Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Valentine to the Algonquin's Oak Room

"The trouble with this country is that there are too many politicians who believe, with a conviction based on experience, that you can fool all of the people all of the time."
Franklin P. Adams from The Algonquin Wits,

Happy Valentine's Day!

I hope you are having a creative day. If you saw my blog yesterday, you know about my day yesterday. Last night, I went to see The Broadway Musicals of 1946. I really had a great time. We parked in the Hippodrome Garage directly across from the Algonquin Hotel. It is sad to see the windows and doors boarded up.

Andrea Marcovicci

 It would be exciting if we knew that the doors would be re-opening to celebrate the "next chapter" celebrating its rich history. I have such fond memories of seeing KT Sullivan, Mark Nadler, Andrea Marcovicci, Jack Jones, Karen Oberlin, among many others here.
However, it was announced a few weeks ago that the new owners have no intention of continuing the Oak Room as a cabaret room. No surprise! The bottom line in today's economy is whether or not money is being made. It;s not about art and/or history. It is about the bottom line. They have to know that there is an audience, an audience that will bring in revenue.

When they don't feel that they have a money generating enterprise, it truly doesn't matter how much we desire to hold on to what was once
 was.


Most "new owners" of most establishments feel that they want to "improve upon what is" with absolutely no respect for the past or what once was. I bet that if you were to ask the new owners about Algonquin's famed Round Table, they would not be able to discuss it with the knowledge and passion it deserves.
 

Why should they? It's not a part of THEIR reality. Over the years I have seen many places that I've grown to love move on into that very special place that I hold for them in my heart. I miss the old Regency movie theater at 67th and Broadway. That was my favorite revival house. I was in the picket line with Tony Randall and Colleen Dewhurst and many others, as we fought the demolition of the Morosco,  Helen Hayes Theatre, and the old Piccadilly Hotel where the Marriott Hotel now stands. I have an aching in my heart when I think of the Five Oaks on Grove Street and what that once was. Those that were never there, will never know what magic that place held.

How many of you remember Maxwell's Plum?
Opened in April 1966, it was known for its "outlandish Art Nouveau decor – kaleidoscopic stained-glass ceilings and walls, Tiffany lamps galore, a menagerie of ceramic animals, etched glass and cascades of crystal – was an immediate hit, and before long it was serving more than 1,200 customers a day. I was working there when they closed. For those of you who don't remember, this was a jewel of a place on the East Side at 64th and 1st. It had gone through many incarnations in it's lifetime. At the time I was working there in 1988, the owner, Warner LeRoy, who also owned Tavern On The Green (also gone), decided that he wanted to infuse new blood into the place although things were going along swimmingly.
At the time, there was a hotshot chef who had received some fame in, I think San Francisco and Seattle, for saving a few restaurants in decline.  She appeared on the covers of Time and Newsweek. Mr. LeRoy was impressed and had money to spend! He flew her in, hired her, and gave her carte blanche to do whatever she wanted to do as far as the restaurant was concerned.
She shut the place down for a few weeks for "renovation". What she essentially did was eliminate more than half of the tables so the people would have a more streamlined dining experience. She also streamlined the menu. Maxwell's was known for its individual gourmet pizzas and its burgers. I have yet to have a burger as great as the ones I had at Maxwell's Plum. The new chef eliminated both from the menu! She felt that both were declasse' and if people wanted a burger, they could go to McDonald's. THAT was the beginning of the end.
A rich clientele and following began to drop off in droves. I remember one time Mr. LeRoy came back to the restaurant. After a trip to Africa ordered a burger, only to find out that they were not on the menu.I still remember the explosion as if it were yesterday. He insisted that she re-institute burgers to the venue. What did she do? She had her own ideas. She introduced lamb burgers to the menu! Practically everyone who ordered one, send it back to the kitchen. Mr. LeRoy once again intervened. Her solution was to come up with something a little different, a triangle shaped burger!
I remember Gael Greene in New York Magazine referring to them as the Bermuda triangle burgers. People were disappearing from Maxwell's Plum. The death knell has been rung!

In the documentary Carol Channing: Larger than Life, the film opens with Carol walking through Shubert Alley talking about the "ghosts" of the theater that still "haunt" the area.the Algonquin also has its fair share of ghosts going all the way back to the original Algonquin round table. Then there are all the singers who sang in the famed Oak Room from Steve Ross, who opened the room in 1980, the year after I came to New York to the last note was sung recently. . A few years after the room opened,  Donald Smith founded the Mabel Mercer Foundation and its offshoot, the annual Cabaret Convention. Mr. Smith, now 79, is in declining health and desperately needs our prayers.

Money talks, and unfortunately. cabaret is not a moneymaker. That being said, I truly hope that the Algonquin's Oak Room will not become a fleeting memory.
We can all bitch and moan about this unfortunate next chapter regarding the Oak Room, but how many are willing to actually step up to the plate? Right now, there are over 600 members of MAC, the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs. How many of those members would be willing to show up for a protest? Has anyone reached out to bring immediate media attention to the fact that this venue is shutting down for good, as far as cabaret is concerned? How many of the players currently in the cabaret field feels that this actually affects them?
I'm talking about the artists (both singers and musicians), the press (both critics and those that write about cabaret), other clubs, and booking managers. I personally feel that a major part of our legacy is being stripped away and we all need to step up. Complacency equals death. I've reached out for testimonials and they are included here. I hope you'll join me in helping to save one of my favorite venues. Otherwise, this will join the ranks of the Five Oaks, Eighty-Eights, Rose's Turn, The Persian Room, and SO MANY others!

The following are a few of the testimonials I have received:
A DREAM COME TRUE ~
In 1998, I put together a demo cd with  Paul Trueblood on piano and John Loerke on bass and sent it to the booker of the Oak Room, Mr. Arthur Pomposello. In those days, I had one dream .....and that was to appear at the Oak Room.  I sang the standards,  Pick Yourself Up, If I Only Had A Brain, Remind Me, The Folks Who Live On The Hill and a novelty song, Arthur In The Afternoon.

 I remember driving one day after I sent the cd and thinking " Oh my God.....Arthur In The Afternoon...I hope Mr. Pomposello doesn't get offended."   

To my astonishment, Arthur called me a few weeks later  and said he really liked the cd and would I meet to chat with him about possible bookings. My daughter LIz accompanied me ( because I couldn't get a babysitter ) to the Algonquin.  

I remember nervously sitting in the lobby looking at the Round Table and thinking of the history of this hotel. So many people came up to Liz and I and showed us Matilda the cat and led us to her adorable home behind the front desk in a little closet.
Leslie Orofino
Liz was fascinated by Matilda and the colorful stories of her life at the Algonquin. 

Then the very handsome Arthur Pomposello came strolling into the room. He has such charm and is a perfect gentleman. After a few minutes of chatting with Arthur I summoned up the courage to ask him how could I possibly ever reach my dream of singing at the Oak Room. He said, " Sing as much as you can in the clubs and I will come to see you." I did and he did come to see me at each and every show !

One day Arthur called to say I was ready and in Oct. 1999 , I appeared in my first show, A Little Romance at the Oak Room !! .It was a great success. The room was always packed and sitting front and center was my angel, Julie Wilson. Paul Trueblood was my musical director and John Loerke was on bass. The most touching and happiest memory of that show was at the end my silver haired handsome father,  Bob McGuire stood up in his tux walked across the room and helped me off the grand piano as I just finished Remind Me. He then talked with the audience and began singing Look For The Silver LIning. The spot was on my face watching my dad and then I walked up to him and we finished with Just The Way You Look Tonight. 

I appeared at this magnificent jewel of a nightclub for 5 years and did 5 different shows. I always remember how thrilling each and every time I would walk into that hallowed room. I could feel the warmth and embraces of the singers that had sang there through the years.  In Oct. 2001 we released the cd Moonlight Cocktails. This was right after 9/11 and I was so frightened to go ahead with the show for fear of audiences staying away. They filled the room ! Amazing. 

The last series of shows we did were in the fall of 2003 with Hooray For Love a celebration of lyricist Dorothy Fields. Ross Patterson was on piano, John Loerke on bass and Rex Benincasa on drums. As always, my darling father was my guest singer. 

-Leslie Orofino

*****
Francesca Amari
The first time I went to The Oak Room was in winter, 2004 to see my long-time idol, Andrea Marcovicci. I had taken a Master Class with Andrea that summer (Perry Mansfield) and we’d become friends and I’d been such a huge fan for so long. I was so excited to bring my sister for a wonderful night out.
Not sure how (maybe Andrea’s doing, maybe pure luck), we were seated at the small table DIRECTLY across from Andrea’s place on the stage. She was magical, delightful, and in the middle of one of her comments, drolly said, on mic as she stood looking toward me, “Oh, look, the cabaret police are here. Don’t report everything darling.” You see, during the week of workshops, I had taken notes on everything anybody said, and the teaching faculty was always razzing me about that. Well, having Andrea Marcovicci acknowledge my presence at her show at the most beautiful cabaret room, made me feel special and “included” in the cabaret community.  And The Oak Room is where that feeling of belonging started.
-Francesca Amari

Maude Maggart
As most of you have heard, Marriott plans to close the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel.  A petition (http://www.change.org/petitions/algonquin-hotel-dont-close-the-oak-room) is circulating to urge them to reconsider their decision.  I signed the petition with the following comments:

There are few institutions in New York City that mean as much to the essence of what makes this wonderful city the cultural and social center of this nation as does the Algonquin Hotel, the Oak Room, a supper club par excellence, and the historic lobby that has attracted countless numbers of people to drop in for drinks and conversation. The history of the prominent guests who have stayed there, the denizens of the famous Algonquin Round Table, and the legendary performers who have performed there are important to the cultural foundation of New York City. I am not aware of what plans are being made for the lobby, but to make significant changes to it would be desecrating an institution. The announced plans for the Oak Room are a poke in the eye of all those who have supported the best of the very special music that is the Great American Songbook.
Karen Akers
There are times when a business should consider more than just the bottom line. If you wish to be a viable and respected member of the New York City community, I urge you to reconsider your decision relating to the Oak Room, and assure us that the lobby will remain one of the most charming and appealing gathering places in the Big Apple. If you continue with your plans as stated, I and many others who have supported the Algonquin Hotel over the years will have no reason to continue to do so.
Joe Lang
Chatham, NJ
 I ask each of you to sign the petition to let the management at Marriott know how disturbing this news is.
 I stayed at the Algonquin Hotel many times. It was my very favorite hotel in NYC. One of the things that I loved most about the Algonquin was the weekly musical salon that was held in the lobby area. I played my violin for many of the salons. During the summer of 2009, the salons were moved from the lobby into the Oak Room. I looked at the schedule for the salons and asked if I could play for the one on August 13, and I was told that I could. I had chosen that date because violinist Martin Lass was the special guest artist, and I loved his gorgeous playing. I remember that the Oak Room was filled to capacity that evening. Julie Wilson was in the audience. I played "The Days of Wine and Roses" while the very wonderful Mark Janas accompanied me on piano. Martin played a magnificent medley of Hungarian gypsy melodies. It was an extremely thrilling experience for me to be playing in such a world-famous cabaret room and to finally meet Martin and his family. I'll never ever forget it! The room was so exquisite! I immediately fell in love with it! Not only did I have the great honor of playing in the Oak Room, but I also had the good fortune of attending three
Martin Lass
shows. I saw Daryl Sherman, Jack Jones and also Aaron Weinstein in his Oak Room debut. Each show was an incredible treat! It's for these reasons that I feel so terribly close and attached to the Oak Room and the Algonquin Hotel.
-Carolyn Ohlbaum 

 Thank you,to all the "ghosts" of The Algonquin for the gifts you have given to the world! More could learn from you.

NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT INTENDED.  FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY!

with KT Sullivam
Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!

If you've seen one of my appearances/shows, add your thoughts to my guestbook at www.RichardSkipper.com
           

Karen Oberlin

                             Tomorrow's blog will be...Celebrating Parker Scott!

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!


Here's to an INCREDIBLE day for ALL...with NO challenges!



Matilda
Now, GO OUT AND DO SOMETHING FOR SOMEONE ELSE TODAY!


Please contribute to the DR. CAROL CHANNING  and HARRY KULLIJIAN FOUNDATION FOR THE ARTS


TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS DAY
Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com


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2 comments:

  1. Richard, You are the best. Thank you for all you do for cabaret. Great blog. I love it!
    My Sandy Jordan and Friends Shows Sundays at the Algonquin brought in more money than the Oak Room according to the waiters ...They paid us so little. The waiters told me I was bringing in up to $5,000 in the lobby with my shows.
    Every Sunday they had to bring in more chairs and put them everywhere in the aisles for the people. Every week we had less room for singing.
    Eventually, they said we brought in too many people and it was their busy season so in Feb 2011 we were through and they said we were to come back in the summer. The waiters freaked. Told me they wanted us there... they said that they made a lot of money with us. They could not budge the powers that be.
    In the summer they said the new owners did not want music The waiters wanted us back and kept asking..to no avail...

    I wrote my documentary based on the comments from the wonderful audiences from all over the world who loved the American Songbook and Broadway music and our Sunday shows. We gave them the music they recognized and loved . Many told me that this is what they thought NYC would be about and loved all the singers I brought in.
    I began filming the documentary,now called, "Sandy Jordan's World of Jazz and Cabaret" in April of last year. We were planning to shoot at the Algonquin. We shot it at the Iguana and Iridium and Upstairs at San Martin...they are still going....hope they stay that way. Got as many people in it as possible, and writing another for the future.
    Now they say they want the Oak Room for a breakfast room???? How in hell does that interfere with performances at night????????????
    They charged huge music charges...How did they lose money in that room?????? Were those performers demanding so much that the room could not pay them????

    Some quotes from our audience and some photos & video in the lobby are here:
    www.newappleproductions.com/algonquin.html
    Thanks Richard,
    XOXO
    Sandy

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  2. Richard,

    I apologize that I didn't have time to write an excerpt for your tribute to the Algonquin Oak Room but I was overwhelmed--just getting back from Florida. If it's not too late for an addendum, I'll be happy to contribute. I'll say this: the one aspect that has been missing in all the tributes is the importance of my uncle Andrew A. Anspach. The golden years of the Algonquin cabaret was inaugurated during the 80s by Anspach (husband of my mother's sister Barbara, and manager of the hotel at the time). Anspach loved the Arts and, as a pre-teen, tap-danced (in top hat at tails} at local theaters in Augusta NJ. At Yale Unversity, he was involved in the Glee Club and Dramat (the Yale University Dramatic Association) and had the distinction of being the only Glee Club Manager in the history of Yale to sing off-key. Realizing his performing talents were eclipsed by others, he received his Yale degree in law and eventually worked for the Hotel Corporation of America. When he married my Aunt Barbara, he and my late father Sidney J. Colby managed the Algonquin, which was owned from 1946-1987 by my grandparents Ben and Mary Bodne. It became Anspach's goal in the late 1970s to restore the hotel's cabaret, which previously only lasted for a short span--starting when Greta Keller sang there in 1939.

    Anspach and his close friend Donald Smith originally discussed having Mabel Mercer in residence at the cabaret. I myself had the unforgettable experience (as a teen) of going with Smith and my uncle to see Mabel Mercer at the St. Regis. Eventually, the cabaret opened at the Oak Room with the great Steve Ross. I was there opening night (I actually lived at the Algonquin at the time) and enjoyed many magnificent nights there seeing Ross, Julie Wilson, Mary Cleere Haran, Andrea Marcovicci, KT Sullivan, and so many other greats. I was there when Michael Feinstein, Diana Krall, and other luminaries were launched. It was my uncle Andrew, a friend of Harry Connick's family, who brought Connick to the hotel. Sylvia Syms (a good friend of mine) phoned me the week before she passed away complaining about her allergic reaction to the Algonquin Cat (I think it was Hamlet at the time) and concerned about my grandfather, who was in the hospital. She and my grandfather Ben died on consecutive days.

    Those unforgettable nights at the cabaret will never be forgotten. And neither should Andrew A. Anspach's being one of its prime movers (Unfortunately, like Donald Smith, my uncle--who's in his 90's--is in poor health right now).

    Meanwhile, my fervent hope is--as the Algonquin cabaret made a comeback before--it may return, bright as ever, one day in the future.

    Best,
    Michael Colby

    p.s. the attached photo is of me (as a kid) and my Aunt Barbara Anspach outside the Algonquin.

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