Kevin on Kabaret :: those lazy, hazy, crazy days...

by Kevin Scott Hall

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday July 6, 2011

"Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer / those days of soda and pretzels and beer . . . You'll wish that summer could always be here."

--from the Nat King Cole hit "Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer" by Hans Carste & Charles Tobias

While many hit the beaches and mountains this time of year whenever escape is possible, for those of us stuck in the city, there are pleasures to be found in the cool, dark, air-conditioned theaters and clubs - minus many of the tourists.

The one and only Julie Halston

One unexpected pleasure is the one and only Julie Halston, veteran of New York stages, both on and off Broadway, film and television (many remember her as Bitsy von Muffling in "Sex and the City"). Halston has been a constant muse and co-star of Charles Busch, and this year got a Drama Desk nomination for his "The Divine Sister" and is now rehearsing for his "Olive and the Bitter Herbs."

What many of her new fans may not realize is that Halston had quite a following during her heyday in cabaret clubs, picking up four MAC Awards for her comedic one-woman shows.

Well, she’s back for one night at Birdland on July 11th in a show called "Old, New, Borrowed and Blue."

Halston explained it to me this way: "I’m doing some of my classic bits from those old shows I used to do at ’88s, plus I have some new material. Then I’m borrowing some material from Frank Maya, who was one of the first openly gay comics-his boyfriend gave me Frank’s material for this show.

And finally, something blue. I’ve never worked blue, but now that we have ’Book of Mormon’ and ’The Motherfucker With the Hat,’ I’m going to do something about vulgarity. We’ve evolved!"

The funny and very busy lady (also currently in off-Broadway’s "Love, Loss and What I Wore" while rehearsing the Busch show during the day!) promises a great show, live streaming, and possibly some special guests.

I asked her if she wants to come back regularly to one-woman shows again. "I want to write a substantial one," she told me. "I want to do something about mothers and the characters would be my mother, me, Little Edie Beale and Joan Crawford."

Sounds like she’s got the gay audience wrapped up for that one!

Phil Putnam’s surprising story

Phil Putnam is a relative newcomer to our fair city-he’s been here for about two and half years-but the singer-songwriter has already amassed eight recordings and will soon start working on his ninth.

He recently won the OutMusic Award for best love song of the year, "Paris."

The California native is the son of an all-American college basketball player, who then went on to have a career as a referee and administrator, "from the NBA on down," Putnam said. "But he was in a high school band with Timothy Schmidt, who plays bass for the Eagles."

Putnam has his own surprising history. "I used to be in music ministry and some of my early stuff is definitely Christian," he told me. "But as I grew more comfortable with myself, I started transitioning to the gay community. Now I’m an openly gay artist and my videos have been on Logo."

For a time, he was also a publicist and worked with songwriter David Friedman, the man who championed the late Nancy Lamott’s career. He is now writing a biography of Lamott. "I learned through that experience about the incomparable thing that the New York cabaret community is, and back in the heyday of the late ’80s and early ’90s-wow!"

Putnam describes his sound as a piano-based blend of pop and acoustic rock, kind of a mixture of David Gray, Elton John and Ben Folds.

Putnam, who says he’s more of a songwriter than singer, will be presenting his music with an all-male cast (an all-female cast is coming in October) in a show called "Men, Songs, Drinks" at the Duplex on July 16th.

"I’m surrounded by these amazing singers from Broadway and beyond," he said. "It would be foolish not to use them!"

I’m sure it won’t be long before the multi-talented Putnam is embraced as one of New York’s very own. Let’s catch his show!

Smooth Todd Murray

Finally, I caught smooth Todd Murray’s show "Croon" last year, and at the end of July he brings it back to Feinstein’s at the Regency.

"Audiences enjoy it on so many different levels," Murray explained. "And we’ve added a few new tunes."

The show is a very entertaining history lesson. It’s about the evolvement of pop music that happened after the microphone was invented, allowing a whole new slew of performers who could sing more intimately, or croon, to become stars.

"It excited me when I first started reading about it," Murray said. "I can’t believe nobody else had done a show about this."

Murray lives in Los Angeles and looks very Hollywood, but his music tastes are strictly New York. "In New York, they see so much more theater and live music that they are a bit more educated about the songwriters. When I get on stage in New York, half of my job is already done," he said.

Although Murray says there’s a very close-knit cabaret community in LA, he acknowledges that the predominant industries are television and film. "It’s a car culture, so by the time you fight your way home, you don’t always want to go back out. In New York, you just jump on the subway at a corner and go see a show."

We’re lucky Todd Murray is a frequent visitor and the press accolades keep on coming. Catch him at Feinstein’s on July 29th and 30th.

Kev’s Favs

If you watch CBS’s "Sunday Morning," you may recognize commentator Nancy Giles. What you may not know is that she, too, started in the clubs as a stand-up comic. She comes back to the stages once again, with shows at the Laurie Beechman Theatre on July 8th and 9th . . . the magical Rosemary Loar revisits Don’t Tell Mama for one night only on July 27th. That is where her long career in clubs started, back in the ’80s . . .

David McBride channels swinging icons like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and newbie Michael Bublé in his new show at the Metropolitan Room on July 9th and 10th . . . and the Nunziata Twins have a week-long engagement at Feinstein’s beginning July 19th. Be sure to look for my upcoming feature on them!

And that’s your hot July in the cabaret clubs! I’ll be back here in September with a whole new lineup of stars. Until then-oh yes-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).