Cabaret


Doings at the Duplex

by Rob Lester

The Duplex Cabaret TheatreI've been spending some happy musical times at The Duplex in Greenwich Village lately, where cabaret and Broadway often meet. In addition to seeing the pick of New York's talent, I've also picked the brain of the cabaret's booking manager and director of many of its shows, Phil Geoffrey Bond. Some thoughts from this gregarious lover of talent, and my own comments on shows there, follow.

Anne Runolfsson's show was part of the Broadway Downtown series, which presents theater performers, who are usually portraying characters on big stages, with a chance to sing as themselves in an intimate setting. Phil especially enjoys presenting this series. When asked how it came about, he told me, "I'm a musical theater freak, and since I run a venue in Manhattan, I thought why not indulge myself? I've had a ball sitting in the back and watching some of my all-time favorite performers on our stage." I shared his enthusiasm on February 27 when Anne, currently in Phantom of the Opera, traded the mega-musical's famous chandelier for the Duplex's new glowing table lamps, part of its refurbished look. She took a night off from wigs, wardrobe and Webber and went casual.

Anne Runolfsson
Anne Runolfsson
"I don't really plan on doing a lot of talking because I really don't know why I'm doing this," Anne remarked offhandedly, in lieu of patter. Instead, she chatted a bit with talented guitarist Eric Anthony who is in the band in the new Broadway musical Ring of Fire. She asked him about an expression that amused her, one the country musicians use for "pick up the pace." It is "let the horse smell the barn." And she looked out into the audience and promised her colleagues from Phantom she'd do just that so they would get to the theater on time, following her 6 p.m. set.

Anne wrapped her luscious voice around all kinds of songs. There was no feeling of self-indulgence; she merely tried out various styles of music as confidently as another woman might try on a dozen different dresses. Each fit her well, and with no fanfare, she'd drop one and proceed to the next fashion statement. The surprise highlight for me was a powerful and intense treatment of the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," treated to a dramatic interpretation. She made the most of the lyrics, really allowing audience members to "picture yourself in a boat on a river," capitalizing on the imagery of the lyric's "cellophane flowers of yellow and green towering over your head" and "the flowers that grow so incredibly high."

Speaking of "incredibly high," her high belt remains impressive, as evidenced in choices like "Let It Sing." There were no selections from the singer's excellent CD, At Sea, nor did she include anything from her theater resume of Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, or Victor/Victoria . From Floyd Collins, a welcome choice was an exhilarating "Lucky," which opened and closed the act, and for a big Broadway number she chose Guys and Dolls' "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat. In that selection, she enjoyed the camaraderie with her trio, completed by bassist Lou Tucci and pianist Ray Fellman (who is frequently called into duty for acts at the club, such as the long-running open-mic Friday nights of Mostly Sondheim, hosted by the mischievously merry singer Brandon Cutrell) .

Brandon and Ray will also be part of a tribute to one of cabaret's most beloved stars, the late Nancy LaMott on two Mondays, March 20 and 27 at 7 p.m. We Miss Nancy: The Storefront Sings LaMott will also include singer-actor Nick Cearley whose act, The Most Overdone Show Tunes Ever, I caught on March 5. (His divine special guest that day was Sweeney Todd's Johanna, Lauren Molina, who brought her glorious soprano voice as well as her cello.) Buoyant and boyish, Nick's audacious thumbing his nose at the warnings not to do the warhorses of repertoire is a hoot. I'll have more on this highly recommended, highly entertaining show and Nick in an upcoming profile of this busy performer.

Phil Bond
Phil Bond
Phil is directing both the Nancy tribute and Nick's first-Sunday-of-each-month show, again with the much-employed, much-enjoyed Ray at the keyboard. He's also taking over keyboard duties for upbeat Jasper Kump's monthly Sunday in New York shows (the first Sunday of every month through June at 5 p.m.). Catching Jasper's set for a repeat visit on that same Academy Award Sunday, I was pleased to find him dreamily crooning a few Oscar winners. For me, the highlight of his set remains a dramatic and beautifully sung "When I First Saw You" from Dreamgirls, and his zest is best with "Starting Here, Starting Now."

Looking forward to the future, Phil Bond mentioned the award-winning New Mondays for composers, "which we're hoping to revive. That series brought lots of my favorite composers to the stage, people whose music I used to listen to as a kid in Indiana, mowing the lawn and dreaming of a more glamourous life." He especially likes seeing theater performers stretch out in cabaret, saying it makes them use "a different set of muscles." It was true for past Duplex "moonlighters" like Sally Mayes and the aforementioned Anne Runolfsson, who is expected back for another night this spring. Phil says when musical theater actor-singers do cabaret, "one can see all the colors, and they're not limited by just one character. Many theatrical performers find it very liberating."

The Duplex is so named because a bar and the cabaret space are upstairs while a small piano bar is filled with music downstairs. I asked Phil what made the historic venue so special, as he saw it. "A couple of things," he replied, "the stage is proscenium in nature, which makes it more theatrical. The stage is elevated a good two feet off the floor, so audiences can see the entire actor's body. The seating is in three tiers, so there's really not a bad seat in the house. It's a very 'live' room, so we receive lots of compliments from the performers for our excellent sound and lighting; we have amazing technical directors, headed by Thomas Honeck."

When asked what he saw as the key to his success and image, his answer was, "Good hair and shiny shoes!" In a more serious mood, he reflected on the changes and challenges in cabaret, "In honesty, when I came on board at The Duplex four years ago, we were really swimming upstream." But now, "fantastic performers combined with magnificent audiences, not to mention lots of carpet, paint and decor (and cute little table lights) have made for what I think is a really inviting room." Asked about the future of the art form, he feels strongly that "cabaret is simply reinventing itself. When I see the proliferation of young people coming through the door, I'm thrilled." He adds that programs like Monday Nights' New Voices and presenting younger performers "have really reached out to a younger crowd who are just getting exposed to cabaret, and the broad range of possibilities it offers. Something I've wanted to do at the Duplex Cabaret Theatre for a long while, and maybe I'll finally get it off the ground, is creating a subscription audience, like a not-for-profit theatre. I think it's possible and would be very beneficial."

The Duplex is at 61 Christopher Street at Seventh Avenue in Greenwich Village. The phone number for reservations is 212-255-5438. For a full schedule and more information, see their website at www.TheDuplex.com/.