The New York cabaret hotspot Pangea has been an envied locale for a wide variety of entertainers since first launching as a performance space in 2015. One factor of Pangea’s appeal is its vibe of intimacy: The audience feels a genuine personal connection with the performers on that stage. In the case of singer Maria Corsaro, currently in the middle of a four-show run of her new cabaret piece You Taught My Heart to Sing, this personal connection suits the artist very well. Like many other performers, Corsaro shares many stories with the audience between songs: anecdotes from years of connections to the jazz community and the colorful, creative souls who inhabit it– largely through her marriage to her first husband. However, according to her bio, Corsaro herself only started performing as a professional relatively recently, motivated by her enduring love of singing and respect for music in general. If Corsaro is a relative newcomer to the cabaret scene (a scene which, incidentally, shows great reverence for longevity as an artist), it certainly didn’t show on the seductively lit stage of Pangea on Saturday, October 16th. She opened with the Desmond/Brubeck Take Five, offering the delightful touch of introducing her musicians and her show’s director via some new lyrics as she ascended the stage. The musicians, incidentally, are Gregory Toroian on piano (Toroian is also the Musical Director and Arranger.), Skip Ward on bass, and David Silliman on drums. You Taught My Heart to Sing was directed by Sue Matsuki, an award-winning performer who… well, knows more than a thing or two about cabaret herself!
Two factors, in particular, made Corsaro’s show particularly unique. The first was the selection of music. All of the songs in You Taught My Heart to Sing were originally music-only compositions until lyrics were added later– in some cases, many years later. An example is the mournful take on Turn Out the Stars, a 1966 jazz instrumental composed by pianist Bill Evans. Lyrics were added in 1987 by Gene Lees. Corsaro, incidentally, performs that song particularly well: As the audience listens to the music, Corsaro’s expressive face conveys the emotion of the song so perfectly– almost as if she is channeling decades of bittersweet memories from generations of musicians before her. The second factor which made the night so memorable was Corsaro’s vocals. There is a soothing and soulful undertone to her voice which is difficult to fully describe but is undoubtedly distinctive, especially when she does the first few notes of the oft-redone classic I’m In the Mood for Love/Moody’s Mood a capella. The song, which I personally believe is one of the most feverishly romantic arrangements ever composed, enjoys a simultaneously playful and sensual take thanks to Corsaro’s smooth delivery and backup vocals by Toroian. However, this singer can also hit those high notes as well. Why Not, AKA Manhattan Carnival, is a spirited pleasure, playing with tempos and adding some creative musical touches– particularly a fantastic drum solo by Silliman. Corsaro and her band do similar justice to In April (For Nenette), another song with music by Bill Evans.
One of the most provocative selections of the night was Zingaro (AKA Portrait in Black and White), a song with a lot of fascinating history. Corsaro’s and the band’s interpretation of this true musical gem is no less than haunting. Following a seemingly continuous theme in the selection of songs, the lyrics explore the enduring tyrannies of (What else?) L-O-V-E, but not without a musical expression of the oh-so-important emotion of hope. It’s a theme that continues with Morricone’s/Dunn’s That Day, from the 1988 film Cinema Paradiso— Corsaro’s favorite movie of all time. The song is a reminder that there’s always a possibility for a second (or third, or fourth…) act in the cabaret show of love… and it usually comes when you least expect it. When Corsaro closes her eyes and offers a shy smile at the end of this song, it’s an expression of that aforementioned hope. Chuck Mangione’s Feels So Good, a melody that has permeated pop music culture, gets turned into a classically appealing love-flavored confection, while Twisted (a song with music based on a tenor sax solo by Wardell Gray and lyrics by Annie Ross) was a funny, high-energy audience pleaser, with lyrics like “My analyst told me that I was right out of my head; He said I’d need treatment but I’m not that easily led!” Corsaro continued with an appropriately jazzy, lush version of the 1985 Chaka Khan hit Through the Fire, which, interestingly, was originally titled Chaka by its creator David Foster.
Walking Shoes, by Mulligan and Troupe, is performed as a bona-fide “good time” number– the kind of song you’d pick for a weekend jam session with your most talented musician friends. But if Walking Shoes made for a joyous time, Spain (Correa/Jearreau & Maren) was an all-out musical and lyrical celebration of everything that makes jazz (and music in general…) so important for the soul. Of course, there was an encore… I won’t give it away, but I will say that Corsaro sings it with 100% conviction. The big finale is also proof positive that talent, commitment, respect for the source material, and a few creative musical touches can even make music written in the 1930’s sound as fresh and exciting as ever in 2021.
Maria Corsaro with the Gregory Toroian Trio in You Taught My Heart to Sing continues on Sunday, November 7 at 2:00 PM and Thursday, December 9 at 7:00 PM at Pangea NYC, 178 2nd Avenue, Visit www.pangeanyc.com or call 212-995-0900 for more information. Also visit http://www.MariaCorsaro.com.