Cabaret Impresario Arthur Pomposello Has Died

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Arthur Pomposello, November 19, 1935 – May 6, 2021, passed away at the age of 85 due to complications from Covid-19. Cabaret Scenes ran a feature story on Arthur in our January/February 2015 issue. Here it is in its entirety.

Arthur Pomposello
Pompie’s Return
By Peter Haas

At the recent Cabaret Convention, at intermission, many attendees left their seats to greet a familiar, imposing figure, standing in the aisle. “Where have you been?,” they asked him. ”What have you been up to?” “When are you coming back to producing shows?

The gentleman pulled out a flyer. It announced an upcoming evening at Merkin Concert Hall to star Andrea Marcovicci, Eric Comstock, Barbara Fasano and Jeff Harnar. The show, to benefit the not-for-profit charitable organization, Heartbeats of the World, had two co-producers. One was Heartbeats itself. The other was the man in the aisle: Arthur Pomposello. His emphatic reply: “I am back!”
Arthur, nicknamed “Pompie,” had been a strong force in the cabaret community: for 18 years, he was manager of the Algonquin Hotel’s Oak Room. The space was recognized as “cabaret central” from its opening in 1980 to its closing in 2012. Marcovicci, who headlined there for 25 years, likened the atmosphere to “moving back in time… people walking in were already prepared for listening to the music you sing.

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” Writer James Gavin called it “a church of pre-rock-‘n’-roll American popular song.”
Arthur was a natural to run the room. Born in New York’s Harlem (“the neighborhood’s Jefferson Pool was my Hamptons,” he says), he worked as a young man at soda fountains and a butcher shop, then created Pompie’s Pushers, to sell gourmet food from pushcarts—including in front of Bloomingdale’s. Arthur grew up with music as well: his father was a jazz guitarist, and Arthur, as a boy, often went to his father’s rehearsals and shows.
“I learned what songs were good, which were poor,” he recalls, “and what songs should follow what songs.”
Years later, Arthur began working in the Algonquin’s Oak Bar as a bartender, then was promoted to maître d’ for the Rose Room. “I heard word that the hotel was planning to close the Oak Room, but I knew I could make it popular. Margaret Whiting was my angel: she went to the management to back me up, saying ‘That’s what you need for this room: Arthur!’ ‘Okay,’ management told me, ‘do this on your own time. Bring me an artist and a contract, and I’ll sign it.’”
“My first artist was Susannah McCorkle, the best jazz interpreter in the cabaret world,” recalls Arthur. “She was a success! I soon brought in John Pizzarelli, Diana Krall, Jane Monheit, Stacey Kent. The room began to get a reputation, and it became easy to bring in other people, such as Maureen McGovern, KT Sullivan, Rita Moreno, Alan Bergman.” At one point, a hotel about to open in Las Vegas asked Arthur to book its first five entertainers; Arthur, however, felt that the room lacked the “high end” style he was trying to champion, and the assignment didn’t work out. He continued to focus on the Oak Room—and it prospered. Arthur remained at the Oak Room—some say he was the Oak Room—for almost two decades.
Then tragedy struck. Arthur’s wife, Alicia, a stunning model, passed away; shortly afterward, so did their young son, Adam. Arthur needed to focus on family matters, and he left the hotel. To earn a living, he worked as concierge at several high-end apartment buildings. One tenant was the real estate developer and investor Harry Macklowe, whom Arthur got to know. Macklowe, a member of the Board of the Plaza Residences, invited Arthur to become concierge at The Maisonettes.
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Arthur took the position, and began working nighttime hours there—he still is—while using his daytimes to explore his return to cabaret.
“After these deaths in my family, I felt that the only thing that would bring me back to sanity was to return to developing the creativity I felt inside me,” says Arthur today. “I wanted to work with the music I love—which meant coming back into the cabaret world.” He sent out proposals to hotels and restaurants, “trying,” he says, “to develop the aura, the classic sound I had developed at the Oak Room. I told them that, with entertainment, they would have their rooms buzzing, that if they could spend the money now to get it going, it would come back to them ten-fold.” Arthur, a churchgoer, added prayers to his search: “Please, God, give me a room so I can come back to cabaret!” There were no takers.
“However, He gives things to you the way He wants to—sometimes through a side door!” says Arthur. “Out of nowhere, I received a call from Heartbeats of the World.” The organization raises money for impoverished families and children in Jamaica, including those inflicted with AIDS. “Heartbeats had remembered me from the Oak Room, and they asked me produce a show for them. They felt that my name would help sell the evening, and that it would also help me get my name back into the cabaret world. And I believed in Heartbeats and its work. To put a show together, I went for the best: Andrea and Jeff, Eric and Barbara—all agreed to take part. Getting that great talent was half the job. Knowing what they could do, I could then concentrate on the show. And the evening was a beautiful success.”
Developing the show also turned on a light in Arthur’s mind. “That’s it! I don’t have to go to a hotel or restaurant! I can produce shows! What’s needed? The venue, the artists, the scheduling, the publicist. That’s my path!
“Today, I have a new project in mind, which I plan to write, direct and produce. It will have an original storyline, with a focus on music of its period. I have part of the cast lined up; I have a publicist. And there are many exciting young people and fine musical directors I’m finding out about.” Arthur pauses. “I love cabaret. It’s really an untapped form. I want to make it both intimate and theatrical, and to bring it to a wider public, to people who don’t know about it.
“As for myself,” he sums up, “I feel that I have a new purpose. I feel energy and excitement, the creativity of putting things together. When I attended the Cabaret Convention, everyone greeted me with friendliness, with honesty and warmth. They hadn’t forgotten me. It made me feel that I am back where I belong.”