Though the intrepid piano bar performers of New York City bring untold hours of entertainment to their audiences, the experience of singing your heart out for a bunch of not-always-polite patrons in a loud, smoky room can be less than edifying. It's a nice change of pace, whenever possible, to offer a full-length show in a cabaret room for an attentive audience of friends and fans.
So why has Natalie Blalock not done a show of her own since the early '90s? After all, she's a beloved fixture of the piano bar at Don't Tell Mama for her fabulous renditions of songs ranging from Madonna's "Material Girl" to Sondheim's "Losing My Mind." Blalock has a phenomenal voice, a wicked sense of humor, and--not incidentally--a bodacious bod, all of which have gained her quite a following at Mama's. (Full disclosure: among her myriad credits is a reading of play I wrote that didn't go anywhere.) Now, she is in final preparations for a new show: Ladies and Gentlemen, Natalie Blalock, created in collaboration with Kenny Burrows, directed by Jay Rogers and musical-directed by Steven Watkins, with fellow waitrons Eric Pickering and Traci Reynolds performing backup. As the debut of the show approaches (July 20), I caught up with Natalie to ask, "Girl, what took you so long?"
THEATERMANIA: Has it really been eight years since your last show?
NATALIE BLALOCK: Yes, it was in '93. Can you believe that? But I've kept myself busy. I went off to Germany for a while. Then I did Paper Moon and Houdini at Goodspeed, and The Scarlet Pimpernel on Broadway.
TM: What was the gig in Germany?
NB: I went on a six-month, bus-and-truck tour of a revue called The Best of Broadway. It was a horrible, horrible, show--worse than any cruise ship experience you might imagine. The people they hired all were very talented, but the production itself was terrible. There was no set because we were hitting a new town every single night, and the costumes had probably been in use for at least 10 years. I did the show because I had always wanted to travel in Europe; my sister and I were supposed to go backpacking there, but she didn't save any money, so we didn't get to go. Then someone offered me this audition, and I thought, 'This is my chance.'
TM: You said in the piano bar the other night that you're turning 33 this month.
NB: Yeah. I kept telling myself that I was going to do my own show again when I was 30, but other opportunities came up. I figure it's now or never! I'm hoping to take everything I've learned over the last few years and incorporate that into the show. When you work for so long at a place like Don't Tell Mama, you have no choice but to create your own kind of personality and find out whatever it is that works for you. It's a great place to learn about who you are and what you have to offer. I'm also inspired by Bette Midler and Sandra Bernhard and Madonna, and the way they do their shows. I mean, obviously, they have bigger budgets; but I like the way they do little vignettes. I'll be taking sets of three or four songs and wrapping them together somehow. I just wanna get up and have a good time--and I'm bringing Eric and Traci with me to make sure that happens.
TM: What's up with the title of the show?
NB: To be honest, we didn't have one. "Ladies and Gentlemen, Natalie Blalock" is in the show, so we're using that. The graphic designer [for the flyer] was like, "You need a title!"
TM: How are rehearsals going?
NB: We're just now getting it on its feet. We're going into blocking tomorrow. My friend Gaelen Gilliland, who is also my roommate, just choreographed a number for me the other day for a medley. I'm going to torture my people and really make them move.
TM: I smell a production number.
NB: Well, it's a pseudo-production number. When I was a kid, I used to watch TV shows like Merv Griffin with my grandmother, and I could never understand why Beverly Sills was singing the songs that she was singing. They were always pop tunes, and I thought, 'This is so wrong!' So I'm taking that idea and twisting and turning it into something that, maybe, it shouldn't be.
TM: Sounds like fun.
NB: I hope so!
[Don't Tell Mama is located at 343 West 46th Street, on Restaurant Row. For performance schedule and/or reservations for Natalie Blalock's show there, phone 212-757-0788.]