Cabaret Review: JUST PLAY (Cady Huffman and Mary Ann McSweeney at Birdland)

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by Paulanne Simmons on September 7, 2023

in Concerts / Events,Theater-New York

When Cady Huffman walks onto the stage and starts singing, backed only by Mary Ann McSweeney’s bass, people may wonder just what kind of show they’re going to see. But only a few more minutes into Just Play, the audience at Birdland on August 31 knew exactly what the show would be: wonderful.

Of course, after their extraordinary “Take Me Back to Manhattan,” which gives the Cole Porter tune an especially rhythmic and jazzy interpretation, Huffman and McSweeney demonstrated their great versatility with other musical instruments.

Huffman applied her recently learned skill on the ukulele to sing Peggy Lee’s hit, “I Love Being Here with You” and the much recorded “Hey Look Me Over.” The uke added a touch of froth to both the songs and the show. But when McSweeney picked up her violin she gave the jazz standard “Sunny Side of the Street” a poignant foundation for Huffman’s full-throated delivery.

It was during the Pandemic that Huffman and McSweeney decided to create a show that would rely mostly on the accompaniment of a string bass. At first they weren’t sure whether they would sound more like The Pointer Sisters of Jimi Hendrix. They did believe they needed songs with a strong string bass line. But in the end their repertoire was quite eclectic, with the melancholic “A Very Good Year” eventually yielding to the sultry “Fever.”

Huffman and McSweeney have the easy, bantering relationship of people who have known and worked with each other for a long time. If Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello had been musicians, they might have been ”Huffman and McSweeney.” One of the funniest moments in the evening came when Huffman insisted on having fun with McSweeney’s name with “Marianne” and “Mary Ann.”

But all the fun aside, what was most striking about Just Play was the way Huffman and McSweeney re-envisioned so many classics. By the time they concluded the evening with their “experimental” mashup of “Forever Young” and “House in New Orleans,” it was evident that Huffman and McSweeney are two of the most creative and original faces on the cabaret scene.

Just Play Birdland, 315 West 44 Street played on Thursday, August 31 at 8:30 PM

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