The Two of Clubs
In the ever-changing world of live entertainment, where performers come and go, clubs open and close, and tastes are ever changing, Stu Hamstra's Cabaret Hotline has always been there. Or at least it's been there for a very substantial sixteen years and counting. Last week, Hamstra celebrated the anniversary of what is now Cabaret Hotline Online with a sold-out fundraising show at Don't Tell Mama called Sweet Sixteen. The entertainment was a rich and revealing cross-section of today's cabaret world, but more significantly (at least to us), the audience was not a cross-section of the same cabaret fans we see all the time. Not that we don't like to see those folks, but it was refreshing and healthy to see an audience full of unfamiliar faces who had come to celebrate cabaret in all its diversity.
The theme of the evening – and its subtitle – was Forever Young and, indeed, many of the singers, songs, and patter dealt with issues of aging. From a rambunctious Gerta Grunen singing with pizzazz from the far side of seventy to a hilarious standup routine about aging from golden oldie comic Adrianne Tolsch, the evening threatened to be less about Sweet Sixteen and more about Sweet & Sour Sixty. Nonetheless, when the show wasn't about age, it was certainly about Hamstra's eclectic choice of entertainers. While he did salt and pepper the stage with some of cabaret's most critically acclaimed performers, such as Baby Jane Dexter, Tom Andersen, Milla Ilieva, Anthony Santelmo, Jr., and Sidney Myer (all of whom were exceptional), he also made a point of giving his audience a sizeable sense of the variety and everyday texture of cabaret with performances by the suave Clark Warren, the rowdy Bronwyn Rucker, and others from the cabaret rank and file. We applaud Hamstra's commitment to cabaret and his willingness to showcase some entertainers who might not otherwise get the opportunity to be seen.
The Sweet Sixteen show was also noteworthy for the awards Hamstra handed out to two worthy recipients. Named after the late and much loved Jeff Matson, the Matson Awards were given to producer/singer Trudi Mann and songwriter/performer Hector Coris for their contributions to cabaret. Both gave gracious speeches and each performed to the delight of the crowd.
In short, Cabaret Hotline Online raised plenty of money and raised plenty of hands in applause – and that makes for a successful benefit in anyone's book.
Remembering Recent Shows With Affection
We were mightily impressed with the growth in sophistication and stage presence of Jenna Esposito in her high-powered show at The Duplex called I Hate Men. Funny, with well-chosen material that was saucily delivered, Esposito proved that hard work pays off. Some of the patter might still feel more written than spoken, but we saw her perform about a year ago at another club and the improvement from that show to this is nothing less than stunning. Perhaps director Erv Raible has something to do with that. Whatever the reason, Esposito has transformed herself into a real player in the cabaret world.
Some time ago we saw hit country singer/songwriter Chuck Cannon perform at Jim Caruso's Cast Party at Birdland. When we learned that Cannon was doing a show at a club downtown called Automatic Slim's, we automatically showed up there. So did a lot of people who weren't interested in listening to Cannon perform at a makeshift stage designed just for him. Turns out the bar's owner was a fan and simply wanted him to come and play there despite the fact that the clientele doesn't come to Automatic Slim's for music.
Cannon put up a valiant but futile fight to get the crowd's attention. But we were sure listening and liking what we were hearing. Cannon is a superb guitarist with a rich, deep voice that wraps itself around his own dense and delightful lyrics. He sings his own songs, and they provide what the best country songs always do, great stories. We are not so well-versed in country music to say who he is most like, but he certainly reminds these two critics of a young Kris Kristofferson (when he was starting out as a songwriter/singer). We liked what he heard well enough to get his most recent album, God Shaped Hole, and there are some cuts on that CD that are just breathtaking. He'll be performing again in New York at a more appropriate venue on July 31st when you can hear him at The Bitter End.
Let's make something clear: not everyone who performs in cabaret has either the hope or the expectation of a full time career as a singer. They do it because they love it, and maybe their greatest talent is their courage to get up on a stage and live the dream. Diane McCullough is just such an impressive performer. Watching her show at Helen's, one didn't respond to her voice or her patter, per se, but rather to her commitment. We admired her smart choice of material, the careful ordering of the songs, and even her phrasing was thoughtful and intelligent. But what really mattered – in fact, it moved us greatly – was her soulful stance, dressed to the nines in a spotlight, and seeing in her face that she was at home.
Charming and unselfconsciously debonair, Charles Cochran is a pianist/singer who has been performing in clubs for more than thirty years. He's the real deal; a talented fellow, he has a smooth and ingratiating style. After performing in Florida for the better part of two decades, Cochran came back to New York a while back and performed his show, The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, at Danny's Skylight Room to packed houses. The audience was smart. They knew they were in for a treat and Cochran provided it with amusing, self-deprecating patter and exquisitely rendered songs from The Great American Songbook. Cochran will be back. Count on it!
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