If you are one of those people who summers in Provincetown (or would like to) and you miss the vibrant cabaret scene that existed there in the '80s, you would have been in Shan-gri-la in P-town on May 5 through May 7. Over the course of one weekend, 14 Boston-area cabaret performers participated in a series of shows, lectures, workshops, and master classes that collectively made up the program for CabaretFest!.
This three-day extravaganza was the brainchild of local cabaret performer, John O'Neil (morphing into a producer extraordinaire) and AtLast! Productions. Judging by the huge turnout, O'Neil may have indeed found a new calling. Much of the event's success can be directly attributed to his artistic vision, his remarkable business savvy, and his ability to rally the support of the town behind him.
Armed with a good idea and a clear business plan, O'Neil persuaded the Provincetown Board of Tourism to underwrite the publicity, which then encouraged venues like The Crown and Anchor, Guest House, Stormy Harbor, Steve's Alibi, and the BeaconLight to participate in the event. And this was not just an event--it was truly a festival, something O'Neil felt was necessary to draw attention in a town that already has a built-in carnival atmosphere. The strategy paid off in spades, as several hundred people turned out, filling the cabaret rooms to capacity.
The grand opening took place on Friday night with an early and a late show at the Crown and Anchor, newly rebuilt--with a splendid cabaret room replete with sound, lights, and private dressing rooms--after last year's devastating fire. The evening was a showcase of the weekends' performers, expertly hosted by the grand dame of Boston cabaret herself, Carol O'Shaughnessy. O'Shaughnessy was completely gracious to her peers, extolling their virtues in glowing introductions.
In her own sets, O'Shaughnessy showed exactly how it should be done, warming up the audience with her stories and trademark self-deprecating humor. She had people doubled-over with laughter with a parody of "Memory" from Cats sung with unfaltering mock-gravity. Then she rendered the room breathless with a riveting "My Favorite Year." Her closing, a Peter Pan medley that must be seen, she lead the audience in a fun-filled sing-along of crowing and flying, finishing with a heartfelt "Never Never Land." O'Shaughnessy has never sounded better than she has in the past several months, and I would encourage anyone who hasn't seen her recently to get to her upcoming shows.
The evenings' cavalcade represented a cross-section of the Boston cabaret artist community, ranging in age, gender, and experience, all performing their personal best. Among the men, Randy Zinkus featured his buttery baritone in the touching "Mama, A Rainbow" from Minnie's Boys, then deftly twisted the Mother's Day tribute with a comic "Lizzie Borden" from New Faces of 1952. Duo Ben Sears and Brad Conner were adorably funny with Irving Berlin's "You'd Be Surprised," though were less effective with a leaden dance routine in "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan."
Britton White, a promising young newcomer with boy-next-door looks and a gorgeous tenor, made a nice impression with the rarely heard Billy Joel gem, "You're My Home," which nevertheless might have landed better at a slower tempo. Another accomplished tenor, Brian De Lorenzo, offered Barry Manilow's "All the Time,"using the cabaret setting to expose layers of meaning often lost in mainstream versions. John O'Neil himself also took to the stage, amazing the audience with his command of complex lyrics and comic timing in Kirby Tepper's "The Ship Sails On," a hilarious tour-de-force concerning a pair of lesbian seagulls on Noah's Ark.
The women were equally impressive, with Sarah deLima poignant one minute during Noel Coward's "Mad About the Boy," and lusciously lascivious the next, in Sondheim's "Can That Boy Foxtrot." Ida Zecco followed with what has to be a definitive delivery of Sondheim's "I Never Do Anything Twice," using her huge repertoire of comic expressions to great effect. Jan Peters pulled out all the stops with Kander and Ebb's celebratory "Yes," followed by David Friedman's riotously funny "My Simple Christmas Wish." Only Dorothy Miller, an energetic piano bar entertainer, seemed like a fish out of water in this line-up, offering "Some People" from Gypsy and "It Never Was You" by Kurt Weill in a show-bizzy style that never really found the core of either song.