Club Review: Kim David Smith’s “Mostly Marlene”

November 7, 2021 | By | 1 Comment

Kim David Smith (Photo: José Alejandro Espaillat)

On the eve of Halloween 2021, I ventured into Club Cumming in the East Village. It was festooned with cobwebs and an errant skull here and there; hanging from the ceiling throughout the bar were multiple close-up photos of Janet Leigh’s head just as she is about to take her legendary shower. It set the mood for the evening. A machine caused tobacco-less clouds of smoke to waft from the stage throughout the room as a sense of anticipation grew in the packed space. The stage had been set for the spirits of Kylie Minogue, Madonna, and especially Marlene Dietrich to inhabit Club Cumming as the supporting cast for the evening. But the spirit that drove the evening, that captivated, hypnotized, entertained, and amazed with theatrical magic was that of singer Kim David Smith looking and sounding every inch a star. 

Smith’s Mostly Marlene was making a return visit with its exciting blend of Weimar German cabaret songs and the life of Marlene with sparkling genuflections at the altars of Kylie and Madonna; his deep affection  for them was apparent. Others have described his shows as trips back in time to the 1930s, to Berlin, to the decadent world celebrated in Cabaret. My takeaway is somewhat different from that. I think what Smith is trying to do is bring the Weimar style, decadence, and underground politics and freedom and sexuality into a 2021 that may not even realize they need it. Especially after two years of enervation and trepidation, the show was a welcome and thrilling respite. 

He didn’t look like Dietrich, he didn’t sound like Dietrich, but he captured the essence of Dietrich in every moment he was on stage. Slithering through the room at the top of the show, he paused briefly to sit up on the bar halfway to the stage and extol the audience to sample his forbidden and provocative wares singing Friedrich Hollaender’s “Black Market.”  This opening was so good, it was no surprise when he claimed, upon taking the stage, that he was “internationally fame-ish.” Amid all the wonderful songs and stories, he revealed a self-effacing propensity for puns as when he shared his desire to be named “Michelle Pfizer.”  Hollaender proved a well of inspiration to which Smith returned again and again, and it never ran dry, whether writing solo in “Falling in Love Again,” or in collaboration with Frank Loesser on the naughty “The Man’s in the Navy” (reveling in the sex appeal of a man in uniform long before The Village People were “in the navy”), or on a moving contemplation of mortality in a dramatic and emotional transformation of Dietrich’s trademark “Boys in the Back Room.”  Preserving the songwriter’s work would be reason enough to love this show. Impressions of “Erotica” (Madonna Ciccone, Shep Pettibone, Anthony Shimkin) flowed through Hollaender’s “Jonny, wenn du Geburtstag hast?” spanning decades and sensibilities. 

“Look Me Over Closely” (Terry Gilkyson) was a wonderfully sleazy counterpoint to modern day slut shaming. “I Should Be So Lucky/Illusions” (Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, Pete Waterman; Hollaender) provided a haunting, emotional elegy.  Smith’s dramatic delivery of Walter Mark’s “The Singer” gave a strong and defiantly melodramatic autobiographical closer to a triumphant cabaret performance. 

Throughout the evening Tracy Stark provided perfect accompaniment, at once classic and contemporary; her arrangements and underscoring achieved cinematic power. Mostly Marlene strikes me as the highpoint of Kim David Smith’s cabaret career thus far. He will be doing it again for a live recording scheduled for February 27 at Joe’s Pub. I am glad that this remarkable performance will be preserved, and happy that I will get to see it one more time. 


Presented at Club Cumming on October 30.


Category: News / Reviews / Commentary, Reviews

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?”

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  1. Todd Murray says:

    Beautiful and well-deserved.

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