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David Finkle Headshot

Come to the Cabaret Two by Two

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The best thing anyone looking around for light New York City entertainment with a hint of shadow can do right now is storm the Café Carlyle where the marrieds John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey are charging the atmosphere with a show called Lost and Found.

Examining the twin phenomena of losing things (like love) and finding things (like love), they sing together and alternately. He has an airy baritone that allows him to float over lyrics as if levitating; she has a smoky mezzo that infuses even cheerful numbers with dark echoes. He plays the guitar -- better to say he's a guitar authority on the same high plane as his dad, Bucky Pizzarelli, although he behaves as if his mastery is a throwaway talent.

When introducing songs -- or digressing from song introductions -- both he and she go with the moment's flow, riffing verbally as cleverly as he strums musically. He's likely to throw in an impersonation -- Johnny Carson, George Shearing, his father. She doesn't impersonate anyone but has no problem keeping up with the tit-for-tattle comic relief.

Pizzarelli graciously credits the wife with carpentering one of the most compelling segments in their couldn't-be-more-musical act: the medleys -- although what they do transcends the connotations of the word "medley" -- or what is now called "a mash-up" on the television series Glee. When Molaskey and Pizzarelli plait songs, something deeper and broader occurs. An example is their blending George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" with the Charles Fox-Normal Gimbel "Killing Me Softly With His Song."

Suddenly, there's a one-act play about the plaintive effect a musician's playing has on both himself and a rapt auditor. Then there's their signature -- uh -- mash-up of the joyful Lambert, Hendricks and Ross "Cloudburst" and Stephen Sondheim's diabolically rat-a-tat "Getting Married Today." When the hard-to-please Sondheim came by to check them out (she was in the recent Sunday in the Park With George revival), he apparently approved.

For their expertise at swapping smart remarks and for their smooth harmonizing (while pianist Larry Fuller, drummer Tony Tedesco and bassist-sibling Martin Pizzarelli jazz it behind them), the Pizzarellis have invited comparisons to other husband-wife teams, particularly this saucy set to Les Paul and Mary Ford, whom they're tributing with a reprise of "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams' and "The World is Waiting for the Sunrise." (There are no overlays of Molaskey's voice on this one, despite Ford's precedent.)

The parallel I'd draw is with now all-but-forgotten radio teams like Fred Allen and wife Portland Hoffa and Goodman and Jane Ace, known collectively as The Easy Aces. Ease is exactly right, and Pizzarelli and Molaskey radiate it in great, comforting amounts. But wait, Pizzarelli and Molaskey are a radio team -- their show honoring the Great American Songbook music is called "Radio Deluxe" and airs widely.

Victoria Clark and Ted Sperling aren't married, although in a professional way they sort of are. In unfurling The Vicki & Ted Show at Feinstein's at Loews Regency farther downtown, they just overlapped with the Pizzarellis for one hotsy-totsy week. Clark and Sperling are another example of a pair who've refined over time the wavelength on which they've perched. Indeed, they're celebrating 30 years of joint music-making since they met at Yale.

Clark is undoubtedly best known for her Tony-winning appearance in the brilliant Adam Guettel-Craig Lucas Light in the Piazza, but she's also a director and vocal coach and just happens to combine a supple soprano with girl-next-door likability. Sperling is now known as a first-rate conductor and arranger, but he also sings and was in the Titanic chorus -- yet another appearance with Clark before their triumphant re-teaming on Piazza.

This continuation of what's coming to look like a life-long collaboration had the best and less-than-best feel of friends getting up at a party for an impromptu entertainment. At its best, the juicy set showcased Clark's versatility. She could be naughty-but-nice in Irving Berlin's 'Pack Up Your Troubles and Go to the Devil" opener, brash and adorable through Stephen Schwartz's "It's an Art," warmly sentimental in "They Say It's Wonderful" and "I Got Lost in His Arms" (two more Berlin standards) and then slip into her 'Light in the Piazza" character for an imploring probe of Guettel's magnificent "Fable."

The duets with Sperling were fun, but that's when the friends-at-a-party atmosphere prevailed. Maybe the effect would have been better if Sperling, whose voice is serviceable but not memorable, hadn't sung while reading the music on the piano stand -- or was he reading the lyrics?. Still, the arrangements he wrote for himself, violinist Antoine Silverman, guitarist Brian Koonin and bassist Mary Ann McSweeney were consistently tip-top.

And here's how savvy Clark and Sperling are: They even perform "Someone to Cook For," a novelty love song written by none other than John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey.