CD Review: Rebecca Luker and Sally Wilfert, “All the Girls”

January 11, 2021

When Rebecca Luker passed away recently it sent ripples of sadness through the theatre and cabaret communities.  All the Girls, the new CD with Luker and Sally Wilfert, serves as a heartbreaking reminder of what a tremendous loss this was.  It is also a joyous celebration of two of Broadway’s finest voices, in solos and duets from the legit and pop worlds.

Their camaraderie is evident from the first lines of the opener, “You Are My Best Friend” (Will Aronson, Kyoung-Ae Kang, from My Scary Girl), filled with the fun and joy of just singing; it is a feeling that continues throughout the recording, even in the darker material.  In “Lovely Lies,” a straight-ahead character song from the great Jeff Blumenkrantz and Beth Blatt that serves as Luker’s first solo, a charming bit of country twang blends beautifully with her soaring soprano as she moves us from smiles to a tear or two. Wilfert wrings every laugh out of Susan Werner’s wonderfully acerbic “What Did You Do to Your Face,” with tongue firmly planted  in lifted cheek.  Together, the women make Stephen Sondheim’s “Everybody Says Don’t” a more stirring anthem than usual with their combined vocal power. Even more memorable is the duo’s miraculous resurrection of Funny Lady’s “Isn’t This Better” (John Kander, Fred Ebb) from soundtrack obscurity, finding depth and emotion in it where I had never heard them before.

In the center of the album is an extended medley called “Shows We Could Have Starred in Together” that turns out to be both too much and not enough.  There is a tendency in contemporary cabaret to string songs together with little or no thematic purpose and with just enough of each to get a nod or sigh of recognition while cashing in on old memories rather than providing us with new ones. This kind of construct should be reserved for piano bars.  Sondheim’s “Every Day a Little Death,” A Chorus Line’s “At the Ballet” (Marvin Hamlisch, Ed Kleban) and Wicked’s “For Good” (Stephen Schwartz) deserve full-length, complete explorations, especially when the singers are this good.  At its best, the section is frustrating, at worst it is a bore.

On the other hand, All The Girls includes a number of music director Joseph Thalken’s settings of poems that place this CD on its own special plateau of excellence.  Luker is stunning on “There Are Delicacies” (poem by Earle Birney).  This is a tough act to follow, but Wilfert more than holds her own with her haunting vocals on “I Have Loved Hours at Sea” (poem by Sara Teasdale).  Later on she is even more moving singing “War Song” (poem by Dorothy Parker).  Based on this and on Parker’s “Marilyn Miller,” which the two of them bring to bristling, stinging (and funny) life  as they tell the story of another Sally and her songs and dances, I do hope that Thalken has feasted on enough Dorothy Parker that there is a future album’s worth for Wilfert.  That is a gift I look forward to with great delight.

The CD closes with three extraordinary tracks.  Unlike the wasted medley mentioned earlier, Wilfert combines James Taylor’s “Millwork” with Peter Allen’s “I Could Have Been a Sailor”;  the juxtaposition illuminates both songs in unexpected ways. Luker has a ball, and we have a blast, as she heartily chews up every hilarious morsel (including a well-placed and delivered “f-bomb”) in “Not Funny” (Michael Heitzman, Ilene Reid) as she tells of the sad plight of a soprano in musical theatre never allowed to get the laughs.

The final track is another medley of the best kind:  the pairing of Patty Griffin’s “Be Careful” and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Dear Theodosia” (from Hamilton).  Rebecca Luker and Sally Wilfert fly to the heavens on joyous, heart-stopping wings of song  and they take our hearts and our tears with them.


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?”