The Cabaret Scene in the Twin Cities

| November 14, 2017 | 0 Comments

The Cabaret Scene in the Twin Cities

November 14, 2017

by Oron Stenesh for Cabaret Scenes

I moved to Minneapolis from New York City in the summer of 2010, hungry for a change of pace after eight years enmeshed in musical theater, portraying Jewish character types of various flavors, from an immigrant leading man in Off-Broadway’s A Stoop on Orchard Street to a high school nebbish named Schlomo in a South Korean tour of Fame. I was also a veteran of The Duplex with a couple of signature O shows—one-man cabaret revues featuring song, spoken word, and the occasional dance number. There was The O Train, Olection, and The Big 3-O. (You gotta love a moniker.) While I relocated  to Minneapolis to go to business school, I had dreams of opening my own club. Minneapolis, after all, has more theater seats per capita than anywhere but New York; why not use some to view top notch cabaret acts?

Oron Stenesh at Town House

Soon after arriving, I happily found the Twin Cities Cabaret Artists Network (TCCAN), a volunteer network of over 30 singers, accompanists, and directors committed to creating a vibrant and active cabaret scene. The group dedicates itself to discovering and creating new venues and opportunities for cabaret performance, and works toward the goal of making cabaret a well-known option for the Twin Cities audience through regular salons and educational events.  It’s also just a great collection of artists: talented individuals with a shared passion for cabaret.

TCCAN sprung out of the Cabaret Conference at Yale, an annual 10-day immersion into the art of cabaret led by the late Erv Raible. In 2007, the faculty included Jason Graae, Sharon McNight, and Tovah Feldshuh. A number of Minneapolis singers were students of the Conference that year, including current TCCAN members Dorothy Doring, Erin Duffy, Rhonda Laurie, Jennifer Eckes…and yours truly. I didn’t miss a beat in connecting with these friends when I arrived in town to learn more about what they were up to with this TCCAN thing. “TCCAN offers a breeding ground for ideas,” suggested board member Katia Cardenas, “bouncing ideas off other people, finding inspiration through other artists’ work, and cross-pollinating with fellow cabaret artists.” I couldn’t have agreed more, and was inspired by the diversity of style, perspective, and material produced by the group’s membership in cool spaces around town.

Jennifer Eckes at Bloomington Center for the Arts

Jennifer Eckes performs in musical theater and opera, year-round, in the Twin Cities. Her rendition of Dar Williams’ “When I Was a Boy” was a hallmark of our Yale crew in 2007. I love hearing it every time I get the opportunity, most recently at Honey, a space in Northeast Minneapolis that supports cabaret and jazz performance. Jennifer is equally comfortable on a pop song and the Great American Songbook, and TCCAN’s members run the gamut in between.

Les Block at Town House

Les Block is a pianist, bandleader, and veteran of New York cabaret. He performs regularly with TCCAN, and can always be counted on to regale one with a great story, followed by a bit of the blues. At a recent house salon—an intimate, informal evening—I loved his performance of “When Do the Bells Ring for Me?,” showcasing his beautiful crooner’s voice while mixing in the emotion and experience of someone who’s seen it all.

Some TCCAN vocalists arrive at cabaret from the land of jazz. Sheridan Zuther is a fantastic jazz chanteuse, who performs all over the Twin Cities and is a regular at Jazz Central, an underground spot in Northeast Minneapolis that is a font of delightful listening opportunities. She also performed as part of TCCAN’s inaugural two-day Cabaret Fest last October at the Phoenix Theater in Uptown Minneapolis, showcasing her versatility with a show tune. I simply can not get her cheeky performance of “I Can Cook, Too” out of my head!

Oron Stenesh (L) and Joey Clark at the Town House with pianist Harrison Wade

For my part, I’ve transitioned my O-ness to the Twin Cities market! Minne-O-polis, and HerniO: Stories of Strains were hits at Bryant Lake Bowl in Uptown Minneapolis, an awesome bowling alley cum theater; cheap date night gets you two meals, a bottle of wine and a bowling game, all for $28. Of course, these new iterations of a one-man act would have been nothing without the watchful eye of my music director and BFF, TCCAN’s own Joey Clark. He is a man of range and heart, whether tickling the ivories for a friend, or delighting you with an entire set of Kurt Weill vocals, recently heard at a TCCAN monthly salon at Blanche’s Lounge, a 50+ seat cabaret room at the back of Town House Bar on St. Paul’s Midway.

TCCAN at the Phoenix Theater (Sheridan Zuther at center)

Through music as inspiring as it gets—from Charles DeForest to Dar Williams, and Kurt Weill to Bernstein, Comden & Green—I’ve gotten to know TCCAN and the Twin Cities cabaret community well. Its people, its venues, and its passion are all inspiring, and I’m sticking around! So don’t fly over. Pull on your wool socks and good attitude, stay awhile, and come to the cabaret, old chum.

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Category: Cabaret Features, Twin Cities, Twin Cities Cabaret Features

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