On-the-Job Rob’s Random Ruminations & Reportage
March 28, 2016
By Rob Lester for Cabaret Scenes
Caba-Radar—(noun) Definition: Stuff noticed on the radar screen seen in one guy’s cabaret world, worthy of more than a blip.
Welcome to my first column for Cabaret Scenes’ website. Don’t call it a “blog.” I hate that word. Call it a blah-blah-blahg if you must. At the moment it’s less a blog than a blob seeking its eventual shape. But I resisted calling it “The Rob Blob.” As a longtime observer and attendee on the New York City (mostly) cabaret scene and with Cabaret Scenes, I’ve been asked by our Editor-in-Chief Frank Dain to make him content with content exclusive to the web. Hopefully, it will also lure a few of you looking for this and that and chit-chat and chewing the fat to come more often to our site to also pick up on our “Picks” and review our reviews.
As Rob, the regular reviewer, it is not my intention here to be redundant and write much in a review style and I don’t want to merely be Rob the reporter rattling off the 411 on shows you can already see listed in the calendar pages of our magazine or on the calendar pages of venues’ web sites.
As March marches along and melts into April, there is plenty to be happily caba-radiant about as Cabaret Month ends. Monday, March 28 brings another edition of Robin’s Nest at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, nestled in the West Bank Café on West 42nd Street. Hosted by singer Robin Westle (rhymes with “nestle”), the variety show series is a benefit for HelpUsAdopt.org, a group that raises funds to help those who might otherwise face major challenges to bring a child into their lives. Each potential parent and adoptee comes with a story and you hear some heart-rending ones in the interviews Robin deftly conducts between musical numbers and other performances. Robin, whose heart and enthusiasm are huge, is an adoptive mom of adult children, finds folks with great tales. What better tie-in to spring than the return of this Robin? Special guest is Carole Demas whose résumé includes her recent foray into cabaret after theater work (a history-making Broadway role as the original Sandy in Grease, for one credit) and the kids’ TV fave The Magic Garden which she’s working on preserving. The Garden blooms again! What better image for spring? Add a little refreshing warm weather “Lemon”-ade with Valerie Lemon and others, including a new flower in the cabaret garden: my new YouTube favorite, Sage Melcher—a refreshing hope for the future, a finalist in the high school competition for singers of standards spearheaded by Michael Feinstein.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave (and I know living accommodations in Manhattan are difficult to come by), you know about the MAC Awards Show presented by the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs on Tuesday, March 29 at BB King on West 42 Street. Ticket-buying procrastinators should note that it will cost more if you buy your seat at the door, so that’s a heads-up to buy ahead by heading to www.MACnyc.com in time to buy ahead and choose the price level you like. For those of us who go pretty regularly to cabaret shows, it’s a good wrap-up to the past year all in one place in one night in one mega-show, and to see all those faces from the postcards in the flesh, hoping and hello-ing and hugging. For those newer to cabaret or those who attend more occasionally, it’s a terrific way to get to know who’s who and whose show you might want to see, with the generous sampling of performing winners and special guests. It’s the thirtieth anniversary and indications are that it will be a special and warm night. (That isn’t a meteorological prediction.)
Our magazine/web site’s longtime contributing photographer, the walking Wikipedia of cabaret trivia and all-around unique individual, Maryann Lopinto, is getting the Board of Directors Award for her years of volunteer work and—in rain, snow, sleet and heat— to show after show, year after year, lugging her various cameras around to give and get her best shot in the dark, and she keeps thing moving with the videos she provides. I caught up with her shortly after she snapped and clapped at a cabaret show she was especially enthused about, the latest edition of the rollicking revue Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway. “It’s a great mix of Broadway and cabaret,” she remarked, praising the series that looks at past musicals (including those with short runs but great songs in their scores). Hearing a ballad from a flop rescued by cabaret singers and recording artists makes her smile. She told me many people might know the song, but would likely be totally unfamiliar with the show it came from. In the case of “I’ll Only Miss Her When I Think of Her,” she not only knows song and source, but remembers seeing the musical in question in the 1960s: Skyscraper. Past MAC President/MAC winner/performer/theater maven Ritzel provides juicy tidbits and accompanies his bevy of singers, sometimes including current MAC Prez/Awards show director and a nominee himself, Lennie Watts.
She especially enjoyed seeing game guy Lennie in a blonde wig as the female gym teacher in Carrie (Maryann rattles off a series of cabaret names associated with the musical, including an understudy). She also mentioned loving the chance to see usual cut-up Sidney Myer get a chance at nailing a serious ballad in this recurring series nominated for an award Tuesday, too.
To say Maryann is sort of tickled pink with being named for this award is the understatement of the cabaret year. “I’m so thrilled and honored to be chosen for an award,” she emphasized, making the distinction between this kind of route as opposed to performers, directors, songwriters, etc. who must submit themselves and compete for votes against their peers. Maryann—whose history includes also writing reviews and producing and hosting her own benefit series called Cabaret on the Record—has been documenting the MAC Awards shows since the beginning. Just ask her and she’ll show you the pictures. All 527,000 of them. But her following of performers goes back before that, to her seeing fellow Erasmus Hall High School alumna Barbra Streisand in her Broadway debut and exchanging letters, seeing The Beatles at Shea Stadium, being the President of the Jo Ann Worley Fan Club, working for the Lyrics & Lyricists series, and even babysitting for some of cabaret and the theater’s stars and helping with their publicity. However, it is not true that she discovered Edith Piaf singing in a French bakery in the Bronx and encouraged her to give up pushing croissants and take up music professionally.
If Miss Lopinto can scrape herself off Cloud 9 after the awards, her cabaret-going takes her the next night, March 30, to Feinstein’s/54 Below to see Carol Woods.
Hillary Clinton ends her busy 31-day period of Cabaret Month March with an appearance at The Duplex in Greenwich Village. No, not the real Hillary, but a return visit with the next best—or maybe better, to some—thing, Kelley Karel. What’s next: Trump at The Triad? Actually, that 72nd street venue has something more endearing and encouraging as April begins: When I Grow Up Cabaret hosted by celebrity kid performers and singers between the ages of 7 and 18, raising money for the non-profit organization Education Through Music, with two shows on April 2 and another on April 4.
Rescheduled from late March and magically moved to April 2 is another in the nostalgic-soaked but feisty Piano Bar Reunion shows at Iridium on Broadway at 51 Street, produced by ScoBar Entertainment, with Kelly Wohlford, John McMahon, Aaron Lee Battle, Phyllis Pastore and more—on the stage, but no tip jar in sight.
I’m always on the lookout for a new cabaret event popping up on the ol’ radar that is unlikely to be on YOUR radar because it is not at a cabaret club. So here’s one for you: a new series of variety shows called Over Share Cabaret (the aptly descriptive subtitle of the series is “Sex, Love and Show Tunes”). Holding forth—or bursting forth—at the age-old Greenwich Village theater, the 13th Street Repertory, the new variety show series comes at you one weekend per month with a Saturday and Sunday evening show. Mel Delancey is the non-shy singing host where anything goes, apparently, in the theme of getting participants to spill very personal stuff between songs. If hearing singers blithely dish and “dis” discussing their sexcapades and sex organs doesn’t seem vile or juvenile to you, you may find the over-sharing daring or amusing. You can’t say they don’t subscribe to truth in advertising in the subtitle, with that and love songs from Broadway and off-Broadway scores old and recent. I only saw one episode, so I don’t know if it’s typical, but it was a mixed bag in March with the weekend of April 23 the next date. Norma Jeanne Curley, who played piano at Don’t Tell Mama in the 1980s and more recently there accompanying Collette Black’s cabaret students, cheerily accompanies the various singers.
Parting (Food for) Thought:
“If you can handle a nightclub audience, you can handle anything.” — Judy Holliday