A Conversation Between Kim David Smith and Molly Pope

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A Conversation Between Kim David Smith and Molly Pope

December 15, 2017

Photos by Travis Chantar

Molly Pope and Kim David Smith join forces to ring in the New Year with No Thrill from Champagne at Pangea in NYC with two shows at 8:00 & 10:30. Joining them is musical director Tracy Stark.

After an initial question from us, we departed from are usual interview format and asked Molly and Kim to interview each other!

Cabaret Scenes: How did you decide to do a show together and why on New Year’s Eve?
Kim: Molly and I have been threatening to do a show together for some years now. We both adore Nöel Coward, Cole Porter, and Marlene Dietrich, and decided to enlist Tracy Stark in building our Frankenstein’s Monster program celebrating all three of these 20th Century icons to help kiss 2017 goodbye.

Kim to Molly:

When did you first encounter cabaret and what were your immediate thoughts?
Freshman year at NYU, I went to see my teacher Betsy Parrish’s cabaret show at Danny’s Skylight Room. Betsy taught song interpretation at Stella Adler at the time. The show was called Four Muses & a Musician. She sang “I Will Survive” in a middle-aged, domestic context and it blew my head open a little bit. I didn’t know you could take songs out of their existing context and deliver them from a different point of view like that. It was a big moment. It 100% influenced how I hear songs and entertain all the different ways they could be recontextualized.

What do you imagine your final cabaret/last night on the stage to be like?

Throwing all the cans of paint at the wall that I’ve never thrown. There’s a stockpile of songs and ideas in my head just waiting for the right show. Anything that’s left in there will get its day in the sun, flow-of-show and overarching themes be damned. I’ve never been one for filtering myself. I imagine there would be less than no filter. I always think of my shows as much like acts of communing with an audience as me performing for them. I’m in love with the collective experience. So there would likely be several sing-alongs and literal hand-holding. It’s so ephemeral, what we do, and I would do my best to preserve the moment in amber in our minds.

What do you think Cole Porter’s place in music is today? Also, how do you relate to his compositions?
On one level, the sheer lyric wit and complexity are lessons for anyone writing songs or interpreting them. For me, they can be mined endlessly for different shades of nuance and meaning. Anytime I start feeling like I have a set delivery for a Porter song, I find a different word or phrase to highlight. It never fails to expand and illuminate what I thought was a known quantity. His songs are so well crafted, it can be seductive to get a little lazy on the delivery. If you sing “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and hit the right notes, enjoy yourself, you’ll give a pleasant performance. But I always remind myself that almost all of these songs were written in a theatrical context, the person singing them “wanted” something and sang the song in an effort to get that something. So aside from the Great American Songbook status, he preserved a very specific style of wit and chic and musicality. Cole Porter songs are also one hell of an acting challenge. Take a song like “Can-Can” and spend the entire song honestly trying to get someone to can-can like your life depended on it. Maybe someday I will…after I memorize it. On the personal level, I exist in the bittersweet push and pull between elation and disillusionment that was his wheelhouse.

How personal to you and your life’s trajectory are the musical selections in No Thrill from Champagne?
Some are deeply personal to my actual life experiences; some just deeply resonate with me, though the content isn’t analogous to my life experience; some I’m injecting my personal experience as juxtaposition. For me, New Year’s Eve is more about taking stock of the year that’s past. It’s honoring everything that’s happened, deciding what I want to take forward into another year, putting to rest the things I don’t need. I only turn toward the future at the stroke of midnight. All of the songs in No Thrill from Champagne fit somewhere on that continuum.

Molly to Kim:

What’s your earliest memory of Dietrich-ness?
Of Dietrich herself, my earliest memory is of pawing through my grandmother’s great, big book of old musicals, and pointing to a coy-looking thing perched on a barrel and asking Nanny who on earth that might be. Then, when I was 15, my dad gifted me a biography of Marlene Dietrich, which thoroughly supplemented Nan’s book of musicals. As to “Dietrichness,” I’d been manifesting it from an early age, being drawn immediately to and inspired by women in film who looked determined, un-motherly, unapproachable, or downright evil. From Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty to Cyd Charisse’s cameo in Singin’ in the Rain, I’ve always loved predatory, confident women. And not just women using their wiles to get what they want, but human Venus fly-traps, consuming men and male attention.

Marlene rides the crest of that wave in 20th century imagery and pop culture, and does so with humor and some self-awareness. What’s not to like?

Do you wish you had been alive during Dietrich’s heyday?
Not really. I am too much in love with my life as an out-and-proud gay man to want to live in a time when one had to be closeted or secretive in any way. I feel as though, while it would have carried a sense of “normal” about it because it’s how lives were lived then, I would personally be exhausted by all that clandestine scurrying about. Furthermore, I don’t know what I’d do with the rage and energy I feel over homophobic nonsense (be it baker-related or otherwise) if I couldn’t shout it from the rooftops and feel supported by a community. I’d probably have had an aneurysm by now.

What prompted you to do your first cabaret show?

I was still at university earning a Bachelor of Arts in Music Theatre when I booked and wrote my first cabaret show. It was drilled into those who would listen by our head of acting, Kim Durban, that we needed to go out there into the world and create our own work, and not wait around for auditions. I took this to heart and have been making my own work ever since.

What do you hope the audience takes away with them from your shows?
My main hope is that they each fall desperately in love with me and send me lots of money afterwards. Failing that, I would hope that people feel like they’ve seen a part of themselves in one of my borrowed songs, and that they might each feel they’ve been connected with. Intimate theater is very special, and I’m just grateful that I have an audience patient and curious enough to part with their iPhones for an hour of Friedrich Hollaender, Kurt Weill, Mischa Spoliansky, and me.

Kim David Smith & Molly Pope
No Thrill from Champagne

December 31 at 8:00 & 10:30 pm
172 Second Ave., NYC
Reservations: www.pangeanyc.com