Songs for the Season

Unique Musical Programs

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.

Santa Songs Promo

Our Promotional Video for Santa Songs just went live on Youtube.   You can check it out above at “Santa Songs Video”.

It was produced at Kerramel Studios with Ron and Kerry Ben-Joseph videographers.  The raw tape of the December 18th concert was shot by videographer Max Anisimov at Grand Piano Haus in Skokie, IL.

We hope that you enjoy this preview of the show and will contact us with interest for future performances.

Spring Show After Glow

The show was warmly received by the friends and neighbors at Counter Coffee.  I’m always impressed when the Burl Ives material goes over.  I’m referring to “Lavender Blue” in this case.  I do love doing it.  And particularly fulfilling was my new medley of songs from Canterbury Tales, the musical.  Chaucer’s prologue is such fun to do to musical accompaniment.   It reminds me of the monologues in “The Fantasticks”.

Many thanks to my friends from SongShop.  It is great sharing the work with you.  Both Mark Burnell and Claudia Hommel are wonderful mentors and I recommend them both.

Towards the end of my rehearsal period I realized that the Magic of Spring is “folk heavy”.  Perhaps that is why I sense that the material belongs more in a coffee shop setting rather than a night club.  Is it time for a folk revival including more coffee shop venues?  I hope so.

My next show, already in development is “Wilde and Woolley”.  It’s the story of Monty Woolley and Cole Porter’s inner circle featuring the works of Cole Porter and his contemporaries.  That should be much more appropriate for a night club setting.   We are planning a debut in Chicago at Davenports in October.

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)

My Queen of the May

See “Spring Magic” blog entry below for performance details about “The Magic of Spring:  An Earth Day Cabaret.”

How was the “Queen of the May” created?

In 2011 I was invited to perform a short program at a spring tea.  One of the things I wanted to do was to sing about the May Pole tradition but I couldn’t find anything appropriate in the folk tradition, so I put on the thinking cap and came up with my own lyric, which I sang in the program to a “dummy tune.”

Later I met composer Louise Cloutier and it seemed to me she would be a good collaborator to bring the song into my repertoire.  I’m quite pleased with the results:  “Queen of the May” commemorates the rebirth of spring.  I imagined an old fellow remembering a time when he was led in a May Pole dance by his lover who he remembers fondly as Queen of the May.  Memories tend to gain power when recounted repeatedly over the years and so it is with this song.  My own memories of creating this song are associated with an occasion when I sang it for my mother shortly before she passed.

I love to perform original material and now my lyric is embellished in a transporting, European-feeling setting, so appropriate for a May Pole dance which is historically of Germanic origin.

Thanks to Louise for her music and friendship.  It will be a highlight of the program.

Spring Magic

“The Magic of Spring: An Earth Day Cabaret” playing one night only, Wednesday, April 22 in Forest Park, is a concert celebrating the joys of springtime, featuring traditional favorites such as “Lavender Blue” and “The Merry Haymakers” together with songs from stage and screen (Rodgers and Hart’s “Spring is Here”, Cole Porters “I Love You”) as well as original music by Chicago composer Louise Cloutier.  There will be a taste of the 1968 folk rock Musical “Canterbury Tales” and a quick visit with the Easter Bunny as well as special material in honor of Earth Day.  This is family friendly entertainment staring Daniel T. Johnson with music director Mark Burnell at the piano and hosted with refreshments available by Counter Coffee.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

At Counter Coffee, 7324 W. Madison, Forest Park, IL:

Admission Free – donations gratefully accepted.  Refreshments by Counter Coffee.

The performance will be at 7:30 and will last for about one hour.

Daniel is a veteran musical theatre performer of material from Gilbert and Sullivan to Meredith Willson and Cole Porter.  He has appeared at Davenport’s Cabaret in “Strut Your Stuff” and with SongShop Live.  For the last four years he has performed his holiday show “Santa Songs: A Christmas Cabaret” around Chicagoland.

Mark Burnell is an accomplished pianist/vocalist/arranger and one of Chicago’s most sought after musicians, working with a wide array of talent. 

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