Just what is it about cabaret that appeals to audiences and performers? I recently spoke with Marcia Lewis and she answered that question this way: "It's the intimacy with the audience. There is no fourth wall, you know, just you and me baby."
And it is that intimacy that makes cabaret theatre.
Many of the Broadway performers we've spoken to in the last few years also have cabaret acts which they perform in clubs like Don't Tell Mama, Eighty-Eights, The Duplex, The China Club, Peaches or a hundred other cabarets. Most of these performers travel and perform their act in cabaret clubs all across the country. The artform in the last few years has gained in popularity and as a result, new clubs are opening faster than you can say Life is a cabaret ol' chum.
So, come to the cabaret and meet...
Tom Andersen has been critically acclaimed as one of New York's finest young singers of contemporary pop and standards. Stephen Sondheim and Stephen Schwartz have sung his praises, and the romantic tenor also has won recognition as a celebrated songwriter.
As a songwriter and member of ASCAP, he has had his songs performed in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Australia. Mr. Andersen's poignant AIDS ballad, "Yard Sale," received the 1998 MAC Award for Song of the Year. He also has been signed to a song writing contract by Warner Chappell Music Publishers.
As a recording artist, Mr. Andersen has released his second CD, The Journey,which is named after a new tune by Grammy winner Julie Gold. The album also features his latest works and his signature song, "Storybook," from the Broadway hit The Scarlet Pimpernel.
Andrew Gans of Playbill had this to say:
"Blessed with one of today's more beautiful voices and sweet, golden high notes, Andersen offers wonderful versions of classics ('People Will Say We're in Love'), standards-to-be ('Storybook') and originals ('Yard Sale')!
And Stephen Holden in the New York Times states:
"Outstanding...this young New Yorker is emerging as a star. Mr. Andersen sings in a tenor that soars into exquisite high notes!"
Tom: Thanks, V.J. I'm very flattered that I get to help kick off this new column. It's such an honor.
V.J.: And speaking of honors, you just received two more MAC Award nominations: one for Outstanding Male Vocalist and one for Recording of the Year for "The Journey." How's that feel?
Tom: Great! Especially since the honor comes from my peers. It's so gratifying to know that folks appreciate your work and that they're really listening.
V.J.: Well, one song that I really listen to from your CD is "Storybook" from The Scarlet Pimpernel. Patti LuPone, Karen Akers and other stars have sung it, but you really discovered it in 1993, long before Pimpernel made it to Broadway. In fact, its lyricist, Nan Knighton, credits you with the song's success. How did you find it?
Tom: I was looking for new songs back then, and I spoke to Frank Wildhorn, who wrote all these pop hits. He was so nice that he suggested "Storybook" to me, and I still get a thrill everytime I sing it. Frank's melody is incredibly gorgeous and Nan's lyrics are wildly romantic.
V.J.: Now "The Journey" is your second CD?
Tom: Yep. My first one was called "Far Away Places."
V.J.: And that was nominated for another MAC Award for Recording of the Year, right?
Tom: Uh-huh. It's a little more standardy than "The Journey," but they both are very personal and reflect who I am, musically and emotionally.
V.J.: What do you sing on "Far Away Places?"
Tom: The title tune, of course. And "Moonglow," "Let It Be Me" and Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Ten Minutes Ago." But even though I sing some standards, I don't tend to do them the standard way. For instance, that album features "All I Do Is Dream of You" as a country swing number. And on "The Journey," I perform "People Will Say We're in Love" with a Latin beat.
V.J.: Where are you from?
Tom: Arlington Heights, Ill., outside Chicago.
V.J.: And how did you first get interested in singing?
Tom: My grandmother bought me a Broadway cast album of The Sound of Music, and nice Midwestern Catholic boy that I am, I related to all those nuns and children. Before long, I was doing community theater, and I wound up in the Waspiest production you've ever seen of Fiddler on the Roof. Karen Mason played Golde and she was great, even then. Later, I did the local theme park with Liz Callaway, and in one show, I played a 16-year-old Harold Hill, singing "Ya Got Trouble!"
V.J.: That's great. Have you done any other theater?
Tom: I played in Beach Blanket Babylon in San Francisco for over 2 years. It's the longest-running revue there, and it's wild. And shortly after I moved to N.Y., I did an Off-Broadway revue called Cabariety.
V.J.: Any chance of ever seeing you on Broadway?
Tom: Not right now. I prefer writing my own music and singing in clubs and doing some more recordings.
V.J.: Speaking of Broadway, I understand that Stephen Sondheim caught your solo recital at Carnegie's Weill Recital Hall in 1993, and that he went backstage to congratulate you. What was that like?
Tom: It was thrilling and scary. I love his work, and here I was singing "Anyone Can Whistle," "No One Is Alone" and "Our Time" as he sat in the audience. It was wonderful to meet him after the show, and he couldn't have been nicer.
V.J.: Stephen Holden in the N.Y. Times has said about you, "One is reminded of Johnny Mathis. Incandescent!" That's quite a compliment. Do you take singing lessons to keep your instrument tuned up?
Tom: I've studied for years, and though I'm not studying now, I vocalize everyday. I really believe in technique. I also try to speak the way I would sing. You relax your throat and keep your larynx down. Keep that open sound.
V.J.: How do you pick a song for recording? Is there something about a song that just grabs you?
Tom: The melody's got to be there, and I've got to be able to relate to it. For example, many tunes have been written about love, but I was drawn to Julie Gold's song "The Journey" because it's about life in general. Besides its beautiful melody, it's so inspiring: "Forward, always forward. Onward, always up." It's such a positive message.
V.J.: You record other people's songs, but you also write your own, and they run the gamut from pop to country. Tell me about "Yard Sale." It won the 1998 MAC Award for Song of the Year, and it's on your "Journey" CD. It's very special. Where did it come from?
Tom: It was inspired by a next door neighbor of mine in S.F. who had a sale of all his belongings. This was during the '80s, when AIDS came crashing down on all of us. I felt helpless, like everyone else, so I wrote "Yard Sale" as a catharsis. David Campbell recorded it beautifully and helped get it out there, and I'm so moved that it has touched so many people.
V.J.: OK, so when is the next CD coming out?
Tom: The next one? I just recorded "The Journey" last year. I'm still working to promote this sucker. (Laughs.)
V.J.: Cabaret is making a huge comeback in New York with many new clubs for performers. If you could offer one piece of advice to newcomers trying to make it on the circuit, what would it be?
Tom: Stay true to the music and find your own voice. Don't do it because you want to make money because you're not. Don't do it for the celebrity because fame is fleeting. These things come and go. The only thing you really have is your love of the music and how you express it in your own unique way.
V.J.: Thanks, Tom, and good luck on April 5 at the MAC awards.
Tom: It was my pleasure. And congratulations on your new column!
The Journey and Far Away Places are available at Colony, Footlight, HMV (at 72nd Street), Tower at Lincoln Center and Virgin Mega-Store in Times Square;or call Cabaret Connection at 1-888-666-DIVA or Original Cast Records at 1-888-627-3993; or visit Tom's Website at www.wwwebstage.com/tomandersen.