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Karen Miller and Rochelle Seldin

At The Garage : 1/8/99

Report by John Kenrick

It's a pity how the meaning of certain words can be muddled by overuse. For example, the word "triumph." Nowadays, we use this word to describe making an edible omelet or winning a football game.

Well, Karen and Rochelle's opening at The Garage was a triumph in the original sense – "an enthusiastic public tribute for those who have won a decisive victory." When the two ladies stepped up to the piano at 10:30, the room let out a roar that could be heard all the way from Sheridan Square to West 10th Street. It went on for several minutes, an outpouring of emotion that is rare indeed in the piano bar world. And the roaring didn't end until four hours later, when their late set ended. Whatever the trials of the past year, Karen, Rochelle still have the genuine affection of their friends and fans – and as always, on this reunion night they gave as good as they got.

The Garage is a well-established restaurant, but it re-arranges its furniture as well as its schedule to offer a new home for Karen & Rochelle's Broadway sing along nights. A piano and open mike are stationed on a raised platform beside the bar, visible to the entire room. They are still working out permanent lights and sound, but the temporary arrangement worked well. The program had lots of sing-alongs, from the inevitable Sound of Music and Wizard of Oz to 1776 and On The Twentieth Century. Karen kept things moving, and the songs, props and banter soon gave this opening night a warm, familiar feeling. One of the new twists in this gig is that Rochelle is there to perform – no waiting tables. (THAT only took twenty-two years!) Free to sing at will, she treated us to many of her standards and had the place eating out of her hand from the get-go. The set up allowed her to be more relaxed and vocally focused than ever.

Of course, other soloists were called up, and yours truly was honored to be the first. As one of Karen & Ro's longtime cheerleaders, it did my heart good to stand at the mike and see the throng packing the multiple levels of tables and the tremendous bar. It is a great space to perform in, and some lyrics tailored to the occasion went over well – but I have to confess I was as nervous as Karen & Ro. The showtune is an endangered species and these ladies are two of its staunchest defenders, so their return matters immensely to those who love this stuff. New faces as well as "the usual suspects" took the mike to help make it a grand party. Two standouts: William Marshall's glorious voice drove the place wild, and Leslie's slide trombone rendition of "These Boots Are Made For Walking" had 'em in hysterics.

I want to thank all those who came up to compliment this website. I know we've had hundreds of hits, but it was a thrill to meet so many of you in person for the first time. It has been my pleasure to host this page, and I'm glad it has helped Karen, Rochelle and their fans keep in touch during these months of transition.

If you're wondering about The Garage, stop wondering and come on down. The room has a classic Greenwich Village relaxed elegance, so most everyone can feel comfortable. The management handled the new piano bar format so smoothly you would think they had been at it for years. As a former restaurant manager, I was impressed. The bartenders and wait staff are first rate. In particular, Maryanne and Nicole at the bar made me feel at home in no time. I had heard that the food was good, but that was an understatement. The shrimp cocktail was superb, as were the mussels and other noshes that friends passed around. There is a nifty bar menu and more extensive selections at the tables (major entrees priced in the teens, burgers and sandwiches for under $10), so you can bring your appetite along with your singing voice.

Last week, Karen and Rochelle asked me to cook up a new lyric for Sondheim's "I'm Still Here." I tailored it to cover everything from their childhoods to their two decades in piano bars. They debuted the result during their final set:

We've been through singers,
We've been through Sylvia Syms,
And we're here.
Been through some zingers
Hell, we've been through Ruby Rims
But we're here.

They may have had "opening night" jitters early on, but by the time they got to this number the night was a clear success and they were having as much fun as their fans. Seeing these dear friends celebrating their reunion with a lyric of mine was a very special moment – and it didn't hurt that the crowd liked it too!

So lovers of the showtune can rejoice. The Miller/Seldin piano bar tradition lives again and at least one thing is right with the world. When everything wrapped up at 2:30, we had that tired but warm feeling of satisfaction you get when something you've worried about goes incredibly well.

Pretty much the way you're supposed to feel after a real triumph.

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