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Archive for the category “Chicagoland Cabaret”

Davenport’s Aftermath

My show at Davenport’s, Wilde and Woolley, came off quite well on June 11 with only a few understandable memory lapses/confusions, the kind of things that happen when you rehearse a big show for a one-shot performance, things that would be easily ironed out in a longer run.  We had a fairly good turn-out of new and old friends and supporters as well as a few walk-ins. 

Regrettably, I haven’t been able to savor the success as much as I’d like however, because we woke the next day to the news of the massacre at Pulse in Orlando.  Since a number of my audience members had come out to a gay club to see me celebrate Pride month the coincidence struck me particularly hard.

 I was reminded palpably of the days in San Francisco when I was playing in a long-running revival of The Fantasticks when Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone were assassinated.  I was playing Mortimer, the “man who dies” the side kick to the Old Actor, whose job was ironic comic relief:  to make people giggle and/or guffaw at the wan humor of a thespian whose whole act was reduced to death scenes.  It was a burden, let me tell you.  I’ve had bad luck that way.

We restored some cuts and put in a new ending to the show.  The new additions played well which make me happy as a writer.  The show came in at one-hour exactly meeting Davenport’s time restriction.  I have a few textual tweeks I’d like to work on for the next addition.  Our future plans now are to do the show again as a full evening with intermission (adding more songs in the second act).  We would like to produce it as theatre piece (one-man show rather than cabaret set) and do it for several weekends running, to try to get reviews and perhaps build an audience through word of mouth.

 I am so thankful for my collaborators and supporters in this endeavor.  Working with Philip Seward as music director and on-stage partner has been a singular joy.  I’d be a much happier man at this juncture if the world hadn’t reminded us once again about the risks of celebrating who you are when you are non-conforming.  But we will persevere because perseverance in the face of opposition is one of the main things that Wilde and Woolley explores and celebrates.


Up next: Wilde and Woolley

Up next is a Gay Pride edition of Wilde and Woolley: a new and improved exploration of Cole Porter’s inner circle at 8:00 pm on Saturday, June 11, 2016 Davenport’s Cabaret.  When the show debuted at Dav’s last fall it was very well received.  Patrons loved the Cole Porter songs and lore, but were also very impressed with the story-telling.

So we were delighted to be asked back.  We’ve made some improvements in the show and it will also again feature the music direction, accompaniment and vocals by the multi-talented Philip Seward.

Not just a tribute to the creative resilience of two famed pre-Stonewall gay icons, it spells out the varying effect that the closet had on Cole Porter and Monty Woolley, told cabaret style with an enchanting mixture of song:  familiar standards and unique rarities by Porter and his contemporaries.


When Daniel researched the role of Sheridan Whiteside in “The Man Who Came to Dinner” (one of his favorite theater experiences) he discovered that there was a story to tell about Cole and Monty’s friendship that was not only touching and historic but very worth knowing about and one that moved him personally.

Please join us at Davenport’s for this special Pride event.

Santa Songs 2015 comments

What people are saying about Santa Songs (2015)

“I went to Santa Songs at Piano forte on December 6th, 2015. Daniel Johnson has put together a great show. Full of classic holiday stories and songs that you may or may not know. Daniel brings his obvious love of the season and his subject to the stage with wit, joy, and presence. His open-hearted performance is free of ego or pretense and invites us to enjoy the wonder of St. Nick through his own admiring gaze.”

Theo Geer

“You did a wonderful job of telling the many stories about that jolly old man, Santa.  I learned a lot from you.  I loved how you so skillfully wove the songs and stories together into a captivating holiday cabaret show.

I sat there thinking how great this show would be for audiences looking for a different kind of Christmas season show but which still has some of the familiar melodies along with the new and continues to honor the joy, love and spirit of the season. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Carol Weston

Chicago Cabaret Professionals Advisory Board

“I should preface this by sharing that I’m not typically a fan of the Christmas season. I’m actually a bit of a grinch. Some friends invited me to see this show, however, and I’m glad I attended. There’s a sense of whimsy and gentleness that I’ve been missing in this season, and I found it again with Daniel. He’s brought together an excellent repertoire of storytelling and song and got me laughing while he shared it! For at least the time I was watching, I regained a childhood sense of wonder regarding Ol’ St. Nick that I barely recognized. Daniel evokes a sense of warmth and light while he presents, and I don’t know if I’ll ever feel so welcomed into an experience like this again.”

George McGeorge



Santa Songs 2015 Tickets on Sale

Tickets have gone on sale for the 2015 edition of “Santa Songs: A Christmas Cabaret.”   Daniel Johnson’s one-man show celebrating the heritage of that embodiment of holiday spirit we know as Father Christmas, Old St. Nick or Santa Claus; joyously told through story and song.


One evening only, Sunday Dec. 6 at 7:00 p.m. at PianoForte, located at 1335 S. Michigan Ave. in Chicago.  Tickets are $12, and can be purchased by calling 800.838.3006 or by visiting .

Santa Songs revival in the works!

With Halloween looming our attention is already turning to the 2015 revival of our Christmas show: Santa Songs.  For video highlights of last season’s rendition please see the tab above.

Here are some comments from previous season’s sponsors:

“Premier Arts is proud to have been involved in the gestational stage of Santa Songs: A Christmas Cabaret, a unique musical entertainment that ‘tells the truth’ about Santa Claus in a most amusing way.”

Craig Gibson Executive Artistic Director Premier Arts

“Daniel Johnson lit up our Restaurant at Amish Acres with his cabaret! Our patrons were mesmerized by his vocal prowess, and the heart-warming atmosphere he created while they enjoyed their meal.  He truly helped ring in the holiday season for us!”

Jeremy Littlejohn, Artistic Director Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres

“Daniel Johnson is a consummate entertainer. His Santa Songs, the profits from which he generously donated to our organization, truly makes the Yuletide season sparkle by providing a delightful evening of song and story. His fine vocal talents, his selection of material, and his stage presence combine to bring Santa to life for audiences of all ages; he even has the Jolly Elf’s twinkle in his eye! Daniel’s talent and showmanship will certainly brighten the day of anyone fortunate enough to see one of his shows.”

James Kollenbroich, Past President Chicago Temple, Brotherhood of the Phoenix

For 2015 I’m happy once again to be working with the accomplished and popular music director Mark Burnell with whom we will be perfecting this tried and true holiday entertainment. We have chosen a more accessible time and venue at PianoForte, Sunday, December 6:  for more details on this year’s offering please visit Brown Paper tickets at .

How’d It Go?

David Stephens thinks that what makes my cabaret approach somewhat unique is that I try to bring “theater to cabaret and cabaret to theatre”. My sense is that I’m attempting a genre that is as much a small ‘one-man show’ as a cabaret set.

The experience of my audience at the Wilde and Woolley premiere bore this out. The almost universal response I received in feed-back was “what a story-teller you are”.  The audience appreciated the event as story and I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment in that I succeeded in presenting a coherent story in song and dialogue from beginning to end.

In addition to the “tell me a story” appeal, my intent was to explore the issue of how the closet affected these two pre-Stonewall gay artists. This also seemed to come across.  When they saw the show people no longer puzzled about what the “Wilde” was doing in the title.

As a try-out I learned that my program can be expanded. In the debut I had an enthusiastic audience response but came in about ten minutes short of an hour.  I cut the show to fit the demands of the one-hour only format and it worked.  However I gave short shrift to several story aspects (and songs) that I think can be added back to advantage.

The Porter novelty material works like gang busters. I’m proud to have brought rare ‘gems’ to the program, but not for its own sake.  I think that the main reason songs like ‘Football King’, ‘Kling-Kling Bird’ and ‘Pets’ aren’t that much done is because they are material for comedian/actor rather than chanteur and I have the entertainment chops to work them. That also makes my program unique.

I’m also proud that I managed to act/sing the ballads successfully. Even with a voice impaired by Rhinitis the ballads worked in the debut because they were motivated by the story and served the emotional truth of it.

So as far as self-evaluation goes, I was most pleased with my accomplishment as a writer and mostly pleased with myself as a performer. I very much look forward to continue with this project.  I think it has ‘legs’.

Wilde and Woolley Publicity Campaign Underway

I wanted to convey my enthusiasm for delving into Cole Porter’s inner circle musically. We think we found a graphic image that works:


Congratulations to my photographer Peter Ringenberg, layout artist Kat O’Connor and caricature artist Pol Subanajouy for a successful collaboration.

Event graphic details

We hope you’ll plan to join us for our one time only debut of Wilde and Woolley. Take a look at my blog to explore how my background with Cole Porter, Kaufman and Hart, and my fascination with Monty Woolley brought me to this creative place. If you decide to attend, I know you’ll enjoy the music, including both Cole Porter standards and rarities and also my tribute to the creative resiliency of pre-Stonewall gay artists.

Uncle Monty made me do it.

“Daniel Johnson plotting mayhem as Sheridan Whiteside in “The Man Who Came to Dinner”

The story of the writing of “The Man Who Came to Dinner” captured my imagination the first time I heard it. A comedy about a thinly disguised author and radio personality Alexander Woollcott (the irascible, opinionated and queer head of the Algonquin Round Table) side tracked by an injury on the icy stoop of an ordinary Ohio family when we was on a celebrity tour and the ensuing mayhem he visited upon the lives of his hapless hosts while recuperating.

Kaufman and Hart tried to write dramatic material for their friend through the years and then one weekend Woollcott visited Moss Hart’s farm in Pennsylvania and his visit created such havoc that the playwright thought such a visit might make a comedy with little exaggeration.

I read everything I could get my hands on about Woollcott, including a wonderful biography “Smart Aleck” by Howard M. Teichmann which was later turned into a one-man show. I thought that show might be a fabulous showcase for me but I could never get the rights.

Then came my stint of work in Cole Porter shows, from Mooney in “Anything Goes” and Goodhue in “Leave it to Me” to Pops, et. al. in the latest revisal of “Kiss Me Kate.” It wasn’t long before I also boned up on the life and times of Cole Porter’s side-kick Monty Woolley. The one man show on Woollcott never panned out, but I was cast as Sheridan Whiteside (the Woollcott part) in “Man” the first time I had a chance to audition for the part. And I had a delicious time playing it.

At one time in New York I realized that I’d become something of an expert on Woolley and considered taking on the task of writing a full-length biography. When I ran the idea by a theatre historian he warned me that unless I had original resource material (like letters from or to Woolley found in someone’s attic) that I probably wouldn’t succeed with the subject.

I headed that warning but continued to read anything and everything I could get my hands on concerning Monty Woolley and Cole Porter. As it turned out much of it was based on secondary sources, so there isn’t much. The best new research comes from oral histories and interviews of people now mostly gone or unapproachable.

However, the idea of the relationship between two pre-Stonewall gay icons and the varied ways they coped with the closet in their creative lives continues to fascinate me, as do all the juicy stories (some quite disreputable).

I kept thinking that if Noel Coward (Monty and Cole’s mutual friend) might have a successful club act based on his life and songs, then why couldn’t Monty had he only lived a little longer? Known throughout his life to entertain at Cole’s private parties – parties that inspired the club life of the Cafe Society, then why shouldn’t he have had such an act. And since he didn’t, why shouldn’t I do one for him.

And that’s how I fell in love with my gay Uncle Monty, not the one I knew personally, but the one who haunted my imagination. I hope the love I feel my “gay uncle” will radiate through my musical homage to Cole and Monty’s lives and times. Won’t you join me and my collaborators starting next October 15 at Davenport’s Cabaret in Chicago?  Visit or call (773) 278-1830.

Wilde and Woolley Date Set

Save the date, October 15, 2015!  If you wish you knew Cole Porter, you’ll love the show I’m working on.

Cole Porter stamp The creative heritage of Cole Porter is woven into the fabric of our lives.  Tunes and images resonate through film scores and television commercials not to mention jazz clubs and pop concerts.  We know him from “Night and Day,” “Begin the Beguine” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and from the shows Anything Goes, Can-Can and Kiss Me Kate.

In my own acting career I have been privileged to play supporting roles in revivals of three of his shows and the experiences were among my most memorable, especially playing the comic lead in the 1988 revival of Leave It To Me off-Broadway in NYC.  My special take as a singing actor on Porter’s music is from the point of view of the character actor Monty Woolley, Cole’s best friend and frequent collaborator who held a storied place in Cole’s inner circle.

monty-wooleyMany of Porter’s most amusing and intriguing creations were written primarily to the taste of Woolley and his other intimate friends.  I identify closely with Monty Woolley’s biography and find the story of his relationship to Cole Porter to be fascinating.  That is the story I will tell in Wilde and Woolley, my new cabaret show.

I hope that you will find it entertaining too.  Please save the date:  October 15, 2015 at Davenport’s in Chicago.

The Magic of Spring Program

Here is the song list for “The Magic of Spring: An Earth Day Cabaret”  Please see below for other details about the event.  I hope you can join in our celebration.

Birdsong Medley, Cole Porter and others.

Spring is Here, Rodgers and Hart

Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, Tom Lehrer

Lavender Blue.  Traditional (after Burl Ives)

Queen of the May, Louise Cloutier and Daniel Johnson

Merry Haymakers,  Traditional  (after Bob Copper)

Canterbury Medley, Nevill Coghill & R. Hill, J. Hawkins (after Chaucer)

April Song, Chaucer’s Prologue and Love Will Conquer All

What’s In Your Easter Basket (parody by Daniel Johnson), Irving Berlin

This Is My Holiday, Lerner & Lowe

You Must Believe In Spring, Legrand & the Bergmans

Martha: the Last Pigeon, Music & Lyrics by Michael Friedman

Mother Earth, Traditional (lyric after Neil Young)

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