Kevin on Kabaret :: That Time of the Year

by Kevin Scott Hall

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday December 4, 2012

It's that time of year again. For those of you who already need a break from 24/7 Christmas songs on radio and in stores, Jackie Beat's newest show, "Come, They Told Me," at the Laurie Beechman Theatre December 12-16, 2012, may be just the tonic (along with a few generous jiggers of gin).

I interviewed the world-famous star of clubs, television, videos, and recordings about her holiday extravaganza, now in its fifteenth year.

Better than therapy

EDGE: What does it tell you about humanity that your blasphemous show sells out every year?

Jackie Beat: I think it merely shows that people want to laugh. And the worse things get -- economically, socially, politically -- the more they NEED to laugh! I am just providing a service. A ticket to my show is much less than 50 minutes on an analyst's couch.

EDGE: The title of your show is very provocative. Is Christmas a sexy holiday for you?

Jackie Beat: Not at all. I can't think of anything less sexy than Christmas. After all, it was an immaculate conception. Mary didn't even get to have any fun! And it's NOT a Christmas show, it's a HOLIDAY show. I want everyone's money, thank you very much!

EDGE: What is your favorite Christmas carol to parody?

Jackie Beat: They're all fun because they're so cheerful, but I think my parody of "Santa Baby" that involves date rape and abortion is a modern-day classic.

EDGE: Can you give us the recipe for your favorite holiday cocktail?

Jackie Beat: I love a Gymlet... It's equal parts gin and giblet gravy. It's just as smooth going down is it is coming back up. And it ALWAYS comes back up.

EDGE: Has the recent election blunted some of the barbs you are likely to aim at the right wing?

Jackie Beat: Hell no! I am doing a parody of "Gangnam Style" about how drab and boring the women of America would have to dress if Mitt Romney had won the election. It's called "Gingham Style" and I wear a gingham apron and sister wife bonnet.

EDGE: You are a woman of many looks. What kind of outfits can we expect for the show?

Jackie Beat: Imagine one of the Golden Girls trying to get laid at a holiday party.

EDGE: Is it true you have been performing since 1989? What is your secret to staying ageless?

Jackie Beat: Photoshop.

Catch Jackie Beat at the LBT, December 12-16. Get those tickets early . . .

Celebrating Norman Gimbel

I always like an original idea in cabaret, and one of my great pleasures this year was attending Jeff Macauley's tribute show to lyricist Norman Gimbel, titled "It Was Me." Not only is that the title of one of Gimbel's songs, but it's an apt title for Macauley's show because, as you are listening, you are constantly nudging your companion and saying, "Oh, that was him?"

Although perhaps best known for "Killing Me Softly," one of his many pop collaborations with Charles Fox, Gimbel has had his songs in over 70 films (and won the Oscar with David Shire for "It Goes Like it Goes" from Norma Rae), wrote memorable TV themes (Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and Wonder Woman, to name a few), and even wrote English lyrics to such standards as "The Girl from Ipanema," "Sway," and "I Will Wait for You," among so many others. A tribute for the lyricist, who just turned 85 in November (and was born in Brooklyn), was long overdue.

"He's well-respected and known among songwriters, but for everyone else, he's a bit under the radar, although incredibly successful," Macauley said.

As to how he came to consider Gimbel for a show, Macauley said, "My previous shows had been tributes to Dinah Shore, who mostly sang in the '40s, and before that, a show about movie songs from the '20s and '30s. I wanted to cover something from the '50s, '60s, and '70s, but from a different angle, so I figured I'd try a songwriter."

"Gimbel actually put out a songbook in 2003, which I found at Colony, and I remembered a lot of his songs from Easy Listening radio as a kid," he went on to say. "Then I looked for some of the lesser known songs. The reaction to the show is always the same from the audience: 'I didn't know he wrote all those songs!'"

It had been a while since Macauley had done a show, and he decided he'd better get this one out there before someone else did, and while Gimbel was still alive.

As it turned out, Macauley, who spent the '80s trying to make it as an actor and singer in Hollywood before moving to New York in 1993, returned last year to take a musical theater workshop at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, which had been so influential for him when he was living out there. He mentioned the show, and another attendee, songwriter Harriet Schock (Helen Reddy's "Ain't No Way to Treat a Lady"), put him in touch with Gimbel.

"He sent me a very appreciative email and even an autographed songbook," Macauley said. "And Charles Fox actually came to the show with his wife and friends."

Macauley's show has been returning to Don't Tell Mama since August. Catch it there on December 16 and 22 . . .

New Sounds

I've always had a rather broad definition of cabaret; the style of music doesn't matter so much as the respect for the song and lyric and the intimacy with the audience. Recently I caught Martha Redbone and her band at Joe's Pub, celebrating the release of "Martha Redbone Roots Project: The Garden of Love Songs of William Blake."

Redbone and collaborator Aaron Whitby put music to the great poet's verses, and the resulting recording was produced by John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Blake's nature-driven Romantic poems and his belief in racial and sexual equality fit perfectly with Redbone's own Native American and soulful roots in Appalachia, and her activist spirit. Mixing honky tonk, bluegrass, gospel, and ballad, this is truly American music at its best-and that's what cabaret celebrates. This album is both something audaciously new and comfortingly old, and an artistic risk that has paid off big-time. A CD for the ages.

And now, Ken’s Faves...

The glorious Maureen McGovern comes to town for the holidays, stopping in at 54 Below, December 18-23 . . . Darius DeHaas bows at the same stage just prior, on the 16th and 18th . . . Anthony Santelmo Jr. returns to Don't Tell Mama with his annual holiday show, thankfully after the rush is through, December 27-30 . . .
Those turbo-charged voices from The Broadway Boys will be wowing crowds at Joe's Pub on December 10th . . .

And the rollicking trio of Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy Stritch bring "A Swinging Birdland Christmas" to (what else) Birdland, December 21-25-how about that, an actual cabaret show to attend on Christmas Eve and Christmas day! And don't forget to check with all of the clubs for the headliners on New Year's Eve. Always big names with big talent!

Until next month, I'll see you over cocktails!

Kevin Scott Hall is the author of Off the Charts! (2010, iUniverse) and the memoir, A Quarter Inch from My Heart (2014, Wisdom Moon).