Top-tier crooners set to trumpet great American songbook in S.F.

"What good is sitting alone in your room?"

That's the question Sidney Myer asks every day of his tune-filled life. With a passion for the great American songbook, the New York-based singer never stops urging others to come to the cabaret.

Next week, Myer brings to the Bay Area his unique take on the songbook, as he joins 11 other top-tier crooners for "An Evening of American Cabaret" at San Francisco's Herbst Theater. Joining Myer at 7:30 p.m. Monday are singers Andrea Marcovicci, Craig Rubano and homegrown favorites Wesla Whitfield and Mike Greensill.

"Everyone will do several songs," says Myer. "It'll be like the old 'Ed Sullivan Show,' a parade of people with something new every few minutes. It's a lovely sample tray of the talent out there."

Few others are as well-positioned to know about that talent as Myer. Besides his performing career, Myer's "day job" is managing the popular Manhattan cabaret club Don't Tell Mama, a must-play destination for cabaret artists.

Immersed as he is in cabaret culture, Myer is the first to acknowledge the impact Jewish Americans have had on the art form, from George Gershwin to Michael Feinstein.

"Jewish culture has been infused with so much feeling," he says, "whether it's great suffering, humor or joy. We still carry all those elements with us, and if someone has an artistic bent, he or she can certainly tap into this great well of feeling. As a Jewish man, it's certainly relevant in my artistic expression."

Myer grew up in a Conservative home in small-town Pennsylvania. A proud product of the Hebrew school/bar mitzvah/confirmation circuit, he credits his Jewish education as a great positive force in his life. Equally important was his exposure to the great musical artists of the last century, many of whom he saw perform live in concert. Among them: Josephine Baker, Ethel Merman, Red Skelton, Marlene Dietrich, Lena Horne, Judy Garland, Pearl Bailey and Barbra Streisand. "The world will never see their likes again," says Myer.

While he took to standard American popular music from an early age ("I never went through a rock phase," he says), Myer didn't make a serious attempt at performing until his college days. While making early inroads as a cabaret performer, he also found work in nightclub management, and has always balanced the two.

Having started out as a singing waiter, he later managed New York supper club Panache for several years before moving over to Don't Tell Mama in 1989. Working steadily on both sides of the stage has been a source of never-ending joy for Myer.

"So many people have day jobs unrelated to their art: a law office, selling ties at Macys. The work usually has nothing to do with their dream. In my case, I didn't leave my day job to go into show business; show business came to me."

Myer is the first to admit he doesn't possess the most dulcet of singing voices. That's why he found for himself a niche of cabaret uniquely suited to his style and sense of humor, specifically musical comedy. "I'm not a conventional singer," he says. "I was always off the beaten path, going after novelty, vaudeville or comic songs from musical theater. This way I do songs a bit more unfamiliar."

His repertoire includes lesser-known chestnuts like Johnny Mercer's "Jamboree Jones," "I'm a Bad Bad Man" (from "Annie Get Your Gun") and a Kander and Ebb gem called "Sarah Lee." Notes Myer: "It shows my deference for the great songs that I think they should be done by people who do them justice. I'm sure Mr. Gershwin and Mr. Porter would thank me very much."

One thing those late masters would surely fret over is the dearth of outlets for the great music of the past. With MTV-style pop culture dominating radio and TV, there's not much room for singers of standards. But Myer sees hope in the success of young artists like Diana Krall, Harry Connick Jr., Jane Monheit and others who follow in the cabaret tradition.

"There will always be a need for it," says the singer. "In an increasingly impersonal age, people seek out the cabaret experience: seeing a live person alone on a stage with a spotlight and a piano, moving you to laughter and tears."

"An Evening of American Cabaret" shows 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Herbst Theater, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F. Tickets: $25-$75. Information: (415) 392-4400.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.