Songs for the Season

Unique Musical Programs

Archive for the month “March, 2013”

Spring Is Here

Literally, spring is here! But no, I’m not singing that sad song from I Married and Angel by Rodgers and Hart which I used to sing. I couldn’t sing that now, no, not at all. The only thing I have to be sad about is that winter will not lose its icy grip around here. And I am ready for a change in the weather. But unlike with that lonely song, I am in love!

I found a song I like about finding love in spring that really fits my mood. It’s by Lerner and Lowe (from The Day Before Spring) called “This is my Holiday.” I can’t wait to work on it.

So what is happening with my cabaret project for the season? “It’s Spring Again” (working title) is in the planning stage and will not be performed this year all-together. What I do plan to do is to work on highlights from it to take to open-mic nights as I hone my craft and get better known in Chicagoland.

To that end I have a music director/accompanist with whom I’m working, Andrew Blendermann who is inventive and skilled and an excellent coach. He also plays at multiple piano bars where I may try out material. And this I plan to do.

As far as mounting “Songs for the Season” projects I will be looking at longer time-horizons to take any show into production before next fall. There are business aspects that I’m working on as well as creative development.

Following up on Beckie Menzie’s advice, I have another wonderful collaborator, voice teacher (and music director/composer) Matthew Ellenwood with whom I study voice and explore the material for “Lyrics by Shakespeare.” This work is on-going.

I also consulted Louise Cloutier, a composer and director, with whom I’m exploring collaboration. More to come on my exploits in Chicago cabaret.

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Getting Her Silver On

When does a supportive fan base become a community? For one when Beckie Menzie celebrates her twenty-five years in the Chicago music scene. The out-pouring of love for what Beckie offers was spectacular during her anniversary concert on March 3, 2013 at Mayne Stage in Rogers Park. It was extraordinary to witness.

The recently restored and renovated space holding 230 some people was overflowing with her faithful followers. The place was packed and when I greeted the patrons next to me they asked, “Didn’t I see you at Beckie’s Christmas concert at Davenports?” Yep, it is that kind of dedicated group.

The talent on display was undeniable. Few musicians give better keyboard and she sings with great personality and style. But the little something extra was noteworthy for some of us who “study” entertainment. Beckie’s concert was exemplary for rising to its own standards. As a teacher Beckie is always promoting “best practices.” As a performer she lives up to them.

Her program was full of dynamic variety and yet was focused on telling her personal story. Everything she did was sincerely personal and intimately shared. I can’t overstate how valuable it is when a mentor leads by example.

The connection with her audience was palpable, and of course this skill is something all great entertainers share. But beyond that, I sense a generosity which is fostered in the cabaret community. There is a dedication to the value of self-expression through song. And that dedication and generosity seem to be fostered so beautifully by what Beckie Menzie does. Her fans were there to celebrate all of her accomplishments, not just her talent but also her generosity.

The Chicago Tribune carried an article about Beckie’s celebration if you want to know more. For me there couldn’t have been a better way to top-off my “big cabaret weekend.”

Jazz Babies

I have been a denizen of Oak Park, IL since last July. Drawn here by the cultural ambiance and supportive community I settled in the Arts District. The theatre scene here is in transition. Oak Park has a deserved reputation for being supportive of the performing arts. There was a community theater here for many years called the Village Players and it was succeeded by the Festival Players (which produces among other things the summer Shakespeare in the Park) and the nearby Circle Theater. Circle Theatre is going strong, but has now become itinerant. There is a new theater town, The Open Door Repertory that hopes to take up the slack. It is also very likely to be in demand as a cabaret venue.

It is particularly tied into the community carefully offering either home grown theater or events that have local appeal. One of its commitments is to offer local audiences fine musical theater and similar events. It is presently embarking on a Jazz Festival with multiple offerings which will play various Saturday evenings to June 15.

Since this venue is within easy walking distance of my apartment, I wanted to check it out. The first event I visited on my recent cabaret weekend was Abigail Richards singing the music of Richard Rodgers, ‘From Hart to Hammerstein.”

This well attended concert proved why Jazz rules. Billed as a Jazz Concert the event seems designed to draw music offiicianados as well as theater types. And it was quite a fun evening. The venue is perfect for cabaret, accessible and comfortable. Refreshments are available but there is no cover of minimum.

A warm and accomplished jazz singer, Ms. Richards and her trio (Daniel Healy on Sax, Tim Fitzgerald on Guitar and Jake Vinsel on bass) interpreted the material with verve and respect. Mr. Fitzgerald was a close second to Ms. Richards in skillful riffing on the tunes. There was a pleasing mix of standards and less well known items some of which were quite venturesome: imagine a scat singer assaying “The Lonely Goatherd.”

I plan to return for more when I’m in town for the weekend. Next up is Elaine Dame exploring the Strayhorn/Ellington collaboration in “Something to Live For.” I hope the series continues to draw well. I know Elaine Dame is quite a presence in Chicago Cabaret.

My Big Cabaret Weekend

An important part of my quest for a niche in cabaret is observing the scene in Chicagoland and enjoying what it has to offer. Recently I had an opportunity to see three extra-ordinary events that gave me better perspective.

Suzanne Petri in ‘A Little Touch of Coward in the Night’ debuted at Davenports last weekend and I was there. Suzanne Petri appeared in a new Noel Coward tribute with special guest John Eskola (with his delightful tenor and graceful wit) along with pianist (and musical director) Bob Moreen with his debonair vocals and keyboard aplomb. The event was narrated by Bob Breuler who also directed and plays short scenes with Ms. Petri (his spouse). This group represents the quintessential “old guard” of Chicago cabaret. Only a group of renowned performers would venture such a refined program. It was a delight for everyone (like me) who adores ‘the Master’ masterfully performed.

But to expect that a Coward program would have commercial viability in this day and age is, well, audacious. It is also a testament to the worthy skills involved. Certainly each of these performers brings a noteworthy reputation and following for past achievements. And this is one of the purposes of the cabaret where special material can find resonance in an intimate setting in a refined milieu.

Petri is one of the founders of Chicago Cabaret Professionals and its longtime leader and former President. She is also a Jeff Award nominated actress. Past cabaret specialties includes a tribute to Marlene Dietrich. She brings a unique and winning personality to material that Coward wrote for him-self and leading ladies like Gertrude Lawrence and Lynn Fontaine. I was particularly delighted with Ms. Petri’s rendition of a song written for Bea Lillie, another Coward cohort. An evening of Bea Lillie, while it might have tickled me, would have been too much for which to ask. In this delightful cabaret performance Petri showed great range and depth and with the able support of her collaborators brought Noel Coward back to the 2013 cabaret scene where, many times in his life, he found such a natural home.

My take away from this event was: if you’re going to do unique and challenging material you had better already have a following, and it doesn’t hurt to be identified as a performer of range, wit and charm. That all takes time and for Suzanne Petri the best of times is now.

More to come on the rest of my big cabaret weekend.

Getting To Know You

I had a serendipitous meeting with Beckie Menzie, when I was doing a general audition in Chicago in March. She was working as the accompanist for the audition and afterwards I contacted her to remind her that I’d asked after her Christmas show to get together early in 2013 so that I might get her input on my cabaret project. She was willing so I set up a coaching session with the main goal of getting better acquainted.

I had seen Beckie perform several times recently and had known of her reputation as a leader in the Chicago cabaret scene. She is a wonderful entertainer and a highly sought after musical director in cabaret. Actually I had known of her activities for a very long time since I saw her work early on as a music director and performer at the Wagon Wheel Playhouse in Warsaw, Indiana where it was well known that she was pursuing cabaret in Chicago. Beckie and I are both natives of Michiana and have similar backgrounds. I am delighted to see her success in her chosen field.

The coaching session proved to be very helpful. We worked constructively on one of my audition pieces and looked at a second, which needs to be transposed. She gave me some excellent guidance and positive feedback as to the choices and my execution. Generally she was supportive of my gifts as a singer and ability to take direction which was encouraging.

She did observe that my voice was rather “reedy” and that my high notes could be more effortless. While she didn’t state it pointedly I gleaned that on-going vocal technique work would be beneficial, a conclusion which I was already thinking was valid. I know I’m pushing the envelope as a vocalist since my experience is primarily as a singing actor and a comedian, I have only ventured warily into the primary identification as a “vocalist.”

She was very insistent that I get out of our session what I sought. I assured her that the main purpose of introducing my-self and my work had been accomplished, but I went on to show her some of my “play lists.” These are the program of songs which I have been developing for Songs for the Season. Her first impression was that I needed more familiar material and less obscure (or novel) selections. I’m taking her observation under consideration. She has a point.

It is a delicate balance between finding material that is right for me as a performer and that which will appeal to a popular audience. The selection process begs the question of what I’m trying to achieve and for whom. Food for thought. This I know: my one on one with Beckie was very productive.

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