Kevin on Kabaret :: Met Room’s facelift

by Kevin Scott Hall

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday January 4, 2012

"The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul." -- G.K. Chesterton

The Metropolitan Room, which has presented an extraordinary diversity of artists since its opening in May 2006, recently underwent a cosmetic facelift, which included painting the walls an appealing royal purple, adding a glamorous chandelier, and lining the walls with posters of its prominent artists. In early December, the management held a private party to honor its artists and to talk up the changes.

Bernie Furshpan recently joined brothers Christopher and Steven Mazzilli as managing partner, and he spoke that night of what would be ahead for the beloved room. Downstairs would become the Metro Lounge, a meeting place for people before and after shows and that would feature CDs from headlining performers. The room would host more shows that might benefit from an extended theatrical run. To that end, Barb Jungr’s all-Dylan show, "Man in a Long Black Coat," would get a three-week run in April.

In addition, the summer’s highly-touted MetroStar Talent Challenge would get a media boost, a new menu would be added, and late night programming would be offered that exploits the room’s relationship with Gotham Comedy Club, also owned by the Mazzillis.

"These shows will be like nothing you’d see in a comedy club, or in New York’s jazz rooms and cabarets for that matter," Furshpan promised.

What a great way to ring in the new year, polishing that diamond in Chelsea, the Metropolitan Room.

Secretly Hoping...

Two of the hardworking folks who work at the Metropolitan are server Lorinda Lisitza and technician Ted Stafford. Of course, each is immensely talented and since September, they have discovered that they share a musical sensibility, and thus began collaborating. They sang together at a staff show and that was the genesis of a brand new show they will present at the club on January 25th.

Now, Lisitza, closely associated with the work of musical theater writers Joe Iconis, and Jake Brandman & Willem Oosthuysen, often takes to the stage, blowing through like a tornado, leaving audiences to wonder, "Who is that gal?" Such was the case at the aforementioned December party, putting her definitive stamp on "Minnie the Moocher" (parts Bette Midler and Ethel Merman), only to waltz off the stage during thunderous applause to pick up her tray and get back to work.

For the new show, though, tentatively titled "Secretly Hoping" (also a very funny song written by their friend, Michael Jackson-the living one), Lisitza and Stafford will offer many original songs and some country-ish covers from the ’70s, a la Dolly Parton and Linda Rondstadt. It turns out that Stafford is a very accomplished guitarist and Lisitza, who grew up in Porcupine Plains, Saskatchewan (no joke!), originally learned to sing with country music.

"This is an interesting year," Lisitza told me. "I’ve now lived half my life in Canada and half my life in New York City. When I moved here, I completely changed my style of singing."

You can take the girl out of Canada, but you can’t quite take Canada out of the girl. "I lived in a trailer until I was nine and I grew up eating moose," she explained. "And every year when I come back from visiting home, I have a moose party for the staff." You guessed it: moose pate, moose pepperoni, moose sandwiches, even chocolate . . . moose.

The one thing cabaret does is allow performers to experience different styles of music. "It’s an intimate venue where the audience can really get to know you. No matter what style, you can still reach that goal of looking into peoples’ eyes and touching their hearts."

Lisitza claims that she and Stafford sound quite similar when they sing, so expect close harmonies and a powerful connection. "We’re also both silly people, so I’m sure there will be a lot of cute and funny moments too."

I will be there on the 25th. Join us . . .

An instant hit

I recently caught up with Rick Skye, who plays Liza to Tommy Femia’s Judy in "Judy and Liza Together," the long-running hit show at Don’t Tell Mama every other Saturday. Rick called me from San Diego, where the two had performed the show for New Year’s Eve.

Although the two have successfully performed solo shows for years (Femia celebrated twenty years of performing as Judy at the club a couple years ago), what happened was that The Rising Action Theater in Fort Lauderdale booked them both over a year ago, telling each, "We want a Judy and Liza show."

"I knew of Tommy but I didn’t know him," Skye said. "We met at the airport and talked on the plane. Then we did the show together and it was such a hit that Tommy wanted to try it out as a duet show in his usual Saturday timeslot at Don’t Tell Mama."

An instant hit was born. "It’s the easiest show I’ve ever done," Skye said. "I just show up every Saturday and the place is full."

The two split the chores evenly, divvying up the number of songs and singing duets as well. "There has never been a cross word between us," Skye assured me. "Although there is sometimes a tiny bit of competition. Sometimes more people are there to see one of us, so the other has to win over the audience, but it’s no different than Judy and Liza at the Palladium trying to top each other."

Skye attributes the intergenerational and ongoing interest in the show to the fact that the real Judy and Liza never got to do what they are doing. "Judy is kind of frozen in 1963 and Liza is her age now, but the comedy comes from us commenting on the events of 2012." He summed up by saying, "It’s old-fashioned showbiz in all its glory. The songs offer pure emotion and build to a big finish. People leave the show feeling such joy."

Judy and Liza, now and forever. Next show: January 14th. . .

The Georgia Stitt songbook

For those looking to nest during this cold month, you may consider curling up with the latest CD from Georgia Stitt, "My Lifelong Love" (Sh-K’Boom). She has assembled an impressive group of stunning singers, mostly from our city’s stages, including Anika Noni Rose, Kate Baldwin, Michael McElroy, Jesse Tyler Ferguson (now most famous for TV’s "Modern Family"), and the duo of Jessica Molaskey and John Pizzarelli, to name a few.

Although Stitt writes most of the songs herself, she has collaborated with a few others, including adding music to poems by William Shakespeare and Dorothy Parker.

Stitt shows herself to be a versatile songwriter. The jazzy ballad "Sing Me a Happy Song" sounds like it could be right out of an American Standard songbook, and Shoshana Bean gives it an Ella-like touch. Brian d’Arcy James’ soaring vocal, combined with swelling orchestration, brings a dramatic majesty to Shakespeare’s "Sonnet 29." The cute and timely "Invested in You," sung by Molaskey & Pizzarelli, tells of the best investment money cannot buy. And "At This Turn in the Road Again" (lyrics by Bil Wright) seems to have the most promise to become a pop hit, beautifully sung here by Christopher Jackson.

Georgia Stitt has been steadily amassing a songbook over the last several years. Perhaps some recognition is due . . .

No need for nesting, though. Throw on that thick scarf, bundle up, and get out. There is plenty to see!

Ken’s faves

Jay Rogers is one of the most familiar faces on the scene, having served in every capacity in the cabaret rooms over the years-piano bar entertainer, singer, comic, host, and director. Now he’s "Back from the Abyss," reuniting with his longtime musical collaborator Keith Thompson for one night at the Metropolitan Room on January 9th. It is sure to be full of laughs . . . Kim Grogg brings back her fun look at one-hit-wonders with her show "One Hit Wonder Woman," at Don’t Tell Mama, January 21st-23rd . . . cabaret veteran Mark Nadler returns to the Laurie Beechman Theatre with his fantastic "Crazy 1961" for a trio of brunch shows, January 8th, 15th, and 22nd . . .

The wonderful Natalie Douglas celebrates her birthday at Birdland on January 16th, honoring singers who have influenced her . . . theater/film/television star Anita Gillette also performs Birdland on the 30th. . . . and ’60s’ pop sensation Petula Clark begins a two-week run at Feinstein’s at Loew’s Regency on the 24th. Check club listings for other shows of interest.

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