Pianist/songwriter William Bolcom and singer Joan Morris, a couple for nearly forty years, performed a program of pre-World War II songs at Café Sabarsky. Famous for their devotion to period songs—from the Gay Nineties through the Great American Songbook—they devoted this evening to what they called “Weimar Era ditties,” beginning with a lovely, joyous “By Strauss” (Gershwins) and journeying through the darker side of Brecht/Weill—a very naughty ”Ballad of Sexual Dependency” (with English lyrics by Alvin Epstein) and the defiant “Barbara Song” (as translated by Mark Blitzstein), both from Threepenny Opera. Morris does defiance well, but was equally at home in the hilarious “Now I’m a Lady” (Gene West), originally composed for Mae West, and Bolcom’s ode to “Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise,” the vile dish served at a lady’s luncheon. To balance things, Morris sang “Supper Time” (Berlin), the tragic song about a mother unable to tell her children that their father’s been lynched.
This wise program was constructed as a delicate balance between darkness and whimsy, sometimes going over the heads of this particular audience. Somehow, “Nickel Under the Foot” (Blitzstein) and “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?,” about dire poverty, sung in proximity to the Rodgers & Hart hilarious paean to husband killing, “To Keep My Love Alive,” and the sexual double entendres of “My Handyman Ain’t Handy No More” (Blake/Razaf) didn’t elicit the intended responses.
Nevertheless, this pair gave their all. Morris’s voice isn’t as lusciously rich as it once was, but Bolcom’s ardent and expert accompaniment complemented her perfectly.
April 12, 2012