Winter Rhythms Festival at Urban Stages
Part One

by Rob Lester

If you want to be technical, and consult a calendar, it's still autumn until much later in the month. But Wintertime is here in NYC in the time zone of cabaret. Over on West 30th Street, the first day of December saw the beginning of Urban Stages' 11-day festival of (mostly) cabaret events, many with a theatre element: Winter Rhythms.

Urban Stages is usually a home to plays and play readings. Ticket sales and sponsorships resulting from the current music-oriented series make possible their outreach programs bringing free arts to children and teens throughout the city, throughout the year. And throughout the beginning of December, the box office for the 75-seat raked auditorium has raked in money to fund it as customers have picked up tickets for shows likely to pick up their spirits at this near-holiday time. The Christmas holiday gets a nod with A Ritzmas Daryl, punnily named for the pairing of cabaret favorites Ricky Ritzel and Daryl Glenn who are pairing two musical scores for Dickens' perennial tale: Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, and Leslie Bricusse's Scrooge. (This Christmas rollicking round-up will be making its own cabaret rounds around town, also booked at Don't Tell Mama and the Metropolitan Room, with Alison Nusbaum featured in the show for the female roles.)

Urban Stages' Artistic Director Frances Hill, whose home turf is theatre, has made sure that the festival has a theatre sensibility, and she and Producing Associate Peter Napolitano have cherry-picked events and performers who've proven themselves comfortably at home in both genres: cabaret singers with a sense of theatricality or theatre background. They are naturals for a setting that is a happy medium between an intimate cabaret and an intimate theatre, or they've adapted what they do to the space far larger than the small stages in some cabaret rooms. (They can accommodate a band or the 30-member Broadway Youth Ensemble for one event.) Sarah Rice is an example of a performer who has stepped into cabaret (where she recently won both the MAC and Bistro Awards) from theatre (most famously as the original Johanna in Sweeney Todd) and will be among the attractions. She shares a bill with singer David Vernon. The series includes everything from a tribute to Lauren Bacall by Maureen Taylor to a multi-performer Jazz Jam and two weekend afternoon seminars that are free to ticketholders and MAC members. The seminars will feature lively discussions on the art and business of cabaret. Speaking of those two agendas, one who does them both splendidly gets her own event: An Evening with Tanya Holt presents a classy singer who's made waves singing solo and back-up—but whom many know better as the booking manager at the Metropolitan Room. With the exception of the closing benefit concert with Steve Ross, shows are $25 and those buying tickets to two shows held the same night get both for $40.

Paul Trueblood and Janice Hall
Photo by Maryann Lopinto
Peter Napolitano told me, "I'm delighted to continue to blend cabaret with musical theatre, presenting a wide range of unique, affordable events, such as Glen Roven's I Hate Music including Donna Lynne Champlin and the opera world's Lauren Flanigan." Another opera singer who's straddled genres is Janice Hall who premieres a new show in the festival that has many songs from Broadway musicals in it. She's an Urban Stages returnee. "Last year, Janice had been invited to move her successful Marlene Dietrich cabaret show there, which I directed. The theatrical nature of the project was a perfect fit for the venue; the larger space gave the show more room to breathe without losing its connection to the audience." In addition to directing her new act, he has his lyrics on display with its title song, "I'd Rather Be Doing This," and more of his words will be sung in the December 9 songwriter showcase, many of the songs written with composer Barry Levitt, who'll be at the keyboard. Participants that night will include Broadway's Robert Cuccioli and Julie Reyburn, MAC's Major Artist winner last year. Having won awards as director and producer and with his lyrics popping up in shows in various cabaret rooms, including Feinstein's at Loews Regency, the Renaissance man seems the perfect fit to help give cabaret a little renaissance, a new face and a new space. "I went to the first Urban Stages cabaret festival in 2009 to hear Susan Winter perform. I was struck with how well her show fit into the intimate environment of this 75-seat theatre with a surprisingly spacious stage."

Urban Stages Presents Winter Rhythms through Sunday, December 11, 2011. Two Festive Weeks of Cabaret, Jazz, Hip Hop, Broadway & Classical Music. For schedule and tickets, visit

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