynn. And I hesitate to label them "The Brangelina of Cabaret," given what's lately been happening with that union. So let's just avoid comparisons and say that Eric and Barbara are their own, unique selves.

    Over the next several weeks, this enormously talented couple will be offering all standards, all the time in two different venues: They'll be ensconced in the legendary Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, musically exploring the many sides of modern romance in a show titled This Thing Called Love, from February 9 through March 6; and they will do double duty on three manic evenings, performing in a Johnny Burke tribute as part of the 92nd Street Y's celebrated "Lyrics and Lyricists" series, February 20-22. I caught up with them last week at their publicist's office, and here's what they had to say.


    BROADWAYSTARS: Have you guys performed together at the Oak Room before this engagement?

    ERIC: Only for a one-night Noël Coward evening. But I've been there several times.

    STARS: I'm so glad that place is still open for business.

    ERIC: Yes, especially with things being how they are. Isn't that the line from Guys and Dolls? "Things being how they are..."

    BARBARA: We were just talking about roles I'd like to play, and I'd love to do Guys and Dolls.

    STARS: Which role, Sarah or Adelaide?

    ERIC: Sky.

    BARBARA: Yes, that would be more my temper!

    STARS: I missed the Nightlife Awards this year, but I know you guys won the award for best cabaret duo.

    BARBARA: It was a fun night, and we were thrilled to be a part of it. Bruce Vilanch was the host, and oh my God! He had a script, but he just kept going off. Every minute, something would trigger a story. He reminisced a lot about Reno Sweeney's. It was great.

    STARS: In your show at the Oak Room, you're going to feature songs by composers ranging from Cole Porter to Stephen Sondheim to Bruce Springsteen. Is it a challenge to perform such stylistically diverse songs and still make the program feel cohesive?

    ERIC: I think it's all in how we present it. If we set up each song properly, they will all seem part of the context.

    BARBARA: It also depends on the arrangements, if they're all of a piece. It's not like we do the Gershwin songs with a piano and a bass and then we add electric guitar and drums for the Springsteen. The fact that they're all shot through the same musical prism and sensibility makes for a seamless transition. I think it's important to include the music of our generation, but it's really no longer innovative to do that. When I put songs by Cyndi Lauper and Springsteen on one of my albums and mixed them with songs by Sondheim and Dorothy Fields, it was a little bit innovative then, but now every jazz artist is mixing the genres.

    STARS: What's the arc of your show? Does it trace the various stages of love?

    ERIC: Yes, but in a subtle way. Our opener is all about the search for love, because the last thing we want to look like is a happily married couple lording it over everybody.

    BARBARA: Because we're not! Our premise in the show is, basically, that we don't know anything about love.

    STARS: Can you name some of the musical theater songs in the show?

    ERIC: "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top" [from Oklahoma!], "Small World" [from Gypsy], "Tonight" [from West Side Story], and the title song from Guys and Dolls. In that one, we do some of the lyrics that Frank Loesser wrote for the sheet music but aren't in the show. They're from the woman's point of view, and people are always startled to hear them. They ask us, "Where did you find those lyrics? They're great!"

    STARS: What would you say are some of the most original love songs in your show?

    ERIC: Well, we might do some Yip Harburg songs. He had a great knack for not being literal.

    BARBARA: It's not an evening of the usual suspects; the repertoire is not necessarily what comes to mind when people think of an evening of love songs. We don't like to spoon-feed the audience.

    ERIC: "Surrey" is a great example.

    BARBARA: Yes, it's all about the coach -- but that's not really what it's about. It's a seduction. "Get in my car!" We also do "Joey, Joey, Joey" [from The Most Happy Fella], which is certainly not an obvious love song.

    ERIC: I think the classic songs can win a whole new audience, if they're well presented. Because they endure. The songs of Rodgers and Hart and Cole Porter are so smart and so universal.

    STARS: A big help in appreciating that kind of music is being exposed to it at an early age, but the chances of that are pretty low nowadays, given the current state of arts education. Maybe it should be done at home -- like sex education.

    ERIC: Exactly!

    BARBARA: We're really looking forward to this month-long engagement at the Algonquin. To make contact with the audience is always what's foremost in our minds. We're hoping that people come and have an evening of feeling and honest connection. There's so much out there that keeps us from having that kind of heart-to-heart human contact.

    STARS: That's the reason why cabaret will probably never die.

    BARBARA: Yes, because there's nothing else like it, when you're this close and somebody says, "I am now going to draw and quarter myself for you and your husband."

    ERIC: Night after relentless night!

    Published on Thursday, February 4, 2010

    Michael Portantiere has more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has interviewed theater notables for NPR.org, PLAYBILL, STAGEBILL, and OPERA NEWS, and has written notes for several cast albums. Michael is co-author of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: BEHIND THE MYLAR CURTAIN, published in 2008 by Hal Leonard/Applause. Additionally, he is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several major websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.) He can be reached at [email protected]

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