Sammy Velvet (aka Scott Stiffler)

August 14, 2009

Don’t Tell Mama ~ August 9, 10

You know how some shows are so bad they’re good? This is not one of them. How do you solve a problem like “Sammy’s At the Palace…at Don’t Tell Mama”? Is Sammy Velvet, aka Scott Stiffler, just another vocally-challenged lounge crooner with a dream of playing the Palace like Judy and Liza did? He dresses the part — a wannabe headliner, duded up in a faded royal blue velvet smoking jacket with brown cotton pants. Like his get-up, he has seen better days and I haven’t even mentioned those long blonde Dynel locks.

Yet, in a bizarre way, “Sammy’s At the Palace…at Don’t Tell Mama” is a tribute show. Sammy Velvet — he always refers to himself by his whole name in the third person — reveals that after eight years, he was inspired to return to New York cabaret after seeing “Liza at the Palace!” last December. While most of his songs were originals, he delivered some of Minnelli’s selections, including “Teach Me Tonight” (Gene DePaul-Sammy Cahn), Kander-Ebb’s, “Maybe This Time” and a frenetic “The World Goes ‘Round.” Obviously overcome by his own “empowering” rendition of Walter Marks’ “I Gotta Be Me,” Sammy Velvet pondered, “Where do we go from heaven?”

Unfortunately, he brought nothing new to his Minnelli take. While not impersonating her, he did let his notes wander a bit undisciplined and he became frenzied with those arm gestures, the beckoning Cabaret fingers and buckets of tearful gratitude. We’ve seen this done before, and better. Admittedly, we’re never led to expect anything more here than a send-up, but this one went sour.

Adding extraneous diversions about getting, losing, and regaining a MAC Award, he had plenty of chances to dump all the clichés of smarmy pretension into his performance. Sammy Velvet sings at one full volume with no shading, no flavoring, no phrasing, same rhythm. Thankfully, the show was kept to an hour because it would be tiresome to go on any further. Even S.V. himself took a little break mid-show, leaving his erstwhile pianist, Grey Siemann aka Beau Mansfield, to display his piano prowess. I did not time Siemann’s original composition, but it felt endless, something about coming from Norman, Oklahoma, meandering into a salute to those self-involved, introspective, dead-weight songs occasionally endured in cabaret shows. Just when you thought it had finally ended, pause, there was more.

Back onstage, Sammy Velvet wanted to “go back to the ’60’s and Gay Paree.” Weren’t they actually decades apart? No matter, French is French to Sammy Velvet and this was a segue into his own tacky spin on Charles Aznavour’s “What Makes a Man a Man.”

Sammy Velvet itches for the Palace but also yearns for love and world peace. After “I’m My Own Best Friend” (Kander-Ebb), he reaches out to touch the heart with inspirational lines like, “…when you leave this warm paradise of cabaret/and you go back out into Manhat-ton…town.” If you want to spend an hour and a couple of dollars here, take some advice and make it another Old-Fashioned, please.


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