Elizabeth Ahlfors


Greg Purnhagen - Babalu-cy!

Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Purnhagen is Simply Delicioso in Babalu-cy!, his welcome salute to Desi Arnaz, the handsome bandleader best known as husband/television co-star to Lucille Ball.
Babalu-cy! is a well-crafted tribute heated by Latin lustiness and evocative music, those sensuous rhythms that inspired the conga, rumba, and Estafan, Prado and Arnaz. Purnhagen didn't miss a rumba beat in channeling the spirit of old Havana into the Metropolitan Room, with enticing interpretations, passionate vocals and dance movements. His patter was natural, selectively informative; this Cuban charmer worked the room effortlessly, connecting in both ballads and up-tempo, bringing everyone into the fun and romance.
From the Arnaz songbook, he included number-one favorite Babalu with bongos and second favorite Cielito Lindo, and of course, he included Lucy, with talented Georga Osborne's perfect Lucy shtick. Musical director/pianist David Cook provided provocative arrangements with seven caliente musicians. With or without a Mojito it's Ole! to Babalu-cy!

Babalu-cy! at the Metropolitan room at gotham

John Hoglund for After Dark Reviews

Recently, in one of the year's most ambitious and exciting shows, Greg Purnhagen presented "Babalu-cy! The Art of Desi Arnaz" at Metropolitan Room at Gotham. A thoroughly entertaining tribute to television trailblazer, entrepreneur and Latin band leader Desi Arnaz, the hour was a tour de force of night club hoopla that recalled niteries of Havana and Hollywood in the 50's. It was a show bursting with fully realized concepts, interpretations and musical arrangements that filled the room with musical magic. Purnhagen commanded all this with authority and commitment.
With prodigious musical arranger/director David Cook leading the 7-piece Latin band and acclaimed singer/actress Georga Osbourne guesting as a wacky "Lucy," it all made for a high energy hour of driving Latin rhythms that also paid homage to one of the giants in the television industry. Performing with theatrical flair and a sense of fun that was infectious, Purnhagen was especially effective on the driving big band numbers that recalled a young Xavier Cugat or Tito Puente. This was a demanding show with complex rhythms and salsa beats that charged up the stage. The audience was quickly involved and there was a lot of hand clapping and foot stomping to the incessant beat of another era. The spacious Metro room was transformed in the Copacabana circa 1951.

Purnhagen was fiercely passionate in his lively delivery of the songs and his patter. Too, his funny and informed anecdotes were well received by a wildly enthusiastic audience. A handsome baritone crooner with a penchant for all things Cuban, he poured a lot of soul into all his readings. He was especially effective on some wildly silly numbers like "Cuban Pete" (Jose Norman) and "Tico Tico" (Abreu-Oliveira.) Here, he showed a wickedly deft comic side as he slaughtered the revved up crowd with his antics, dance moves, straw hat and some terrific patter. Noting Arnaz's reputation as a Lothario and his penchant for all things sexy, Purnhagen showed off a more subtle, beguiling side crooning a romantic "A Rainy Night in Rio" (Schwartz-Robin.)

Throughout, Purnhagen made the point that in spite of his renown as "Ricky Ricardo" on the iconic "I Love Lucy," series, Desi Arnaz was much more than a sideman to his wife's slapstick antics. Arnaz was nobody's second banana. Among his many accomplishments, he purchased RKO Studios (where he first met his future wife), he was Bob Hope's conductor for his radio show, he was discovered by Xavier Cugat (a popular Cuban band leader who had a big career in the USA) and he turned the "I Love Lucy" sit-com into a legendary power point named Desilu that earned millions. The show was filled with juicy tidbits and colorful, sometimes poignant tales of the genius that was Arnaz. Purnhagen bit off a huge chunk of complexities with this show. He met the challenge in spades in this frenetic hour.

Jan Wallman
The"Godmother of Cabaret,"


Greg Purnhagen - Babalu-cy!

JAN WALLMAN for Cabaret Exchange

Dynamic, darkly handsome Greg Purnhagen has been making a name for himself in several cabaret venues for at least a couple of years, but I hadn't the opportunity to jump on his bandwagon until this current outing. Better late than never. Let me loudly announce, that this terrific show has made me a great, big, capital letter FAN!
This time around he has chosen to emphasize his Cuban heritage and honor Desi Arnaz, who became his idol, impressing and influencing him in his youth. With a superb band (musical director David Cook at the piano and six – count'em six – fine musicians), he burst on stage creating excitement from the first notes of "BABALU," music and lyric by Margarita Lecouna, and kept up the pace for the entire cabaret hour. Interwoven between songs like "Cuban Pete," for which he added his own conga drum to Chad Hochberg's drums and Johnny Durkin's percussion, to "Quizas, Quizas," including the English translation "Perhaps," and the sexy tease "Rainy Night In Rio," the popular "The Island," and more, he spoke cogently about Arnaz and his amazing career as a band leader and recording star, leading up to his meeting Lucille Ball, their inevitable relationship, their marriage and the birth of the smash sitcom "I Love Lucy."
At this point, Greg brought to the stage popular award-winning musical comedy performer Georga Osborne, and the two of them, before our very eyes, re-created the beloved 50s TV show. They hadn't much "splainin' to do" – the audience bought it completely. Ms. Osborne, an adept ensemble player, shone with her timing and humor as Lucy, without ever taking away from Purnhagen, definitely the star of the night. He continued the proceedings solo, with more wonderful songs, which he should put on a CD. Did I mention this guy can really sing? And that he and Director Leonard Peters, with an assist from the club's super talented tech director Michael Barbieri, put together a flawless show that never let down – or do I mean, never let up? I think those phrases mean the same thing. Whatever, you'll love it. Go see this show, which should play again and again. It's too good to miss.