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BWW Review: 2016 Bistro Award Winner Sharon McNight Sets Out to Offend Almost Everyone and Mostly Succeeds at The Duplex

March 22, 2016

Having recently added a 2016 Bistro Award for "Commanding Cabaret Artistry" to her list of accolades (including a Tony nomination and Theater World Award for her 1989 Broadway debut in Starmites), Sharon McNight belted and growled her way through Songs to Offend Almost Everyone at the second of her two shows at the Duplex (March 10). If Mae West and George Carlin had by some miracle produced a daughter and Elaine Stritch was the child's nanny, she would have grown up to sound like McNight.

A performer since "19-[mumble-mumble-mumble]," the cabaret veteran is indeed commanding. Her clear, powerful voice fills even a large space like Gotham Comedy Club, where she belted at the Bistro Awards a couple of nights before. In a very small venue like the Duplex, however, one wishes that she modulated the act somewhat. After a predictable catalogue of racial and ethnic slurs to warn the audience that this was not a show for the faint of heart, McNight opened well with a trio of comedic numbers, including two terrific Tom Lehrer songs: "Old Dope Peddler" and "Poisoning Pigeons," which (like all the songs in the set) were expertly played by the terrific Ian Herman on piano.

No show aiming to offend would be complete without a jab or two at religion, and McNight does not disappoint. "Would God Wear a Rolex?" (Chet Atkins/Margaret Archer) was hilarious and surely one of the evening's highlights. Randy Newman's "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)" also worked well, expressing much the same view in starker terms than the Atkins/Archer tune.

"Your Son Isn't Going Through A Stage," Rick Crom's parody of the Noel Coward song pitched to the mother of a gay son still in denial of her son's sexuality, was equally poignant and funny.

Less compelling (even to a critic, like me, whose liberal politics mostly mirror McNight's) was Newman's satirical "Political Science." Using the 1972 song as a commentary on the George W. Bush presidency and the wars post-9/11, the song seemed somewhat out of place. The lyrical sophistication of "You Can't Eat Dog in Taiwan" (D. Buskin/R. Carlson/G. Wurzbach a.k.a. Modern Man) reminds one of a Gilbert and Sullivan song gone wrong, and McKnight's phrasing and enunciation was masterful. The sexually graphic "Merrilou" (Durwood Douche) was well received but beyond raunchy. A moving and original rendition of "I Never Do Anything Twice" (Stephen Sondheim) felt downright cleansing after the vaguely pornographic song that preceded it.

McNight has a strong, salty onstage presence, and she's a great raconteur. The material in this show would not resonate with everyone (not even fans of aggressive, in-your-face standup comedy), but Songs to Offend Almost Anyone reveals why the performer has enjoyed the success she has over so many decades.


Sharon McNight
Songs to Offend Almost Everyone
The Duplex, NYC, March 6, 2016
Reviewed by Joel Benjamin for Cabaret Scenes

There’s something kittenish about Sharon McNight, with her sweet voice. But, this is a kitten that shows her claws with gleeful abandon in Songs to Offend Almost Everyone at The Duplex in Greenwich Village.

She touched on religion (Margaret Archer/Chet Atkins’ acidic “Would Jesus Wear a Rolex” and Randy Newman’s sardonic “God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind)”, passing gas (“Wind Beneath My Wings” by Larry Henley & Jeff Alan Silbar, additional lyrics by Michael Greer & Sharon McNight), eating dogs (“You Can’t Eat Dog in Taiwan” by David Buskin, Rob Carlson & George Wurzback, aka Modern Man), accepting the gayness of a child (“Your Son Isn’t Going Through a Stage” by Rick Crom) and taking on one of NYC’s biggest pains in the butt, “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” (Tom Lehrer).

As good as she was in comic songs, she really shone in the outright sexy and/or touching ones, such as “Everybody’s Girl” (Kander & Ebb) about a woman fooling herself about fooling around. McNight’s “I Never Do Anything Twice” (Sondheim) was given probably the juiciest interpretation it’s ever had.

It was fun watching this cabaret artist shift from red hot mama to Mae West to tough, yet fragile broad. She knows how to shape her show and keep it real as she communicated intimately with the crowd at the legendary Duplex.

Her final song was the “good riddance” number we all at one time or other want to sing: “Goodbye and Good Luck” (Ronald White, recorded by Mary Wells).  Needless to say, Sharon McNight knew how to sing this one from her gut.

Ian Herman was more than McNight’s incredible musical director/accompanist; he was also a good buddy, therapist and occasional backup singer


Sharon McNight – From Moose Hall to Carnegie Hall

Rrazz Room, Hotel Nikko

June 6, 2011

Sharon McNight cut her cabaret teeth in the noisy, spirited San Francisco saloons of the early 80’s developing a large, supportive gay following that she pays homage to in brassy entertaining style.  McNight has been around and around the block, with a career paralleling and intertwining deep within the AIDS pandemic and its made her tough, deeply emotional with the bittersweet  joy of a survivor. Her banter is frank, off-color and very, very funny. Her stories, moving.

With her rubber-faced mugging, she’s like Betty Boop on steroids. Reminiscent of comic legends like Martha Raye, McNight mines gold with Mary Liz McNamara’s 2004 MAC Award winning song ‘Bacon”, a ode to vegetarianism that takes a 180 degree  turn to extolling the virtues of sizzling bacon.  Her re-working of the schmaltzy “Wind Beneath My Wings” becomes “Contempt Beneath My Feet” dedicated to the couples in the audience.  Her signature 5-minute Wizard of Oz tribute knocks ‘em dead.

McNight, no stranger to a great country/western tune easily delivers on Henley/Frey’s “Desperado”  and the cute “Your Sweet And Shiny Eyes” which evolves into a hula-laced sing-a-long. Randy Newman’s “Guilty” is transformed into a torch song sung with such conviction that it becomes a haunting self-revelation. If she’s acting, give her an award.  The show’s highlight for me were two Craig Carnelia numbers written, ‘The Kid Inside” written for the musical Is There Life After High School?  and the beautiful  “Just A Housewife” from Stud’s Terkel’s Working. Here Sharon shows the vulnerable woman behind the larger than life façade. Kid Inside is warmly nostalgic while Housewife is bittersweet  self examination at its finest. McNight sparkles in these quiet introspective moments that draw us in with their universal appeal.



After ringing in a new year, what cast albums released during the previous year are still ringing in our ears? Some are disappointments, mere curiosities, or items diverting enough for a "glad I heard it" reaction, but not something we pull off a shelf or play list more than once in a blue moon. Others are the "keepers"—the ones that continue to stand out from the pack and pack a theatrical punch that doesn't lose too much of its impact on repeated listenings. Here are those top ten cast albums released for the first time in the calendar year of 2008


Stage-Stars Records
Much as I've admired the albums of musical theatre scores put out by Stage-Stars Records, I never really thought I'd have them on a Top Ten list besting out original scores performed by more experienced performers and full orchestras. But bear with me. Though the stated purpose and marketing intention of this company is to present karaoke instrumental tracks and what's called "guide vocals" for the learning of songs and accompaniment for little productions and rehearsals, the singers they hire are often excellent. Whereas some of their albums are unevenly cast, this one is tops all around. They've outdone themselves and the youthfulness and enthusiasm of much of the cast works in favor of the youth appeal of the material.

Musical director Jason Wynn (who also neatly takes on the role of Flotsam) has managed to take the sparkly and varied score about sea creature comforts and "scale" it down for the learning-friendly clear accompaniment tracks and still retain the heart and joy and dynamism. Christina Bianco in the title role is appealingly girlish and full of wonder—just spot on. Like several others on the album, she's someone whose work I've admired in New York City cabaret shows over the last year or two. The coup of the casting is the company having enticed the bundle of caustic, sarcastic dynamite, Sharon McNight, cabaret award-winning performer and Tony nominee/Theatre World Award winner (for Starmites). The sassy and outrageous strutting performer is ideal for the showy role of the evil-but-hilarious Ursula, all cackling laugh and crackling energy. She bites into it like the juicy plum role it is and scores a major home run, making me laugh out loud at lines I know by heart as if they were freshly ad-libbed asides. Billy Ernst makes an endearing prince, and cabaret singing comedian Booth Daniels (of the team Booth and Pat) shows his vocals and theatrical chops as he chops up the seafood blithely and slightly sadistically as the chef in "Les Poissons." Stage Stars regular Kristopher Monroe is at his musical comedy best, turning in an especially fully realized and bubbly fun-filled, pun-filled numbers ("Positoovity" and "Human Stuff," a couple of the terrific new songs written for the stage version).

Like other shows in their growing library, the package contains a disc of the vocals (with personality-plus renditions that still keep one "on track" by attending to musical values and tempi) in addition to a second disc with just the instrumental accompaniments. In singer-friendly keys, the guides are generally clear and should suit the many wannabe little mermaids in school, community theatre and backyard and basement productions. A surprising choice, admittedly, I enjoy this rendition for its freshness and spunk and professionalism as much as I do the grand and glorious Broadway or movie versions.

Sharon McNight at the Metropolitan Room

Written by Jay Jeffries   

Sharon McNight may well be the funniest woman in the world! Judging from the gales of laughter emanating from the Metropolitan Room last night, I think that’s a safe thumb_sharon_mcnight_x.jpgassumption to make. In a delirious hour and forty minute show, she generates a cacophony of chuckles, giggles, guffaws, whoops and downright belly laughs. And that’s not all, folks!

“Gone, But Not Forgotten” is Sharon’s madcap tribute to the songstress/comediennes who are not longer with us but whose fame lives on and on.  Remember Judy Canova, the Ozark Nightingale?  Well, Sharon McNight summons her up singing “The Wabash Blues,” complete with yodels. She begins with “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone,” an apt theme for the evening, and a tribute to the late great Ethel Waters. 

Along the way, she manages to channel Madelaine Kahn channeling Dietrich singing Mel Brooks’ loony “I’m Tired” from “Blazing Saddles.” And later, hardly exhausted after tributes to Betty Hutton singing “Rumble, Rumble” and Ethel Merman singing “Some People” (complete with Merman’s trademark high C), she conjures up “Tired,’ the song which brought fame to Pearl Bailey.

But there’s nothing tired about Sharon McNight. Blessed with a pair of saucer eyes and a cupid’s bow mouth that keeps straying to the side of her face, she is a veritable bundle of electric energy. She knocks off Patsy Cline’s “Sweet Dreams” and “I Fall To Pieces,” and scats her way through Martha Raye’s jazz version of “Old Man River.” Now that’s something you won’t hear anyone else do in a cabaret act these days!

Before the evening is over, we’ve also been treated to Sophie Tucker belting “The Man I Love,” Hildegarde warbling “Darling, Je Vous Aime Boucoup” in her fractured French, and a brilliant imitation of Bette Davis, almost on key, croaking Frank Loesser’s “They’re Either Too Young Or Too Old” complete with a punch bowl-sized martini glass and garnished with a gargantuan olive.  All of this, of course, with the right amount of memory-invoking patter and outlandish ad libs.

Think you had enough? Think you’ve already laughed until your sides are splitting? Get ready! Sharon begins singing the plaintive verse to “Over The Rainbow” and segues into the entire Munchkin scene from “The Wizard Of Oz” where she manages to portray Judy Garland, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton and an entire cast of Munchkins, houses falling on witches, broomsticks flying through the air, waltz clog steps, and side quips in quick succession. It’s an amazing feat and she still isn’t tired!

Last night she closed with “Bacon,” a zany homage to her favorite food, but I’m so tempted to return to hear her sing Noel Coward’s bittersweet “If Love Were All.” Sharon is California-based so, when you get a chance to see her in The Big Apple, run, do not walk to wherever she is playing. She is the consummate cabaret comedienne at the peak of her game.

The wonderful Ian Herman is Sharon's musical director and accompanist

April 26, 2008

Reviews for "Red Hot Mama"


Reviews for "Sophie Tucker Songbook"



Reviews for "Songs To Offend"

Reviews for "Anthems"

Reviews for Sharon's other shows

Review for HATS