It’s Easy: Daryl Glenn transforms Altman classic into hit cabaret show
Robert Altman's groundbreaking 1975 film "Nashville" was nominated for five Oscars, but ultimately took home only one: Best Song, for Keith Carradine's "I'm Easy."
The same can't be said for Daryl Glenn's brainchild, a cabaret act based on the film, called Daryl Glenn & Jo Lynn Burks Play and Sing Robert Altman's 'Nashville.'" The show took the triple crown for 2008, sweeping up a Nightlife Award, a Bistro Award and a MAC Award for Best Show. Almost two years later, the show continues to draw viewers and attention.
"I picked the right thing, but it was something I was so passionate about," Glenn told EDGE in a recent sit-down interview, his enthusiasm infectious. "I hoped from the start this would have a life and it has, thank goodness, turned into what I hoped it would be."
The show also came at a timely moment, during the election cycle of 2008. The film is highly political.
His manager is currently shopping it to conventions around the country and getting enthusiastic response, according to Glenn. He hopes to take it on tour next summer and eventually have a run Off Broadway.
Not into country music
Glenn was born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky. Although the son of a "sports guy," as he puts it, his parents were supportive of his theater ambitions, taking him to rehearsals and seeing his shows. He worked in local dinner theater and performed in a lot of children’s theater.
"Believe it or not, I was not into country music at all at that time. It was only later that I started listening to the Judds and Randy Travis. My mother smiled at me and said, ’I knew you’d come around; you’re from Kentucky, it’s in your blood!’"
He moved to New York right out of high school but only stayed a year. "I had no idea how to deal with it," he said. Glenn came back for good in 1990.
Over the years, Glenn continued to perform while also managing restaurants near his Chelsea apartment. "I’m very lazy, I’ve always found jobs two blocks from where I live," he said.
Watch Daryl Glenn perform "I’m Easy."
As luck would have it, the Metropolitan Room is on the same block as his apartment. He got a job there as a reservation manager. "I really put myself there purposely," he said. "I knew if I was there, it would put me in the mindset to do the show. And, of course, I’ve met everyone in the world there, from press to performers, and it has been a crash course in what works and what doesn’t work on stage."
Glenn had also reached a crossroads. "When I turned 40, I just said to myself, ’I’m not going to sit on the sidewalk at four in the morning waiting for auditions anymore. I had my Equity card and had auditioned every day for a year, but it just wasn’t working out. I decided once and for all to just make my own work."
"Nashville" the cabaret act finally emerged and he met his creative team while working at the Metropolitan Room.
Jo Lynn Burks, a former beauty pageant winner in both Alabama and Miami as well as a musical director, singer, pianist and arranger who has worked on Broadway and in prestigious venues all over the country, happened to be playing for another performer at the Metropolitan Room when Glenn approached her after the show.
"The minute he asked me to do it, I said, ’Daryl, you can’t have anyone else do this but me!’" Burks related, also a huge fan of the movie. Burks, who has actually performed at the Grand Ole Opry, said, "I really wanted to get an authentic Nashville sound, so I was very careful in picking each individual musician. Our bass player worked with Wynonna, for example, and we had to have a pedal steel guitar and a fiddle."
Burks went on to describe Glenn’s unconventional enthusiasm. "We’d be walking down the street and he’d say, ’They look like they might like it’ and walk up to total strangers and tell them about the show!"
Glenn laughed. "I’m not intimidated to invite someone because I feel that we’ve done it justice. And it’s accessible to anyone who hasn’t seen the movie; you don’t have to see the movie to appreciate it." He pointed out that the songs are country but also parodies of country, so the show has a humorous element.
Watch Jo Lynn Burks perform "Dues."
A serendipitous moment
Another serendipitous moment came when Kathryn Altman, the director’s widow, came to the club to see Annie Ross, who had appeared in Altman’s "Short Cuts." Glenn approached her and told her about his intentions with the show. Ultimately, she approved-and even became Glenn’s date to the MAC Awards.
Glenn has since spoken to Richard Baskin, the music supervisor for the film, and Lily Tomlin (who was Oscar-nominated for the film), both of whom promised to see the show when they’re in town. Keith Carradine introduced Glenn and Burks at the Nightlife Awards, where they performed "It Don’t Worry Me," Carradine’s song that closes the film.
Before the show took flight, friends urged him to find a director and, through a mutual friend, Vince DeGeorge came aboard.
"I had never seen the movie," DeGeorge acknowledged. "But Daryl sat down and started playing and singing ’I’m Easy’ and I was hooked." He studied the film and then helped Glenn craft the piece for a cabaret show.
"Basically, my work was to allow Daryl to get out of his own way and allow people to see how much he loves this material," DeGeorge said. "He has a fantastic personality and is so open and endears himself to the audience with that."
"It’s a bit of a party atmosphere," Glenn confessed, given that ten or so musicians and singers populate the small stage.
"This wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t been such an ambassador," Burks said. "I applaud Daryl for continuing to do this even though he’s had to beg, borrow and steal to do it."
"There was no way to cut anything out without sacrificing the quality, and I’m not about to do that," said Glenn.
In fact, a wealthy high school friend of Glenn’s financed the first year of the show, and currently there are some scheduling issues due to Burks’ teaching position at the University of Miami. For now, she flies up once a month and they do the show the first Sunday of every month.
"We are keeping the film alive," Glenn stated. "I’m very proud of that."
Still, while Glenn’s manager cooks up other venues and they try to figure out how to get a steady run in New York, Glenn has begun work on another project.
On January 17, he will appear at the prestigious Feinstein’s at the Regency to perform "Daryl Sings Steve," a tribute to Stephen Sondheim-about as far from Nashville as a performer can get.
That reminds Glenn to relate the story of how he began corresponding with the iconic composer, ultimately speaking with him by phone and even getting an invitation to his home.
But that’s another story for another time . . .
Daryl Glenn and Jo Lynn Burks Play and Sing Robert Altman’s ’Nashville’ will be at the Metropolitan Room (www.metropolitanroom.com) on Sunday, October 4, 7 pm, and the first Sunday of every month.
Watch Daryl Glenn perform "Keep a Goin’."