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Keeping Sharp So They Won't Fall Flat

They're in long-running hits and award-winning revivals, but Broadway performers are coming to the cabaret

By New York City

They may not be as naughty as Kander and Ebb's Weimar Republic version (or as intellectual as Steve Martin's Lapin Agile version), but New York natives and tourists in search of live entertainment - where they can drink at their seats - currently have almost a dozen cabaret venues to choose from. Even in the absence of such venerated cabaret venues as Rainbow and Stars and Eighty-Eights, the scene has nevertheless been bolstered by the opening of Feinstein's and Arci's Place. Add to this era of good feeling an avalanche of Broadway and Off-Broadway performers who keep returning to their performance roots by coming to the cabaret and the result is that the hills are alive with the sounds' of show tunes, and much more.

EXCELLENT CHOPS

Following his December stint on Broadway as part of Dame Edna: The Royal Tour, cabaret's "madcap music man" Mark Nadler returns to Sardi's every Saturday in February with his Nonstop Broadway Hootenanny 2000. Among his guest stars are such theater-and-cabaret luminaries as Karen Mason (Sunset Boulevard), Steve Ross (Present Laughter), Heather MacRae (Falsettos), Charles Busch (The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, so to go up at Manhattan Theater Club), David Campbell (Saturday Night, soon to grace the Second Stage) and Freddie Roman (Catskills on Broadway). Trained as an actor and dancer, Nadler's been singing and playing piano in "saloons" since he was ten. "In cabaret, performers have complete artistic freedom - that's why I love it so. Cabaret is the most fun anyone can have!"

Eric Michael Gillett, former Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus ringmaster and a cabaret performer extraordinaire, totally agrees. He's currently moonlighting from his role as Ralph, the company manager in Broadway's hit revival of Kiss Me Kate by appearing at Judy's Chelsea, performing January 17, 24 and 31 as well as February 7 and 14. Entitled Hook, Line and Singer, Gillett's first new cabaret show in three years is a real departure for the golden-voiced performer, best known for introducing new material by the likes of Craig Carnelia (Cast of Thousands) and Barry Kleinbort (Big City Rhythm). "This show is filled with the pop songs I grew up with on the radio - everything from The Supremes' 'You Can't Hurry Love,' to Larry Gatling's 'I've Done Enough Dyin' Today'," he says. "My director, Lina Koutrakis, told me my song list looked like a lounge act from the '60s and '70s, but this is actually my most personal show, because this music informed who I was and who I still am, anytime I hear it."

In what is left of Gillett's spare time, he's also directing a cabaret show, also at Judy's, for actress and singer Annette Hunt, running January 30, February 2, and February 9. He met Hunt while co-starring in a regional production of La Cage Aux Folles. This show features the songs of famed Broadway and Hollywood star of the '30s, Grace Moore. Finally, another performer-turned-director is Sally Mayes (She Loves Me). You can catch her protégé, Jonathan Rayson, at the Firebird Cafe, January 19 and 26. Rayson was recently featured in a staged reading of John Bucchino's new musical Urban Myths. And speaking of John's, John (Dream) Pizzarelli - that's the Broadway show he starred in opposite Margaret Whiting, not a classification -is at Feinstein's with Jessica Molaskey (Parade) as a guest from January 19 through February 14.

In addition to the recent-opened Feinstein's, the recently-opened Arci's confirms the trend toward new cabaret spaces. Between Thanksgiving and New Years, for example, Karen Mason (Sunset Boulevard) launched the venue with her much-beloved Christmas show. Broadway and cabaret veteran Kaye Ballard (The Golden Apple and Hey Ma...Kaye Ballard) also performs her newest show there in May. Meanwhile, Sally Mayes, now in singer, not director, mode, and Tony Award-winner Faith Prince (Guys and Dolls) both graced the intimate stage of the Firebird along with their respective musician husbands. Mayes' show featured music from her "Story Hour" CD, while Prince, heretofore a cabaret virgin, taped a live version of her "Leap of Faith" CD at Joe's Pub.

HAVE A TIPPLE WITH ZIPPEL

Joe's Pub - the marvelous cabaret space distinguishing the Public Theater - finds three Tony winners and one possibly Tony nominee in attendance on January 17, 24 and 31. The mixture includes three certifiably wonderful divas - Debbie Gravitte (Jerome Robbins' Broadway), Randy Graff (City of Angels) and Adriane Lenox (Kiss Me, Kate) - but when you stir in lyricist David Zippel (City of Angels), you have All Girl Band: The Songs of David Zippel.

For Zippel & Co., the Joe's Pub gig is something of a reunion. "It's so great," the lyricist enthuses, "I get to work with three of my favorite singers." Gravitte recalls, "David and I have been friends since we both arrived in town in 1980. He wrote, 'I Was Born To Be A Slide Trombone' for me, when I was singing at Les Mouches." Gravitte is the connection between two other members of the mix, having appeared with Graff "in about a billion benefits," plus the Off-Broadway revue, Tapestry: The Music of Carol King and while she hasn't directly worked with Lenox, the Broadway veteran's credits, including an Obie Award for her show Dinah Was, makes her a familiar face to all.

COME TO THE CABARET?

Debbie Gravitte and her actor/singer hubby Beau also appeared together earlier this month at the 92nd Street Y's 30th Anniversary Lyrics & Lyricists celebration of the music of Broadway legend Cy Coleman, hosted by, of all people, Zippel. Other Broadway babies included in this tribute were cabaret doyenne queen Julie Wilson. Future L&L salutes include Kander and Ebb (February 12 through 14), featuring Karen Ziemba (currently in Chicago), and Mary Testa (lately of Marie Christine), along with Stephen Sondheim (March), Comden and Green (April), and Jerry Herman (May). The roster of performers for those salutes are resolutely TBA.

What isn't TBA is the answer to the oft-asked question, 'Where's the new music?'...for all one needs to do is check out the Firebird/ASCAP Songwriter Series, running Sundays at 7 through the end of May. At the Press Preview - hosted by Academy Award-winner Stephen Schwartz (Godspell), the increasingly ubiquitous Sally Mayes performed 'It's Only a Broken Heart,' by Carol Hall (Best Little Whorehouse in Texas). Hall's songs will also be featured on February 13 and March 5. Other Broadway songwriters on the preview menu include Tony Award-winner Jason Robert Brown (Parade), who sings his own aria of first date embarrassment, 'I Could Be in Love with Someone Like You.' The aforementioned Craig Carnelia, currently collaborating with Marvin Hamlisch on the upcoming musical version of Sweet Smell of Success, introduced his latest, 'Look for Me in My Song', as well. Kudos to ASCAP's Michael Kerker and The Firebird's Erv Raible for this invaluable series.

Once Gwen Verdon's understudy in New Girl in Town, and now the town's own reincarnation of jazz great Sylvia Syms, Claiborne Cary's Algonquin debut, At Long Last, Clai runs though January 29. Cary began her Broadway career as a dancer in the original Silk Stockings, the Cole Porter musical starring Don Ameche, and she also appeared in the original Sid Caesar production of Little Me. The sixtysomething sizzler wowed audiences with her "Claiborne Cary Alive!" show at Danny's Skylight Room last year.

Sizzling as well over at Don't Tell Mama is comedian/writer Seth Rudetsky, perhaps best known for "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." Rudetsky has inaugurated Seth's Broadway Chatterbox, a live talk show with Broadway stars dropping by on their way to work at 6pm on Thursdays. Chatterers already interviewed include Kristen Chenoweth (Epic Proportions), Orfeh (Saturday Night Fever) and Janet Metz (Marie Christine). Chatterers upcoming include Priscilla Lopez (Frida Kahlo) and a whole host of surprises. The tantalizing angle on this show is that each guest must bring show an embarrassing moment of themselves on videotape. Says Rudetsky, "Kristen losing the Miss Pennsylvania contest was both sad and excruciatingly funny." All proceeds go to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids.


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