Kevin On Kabaret :: Maytime
Finally, spring has sprung, and the birds aren't the only ones singing!
One of the big events of the year happens on Thursday, May 16th at Town Hall. An all-star gathering will celebrate the 45th anniversary of the 1968 concert at the venue with Bobby Short and Mabel Mercer. Short and Mercer are highly revered cabaret icons, kind of the godparents of the genre. The recording of the concert won a Grammy and Rex Reed wrote the liner notes.
"Rex will be there expounding on everything," said KT Sullivan, the new Artistic Director of the Mabel Mercer Foundation, which is producing the event. The Foundation, a not-for-profit established by Donald Smith in 1985, promotes the art of cabaret and the Great American Songbook. Smith passed away last year.
"Donald was ill for a year and he asked me if this should continue after his death," Sullivan told me. "I said ’Of course!’ Then he asked me if I’d take over," she laughed. "Donald would be happy; we’re in very good place right now."
Although legends in cabaret, Mercer and Short may not be familiar to the public at large. So, I wondered, what would make them go to Town Hall to see this celebration?
"Natalie Douglas and I went to high schools last week, and she was singing standards and telling the kids about Josephine Baker and Bert Williams and they were just rapt with attention," KT related. "We all still fall in love and nobody has written better about it than Cole Porter. Once the kids hear the songs, they want to do them because they are rewarding for the singer and for the audience."
She paused. "But they are not exposed to it, so it’s our job to bring it to them."
KT told me that Mercer, born in 1900, was about twenty years older than Short when they did the concert, but they had great admiration for each other.
"Mabel loved good songs and she never sang a bad one," KT said.
Sullivan noted that cabaret is growing in London and that, after selling out three nights of the Cabaret Convention here last fall, they will be back to four nights next fall. "It’s still all about the words and stories," she said.
Join KT and a star-studded lineup, including Karen Mason, Clint Holmes, Andrea Marcovicci, Catherine Russell, Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano, Marissa Mulder, T. Oliver Reid, and many more. "It’s a jam-packed show!" KT promised. To say the least . . .
Recently, I caught up with uber-producer Joseph Macchia, who has produced dozens of Cabaret Cares benefits in the last seven years through his Help is On the Way non-profit charity. Over the years, the organization has raised over $74,000 (that’s a lot of cover charges) and helped over 650 children with HIV/AIDS.
About to start its seventh year, Cabaret Cares celebrates its biggest gala of the year on May 19 at 3:00 pm at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. And Macchia and his team of volunteers are pulling out all the stops: a cocktail reception, a buffet dinner, a live auction, gift bags and, of course, a star-studded show.
"For $125, you get a lot of bang for your buck," Macchia assured me. "It’s our biggest event of the year and it’s grassroots not-for-profit. I don’t take a salary and my staff is all volunteer."
Macchia is honoring two who have contributed so much in the past: cabaret entertainer Tom Gamblin will receive the Spirit Award, and Peter Leavy, the publisher of Cabaret Scenes Magazine, will get the Ruth Kurtzman Lifetime Achievement Award. Kurtzman, a longtime cabaret enthusiast, passed away in January.
All these years later...
"Ruth was heavily involved in what I did-helped me deliver toys at Christmas and backpacks in the summer-and was always in my corner, so I wanted to name the award after her," Macchia explained.
As for Gamblin, Macchia told me he was always there for him, posting events on social media, helping to raise money, stepping in to perform, or in the audience. Leavy, too, has been a constant presence in the audience at the benefits throughout the years.
As for the show itself, expect to see Broadway and cabaret star Karen Mason, Broadway’s Doreen Montalvo ("In the Heights"), Eric Michael Gillett, Julie Reyburn, and plenty more.
"It almost killed me and I lost almost every hair on my head," Macchia laughed about the early years when his initial charity outing was a weekly summer series at Helen’s to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. "I didn’t know it was going to last after the first year."
Now, all these years and shows later, Cabaret Cares is alive and well and bigger than ever. Support this important cause!
The lovely and multi-talented Alysa Haas realizes her lifelong dream this month with a show to celebrate the release of her first CD, "Spasm."
"It’s all about convulsions in a very different way," Haas laughed, referring to the title (also a song by David Cantor). The show is on Sunday, May 19 (7:00 pm), at the Metropolitan Room, and she admits she’s cutting it close with the CD release-scheduled to be mastered on May 7.
"I hate bumps in the road," Haas told me. "But my graphic designer, Robbie Rozelle of Playbill, is doing his work right now. I’m putting myself in the hands of people who are good at what they do."
Haas grew up surrounded by the arts in tiny Golden’s Bridge in Westchester County. Her mother is Bira Rabushka (her stepfather is violinist and clock restorer Joseph Rabushka), who was a first violinist with New York City Ballet for 45 years. "She may have been the first female in the orchestra, but don’t quote me on that," Haas said. "But she does take credit for bringing a women’s bathroom to the women at New York City Ballet!"
In any case, it meant "being brought up in the pit," as she says, from about the age of two, and hanging out at rehearsals with the likes of Baryshnikov. Later, Babushka and actress Colleen Dewhurst founded the North Westchester Center for the Arts in Golden’s Bridge in 1978, which allowed Haas to take ballet, pottery, and acting, and she directed her first show at age sixteen. (Corporate greed took over the Arts Center in 1994 and Babushka was oustered, a long and painful story.)
As an adult, Haas followed in her mother’s footsteps and became an educator and speech pathologist, but in recent years-as much as she loved it-she was becoming overwhelmed, and her family noticed. "They wanted to give me the opportunity to do what I wanted to do," she told me. She gave up her steady day job to follow her dream.
What has resulted is the jazz-inflected recording, featuring some of New York’s best musicians. The songs are an eclectic mix of old and new. "We do ’People Will Say We’re in Love’ from Oklahoma and a fun version of ’My Funny Valentine’ that is not a ballad, plus ’Make You Feel My Love’ by Bob Dylan and ’In My Life’ by the Beatles," Haas told me. The newer songs include ones by Cantor, David Beaudry, and Matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas.
"I was with my lawyer in a restaurant and we were sitting next to Rob Thomas," Hass explained. "I gave him my demo and on his way home in the car, he listened to it and started tweeting about it. I asked him if I could record one of his songs and he said ’Please do.’" The result is Thomas’ "Ever the Same," also on the CD.
Haas anxiously awaits the final touches on the CD and her show on the 19th. What has she learned from all of this? "You have to take time for your art," she said. "You can’t let the work stuff take over."
And now . . . Kev’s Faves:
The original American Idol before there was an American Idol, Sam Harris (Star Search in the ’80s) comes to 54 Below on May 12 and 13 . . . the fabulous Ricky Ritzel joins his longtime pal, Chicago’s jazz chanteuse Spider Saloff, at Don’t Tell Mama on May 18 . . . Gregory Nalbone returns to the Metropolitan Room on May 15 . . . Kevin Dozier returns to the same club on the 20th and 26th . . . one of my favorite one-person shows, "Bette Davis Ain’t for Sissies," starring Jessica Sherr, comes to the Beechman on the 22nd and 29th . . . Kim Smith lands at Joe’s Pub on May 28th, bringing us music from his brand new pop CD . . . and the delightful Champagne Pam brings an all-new show to the Beechman, May 10, 15 and 31.
It’s going to be quite a month in the clubs. I’ll be back here next month. Until then . . . I’ll see you over cocktails.