“André De Shields Celebrates the 40th Anniversary of ‘Haarlem Nocturne’”

March 7, 2024

Haarlem Nocturne is not only a seminal show in the long and storied career of André De Shields, it is one of the seminal events in the history of New York cabaret. Teaming with his original music director, Broadway’s Marc Shaiman, De Shields mounted a 40th anniversary production of the show at 54 Below last month, but far from a look back at a historic artifact, the show remains as vital, as intelligent, as resonant, and as electrifying as it ever was. It is a tribute to the power of the original achievement that one could readily believe that the show was created yesterday.  

Kimberly Marable, André De Shields, Crystal Monee Hall (Photo: Lia Chang)

It is a heady mix of musical, political, social, and theatrical history brought to blazing life through the astonishing talents of André De Shields and his directorial vision. The patchwork of songs, observations, and commentary coalesce into a whole that is far more than the sum of its parts. The three remarkable women with whom he surrounds himself are vital to the show’s success and they are given multiple chances to shine, both together and individually….and shine they do. Kimberly Marable, Crystal Monee Hall, and Freida Williams (who was in the original 40 years ago) embody all that is great about the female voice in soul, R&B, and pop music from the glorious blend of voices in the girl group, to the searing, soaring solo work of the diva. Each element could warrant and sustain a show of its own; their combined power in this performance is almost overwhelming. 

1984 Latin Quarter promotion.

The song choices are wide ranging and perfectly on point. Shaiman provides not only brilliant work on the piano but two terrific songs as well—“New York Is a Party” (with Robert I), and the extraordinary “Love’s Sad Glance” (w/ former Harlette, Ula Hedwig). One of the best of cabaret’s songwriters back in the day, Dennis Andreopoulas gets a welcome callback with “Heads or Tails” which provides De Shields with one of his most dynamic showstoppers. An inspired medley of Eurythmics’ classic, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” (Annie Lennox, David A. Stewart) and “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” (William Weatherspoon, Paul Rise, James Dean) soars to the heavens with its passionate vocals. A delightful, and personal, history of popular dance is sung by De Shields and Williams as they give the audience samples of each move again, and again, and again. Then the trio of “back-ups” take us for a magical ride through the girl group sound. 

De Shields w/ Freida Williams, Kimberly Marable, Crystal Monee Hall (Photo: Lia Chang)

Stephen Sondheim makes a surprise appearance in the Anniversary Edition as De Shields and Shaiman celebrate their close and lasting relationship with “Old Friends” from Merrily We Roll Along. After some pointed jabs at the lack of diversity on Broadway in general, and in Sondheim in particular, Shaiman goes deep, offering a slow, moving reflection before the tempo changes to an insistent, pulsing rhythm as De Shields takes over before they join voices to end it on a high emotional note. The show’s closer, “L.O.V.E.,” shows off the star’s impressive songwriting ability as well. 

At the end, while the audience leapt to its feet as one in appreciation, it became clear that mere applause was simply not an adequate response to the timeless work of art they had just witnessed. It is all too easy to bandy about words like “genius,” “legend,” and “masterpiece,” but in rare instances they are the only descriptions that can even begin to capture the experience. André De Shields and Haarlem Nocturne are deserving of all those and more.  He, and it, are extraordinary!


Presented at 54 Below, 254 W. 54th St., NYC, February 21, 22, 23, 24, 2024.


About the Author

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”