Karen Miller and I went to this cabaret show at 54 Below on 9/8. It was spearheaded by our friend Tom Toce, co-produced with Madeline Smith. The title is a play on the Harvard-Yale Regatta - - Tom (Yale, class of 1978) and Madeline (Harvard, class of 2014) built a show around a Harvard-based songwriter battling against a Yale-based songwriter. Plus all of the performers were either Harvard or Yale grads, performing songs by their compatriots. And many members of the audience seemed to have alliances on one side or the other. Karen had no such alliance, she was just there for the music. I went into it thinking I’d be on the Yale side in honor of my sweet friend Paul Stoller (who I visited at Yale when he was in grad school), but I quickly brushed that aside and was swept away by the whole enterprise.
Tom and Madeline brought in three unbiased guest judges: Rachel Dratch (Dartmouth), Amanda Green (Brown), and Bob Stillman (Princeton). They gave points to what they saw as the stronger song in each “heat”. Here’s how it went down:
Heat #1: Race of the Titans
Harvard: Leonard Bernstein (1939), “100 Easy Ways to Lose a Man” (written with Comden and Green) - - sung by Elizabeth Leimkuhler (2015)
Yale: Cole Porter (1913), “Love for Sale” - - sung by Benjamin Eakeley (2000)
Leimkuhler was divine, she totally nailed the saucy, brassy tone of the song. Perfect way to start the show. Eakeley was a little too tremulous and indulgent for my taste. He looked like Rock Hudson but sang like Ute Lemper, which is not a combination that I find appealing.
Heat #2: Race of the Millenials
Harvard: Zoe Sarnak (2009), “You Leave Me Blind” - - sung by Rachel Flynn (2010)
Yale: Ben Wexler (2011) and Mark Sonnenblick (2012), “All I Saw Was You” - - sung by Sam Bolen (2010)
The songwriter played guitar on “You Leave Me Blind”, which was a nice touch. Flynn was strong and inspired, sang the song like she really believed in it. “All I saw was you” was a sweet song about being on vacation in Paris but staying in the hotel making love the whole time, a really adorable song. Bolen’s performance was overly coy, the song would have been better served by a more straightforward performance. I thought of that great quote from *Hamlet*: “More matter with less art.”
Heat #3: Turbulence
Yale: Maury Yeston (1967), “Unusual Way” - - sung by Cicily Daniels (1998), with Malcolm Gets (1992) on piano
Harvard: John Forster (1969), “Codependent With You” - - sung by Jaclyn Huberman (2001)
Daniels was too full throttle, and it’s such a lovely song. I started to think that since the performers generally only had one song, they felt like they needed to give 300%. That’s not always the best strategy. Huberman was fantastic, and the song was one of the most brilliant songs of the evening. Truly hilarious, greatly aided by the old-fashioned way in which it was structured. There are few things that thrill me as much, when listening to a funny song, as hearing the audience howl with laughter and then instantly become silent, because they have to hear the next line.
They took a brief break to give the score: it was Harvard 16, Yale 15.
Heat #4: Hey, Let’s Cut Class and Write a Song
Harvard: Laurence O’Keefe (1991) and Nell Benjamin (1993), “A Modest Proposal” - - sung by O’Keefe and Rachel Flynn (2010)
Yale: Kim Oler (1976) and Tom Toce (1978), “After All” - - sung by Oler
“A Modest Proposal” was a laff riot, a song about people continually checking their phones. Many clever rhymes with “phone”, my favorite being “Patti Lupone” (who recently grabbed a phone out of an audience member’s hands during a performance). “After All” was another of the high points of the show. There were many singers with better voices on the program, but none of them were as moving as Oler. He sang with such sincerity and sentiment, I’m tearing up just remembering it.
Heat #5: Revenge of the Nerds
Yale: Richard Maltby (1959) and David Shire (1959), “Crossword Puzzle” - - sung by Lucie Ledbetter (2015)
Harvard: Matt Corriel (2005), “Three Cheers for Sheldon” - - sung by Barry Shafrin (2010), Sam Perwin (2004), Jojo Karlin (2005), and Jennifer Brown (2007)
Ledbetter was so tightly wound in “Crossword Puzzle” that I often couldn’t understand the words, and it’s a song where the words are crucial. “Three Cheers for Sheldon” was very funny, a song about three cool kids pretending to be friends with a geek so he’ll give them answers for their tests.
Heat #6: The Human Race
Harvard: Alan Jay Lerner (1940), “If Ever I Would Leave You” (written with Frederick Loewe) - - sung by Sam Perwin (2004)
Yale: Bobby Lopez (1997), “The Pregnancy Song” (written with Kristen Anderson-Lopez) - - sung by Megan Loughran (2009)
Perwin really bugged me, and that song is so gorgeous. I’m not saying you have to be Robert Goulet to do a good job with it, but he needed to smooth out his sound, he was all over the map. Loughran was hilarious, that song was a scream. It was around this time that I noticed that the great majority of songs on the program were funny - - 9 out of 14. That made the whole show a real blast, and it was a special joy for me to look across the table at Karen and see her laughing her head off.
We got another update on the score: I didn’t write it down, but it was somewhere in the ballpark of Harvard 24, Yale 30. The last heat would really and truly determine the score.
Heat #7: Cantata Ta-Ta
Harvard: Rivers Cuomo (2006), “Islands in the Sun” - - sung by Jacob Brandt (2014), Matt DaSilva (2012), Phil Gillen (2013), and Jonathan Stevens (2014)
Yale: Jonathan Coulton (1993), “Code Monkey” - - sung by Brennan Caldwell (2012), Jay Frisby (2009), Megan Loughran (2009), Kate Berman (2011), and Lucie Ledbetter (2015), arrangement by Zak Sandler (2008)
“Islands in the Sun” was a dippy song. The guys did a cute job with it, but here’s not a lot there. “Code Monkey” was great, it felt like a whole show in one song, about a guy who’s hired to write code at a video game company. Well done by the cast.
And the final score: Harvard 25, Yale 37!