The list of trump artists may not be endless, but it's long. Take Baby Jane Dexter, who trades in the contemporary blues and doesn't so much fill a room as shake it. (At the Backstage Bistro Awards held February 28, emcee Jim David, addressing a group of sympathizers heated up about the Singer piece, quipped, "Anyone who says cabaret doesn't have edge hasn't seen Baby Jane Dexter in a mood.") Take David Gurland, a singer as short and solid as a beer keg, who can twist Sting's "Ev'ry Breath You Take" into a stalker's insidious boast. Take the soigné Andrea Marcovicci and/or the suave Mary Cleere Haran, neither of whom use blunt satirist's tools but choose material--granted, generally traditional--that offers them the opportunity to hold up the mirror to a sometimes grim, sometimes cheering society. Take Scott Coulter, who may look like a grown Teletubby but has no qualm about delivering Tim DiPasqua's "Big Hairy Man," which deals with a gay man's choice between quick sex and dull domesticity. None of what these performers do--there are many more like them--is conventional, reassuring or dated.
A last remark might be made about Singer, whose smoothly-written excoriation reflects an even more disturbing misconception about cabaret. He says that "the current scene does seem more frivolously disconnected from the culture at large than ever before." He's right about the "disconnected" part, but it's thoughtless of him to chalk up the disconnectedness to frivolousness, as if the entertainers and audiences around now are no more than a gaggle of Sally Bowleses pretending nothing of any importance is crashing around them. (Incidentally, Sally Bowles represents some of that ubiquitous Weimar chaff. Or was Christopher Isherwood making her up out of whole cloth?)
That type of cabaret has become a marginalized area in which entertainers' toil is the consequence of many evolutionary changes--societal, cultural, economic, technological--and in some ways, it's produced a chicken-and-egg question: Has cabaret shifted so far from popular taste because it is, perceived to be, less cogent? Or is cabaret perceived to be less cogent because public taste has shifted away from it.
Cabaret's loss of sway in a larger art-and-commerce context has given rise to the misapprehension that it is now mostly an arena for vanity presentations. The perception is, to some extent, self-eventuating. Some proprietors hold to policies whereby vanity productions are used to fill rooms that would languish otherwise. And as one domino fells another, those who still champion the intimate room as a show business nonpareil band together like forlorn passengers on the Titanic. But just because the ship may sometimes looks as if it may be sinking doesn't mean those aboard have lost their intrinsic worth.
It may or may not be true that life is a cabaret, but it is still true that--naysayers notwithstanding--cabaret here and now continues to have invigorating life.