Julie Wilson, the Queen of Cabaret, now has her own realm. It's the newly christened Julie Wilson Room at The Hideaway, 32 West 37th Street.
The venue was so christened on September 5th, which Mayor Giuliani proclaimed as Julie Wilson Day in the City of New York. And, man, did the lady's subjects arrive in droves to celebrate the event! Julie is beloved for supporting young performers by coming to their shows, and this time they returned the favor. Pros like Lainie Kazan and Jamie deRoy were also in attendance, not to mention a slew of folks from the media and some paying fans. But the evening began more like a rave than a cabaret event; the room was so overcrowded on its opening night that several important and influential invited guests were compelled to flee before the festivities began. Of those who stayed, many had to stand throughout the evening, which meant that plenty of seated patrons could not see the stage.
The waiters could hardly be blamed for their inability to deliver drinks and snacks to the multitude, as they could not fight their way through the hip-to-hip crowd. Nor had they planned on feeding the entire West Side of Manhattan. One bold celebrant, in order to obtain food for his starving wife, was seen making a sortie into the kitchen; he somehow made it back through the astonished (and famished) hordes intact. It should be noted that cabaret clubs like Arci's Place and Feinstein's at the Regency, when faced with a possibly overcrowded night, will call folks who are on the comp list for that evening and ask them to come another time. Those who are running the Julie Wilson Room should have done the same.
Granted, this was a unique event, so we can reasonably expect that reservations at the room will mean more in the future than they did on this occasion. But as opening nights go, this one looked like it was heading for disaster until the formal entertainment began. Larry Woodard held the audience at bay with a Sondheim medley, but it was Mark Nadler who saved the night with his ad libs ("I'm here to put the Jew in the Julie Wilson Room") and his comically commanding performance of "Entering Marion." When, at the end of the song, a misguided patron crossed in front of the stage, the exuberant Nadler impulsively grabbed the guy and kissed him on the lips. The crowd went wild and a potentially hostile audience was turned into a cheering throng. Lainie Kazan gave Nadler, the kissing bandit, a standing ovation.
Next up, KT Sullivan charmed us by noting that her version of "Always True to You (in My Fashion)" was inspired by hearing Julie sing the song 10 years earlier. A delightful comedienne, Sullivan had the crowd completely under her spell--until her next number was interrupted by a radio playing over the sound system! She and Mark Nadler (her pianist) handled the snafu smoothly until it was corrected.
Finally, it was time for Julie Wilson to show us why she deserves to have a room in her name. And she did. With her trademark gardenia in her hair and wrapped in a purple feather boa, she proceeded to wow the crowd. It was noted more than once during the night that Julie is a master of lyric interpretation; her rendition of "Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey" proved the truth of that beyond measure. If ever there was a tired, overdone tune, it's "Bill Bailey," but Julie gave it new life. With this performance, the Julie Wilson Room was truly born.
The room itself, however, has problems to solve. The sound system, in particular, is not up to professional standards. It needs to be improved pronto, because the room has an impressive lineup of acts for the next several months: the aforementioned Lainie Kazan plus Amanda McBroom, Mark Murphy, Tom Wopat, KT Sullivan, Mark Nadler, Wesla Whitfield, and, of course, Julie herself.
In terms of physical layout, the room is divided into three sections. There's the center section, where you want to sit, and the two end sections: one is the entrance, where the bar is located, and the other has a wall partially dividing it from the middle room. In other words, there are some less than desirable tables, but that's nothing new in cabaret. Certainly, the Oak Room's back wall, where patrons are seated almost behind the performer, is no worse. The Julie Wilson Room has far more good seats than a lot of cabaret rooms. And it's got Julie Wilson.