Kane is Able
Michael Portantiere shares some Japanese food with KANE ALEXANDER, cabaret's latest sensation from Australia.
Since his debut at the Firebird Café, he has appeared at the Algonquin's Oak Room (as a special guest of Karen Akers), at Don't Tell Mama, and at Odette's in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Now he's preparing for a return engagement at the FireBird , June 10-July 1. I caught up with Kane on an unseasonably warm afternoon in early May, at the Yokohama Noodle shop on Restaurant Row.
KANE: Is it always so hot here in the summer?
TM: Not always, but frequently.
KANE: The air is so heavy! In Australia, it's hot, but dry. Up North, in Queensland, it can get sort of tropical and humid, but I've always lived in Central Australia and further down south. With dry heat, you can sort of escape it--but you can't do that here! The place I'm staying at the moment has no air conditioning, so I went and bought this big mother fan. But it doesn't do an awful lot.
TM: Do you have a green card?
KANE: Not yet. That's being sorted out as we speak, but these things take a long time to organize. Sometimes it can take months before they even get to your application. In the meantime, I've got to travel back and forth [between here and Australia], which is a bummer. I'd love to live in New York. I was just talking to someone about that the other day. You know how there are some places where you just feel at home? I've done so much traveling, and it's very rare for me to go to a place and think, "I could really live here." I felt that the first day I got to New York. I was walking around, and I just loved the energy of the place. I even felt like I knew where I was going--as if I'd lived here before. I went to a Jewish deli the other day and had some matzo ball soup. I thought, "I know this," but I know I've never had it before. Maybe, in a past life, I lived on the Lower East Side. I guess I think of myself as an old soul.
TM: For a 23 year old, you do seem extremely--I guess "mature" is the word, if that doesn't sound condescending.
KANE: I've mixed with adults since I was very young. I grew up on a farm in Australia, and there were a total of 40 people in the town. Because it was so isolated, I used to read and listen to music a lot. And, as I said, I've done a lot of traveling. I left school at 17, and did a tour of South Pacific. I don't think anybody knew how young I was. Chris Renshaw [the director] found out one day--I don't remember how--and he told me, "If I knew you were 17, I never would have cast you!" The tour started in Australia, and then we toured Asia, Hong Kong, Thailand. It really sort of opened my eyes to the world. After that, I worked for the Walt Disney company in these spectacular Disney on Ice kinds of shows. We played stadiums in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, China. I was the compere--sort of the host and lead singer.
TM: How much schooling do you have?
KANE: I studied at university in Perth for a while, but I left to play Marius in Les Misérables, and then I came to New York. So I've squeezed a lot into the past five years!
TM: You seem so comfortable singing the great American songbook. How did you become familiar with that repertoire?
KANE: When I was about six or seven, I found this boxful of records that my grandmother owned: Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Mario Lanza. It was the most amazing music, and I was absolutely enthralled. While all the other kids were out playing, I'd be in the house listening to this music and being transported. I also loved to watch M-G-M musicals on television; we only had two television stations, not like the 90 or 100 you have here, but they showed musicals on the weekends. I'd never seen any theater, so I didn't really know that existed. I just knew that I wanted to sing, dance, and act like those people I saw on the screen.
TM: What was your first experience of live theater?
KANE: When I was 10, my parents took me to see Big River. That was a big deal, because it was like a seven hour drive from where we lived. Les Misérables was my second show.
TM: Tell me about your vocal training.
KANE: My voice broke early; I had a very deep voice by the time I was about 11. I went to a singing teacher, and she said, "I've never heard anything like this before; I don't know what to do with you." She gave me these bass/baritone songs to sing, but then my voice started going up and up and up. When I was 14, I left home to study at Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne. I had this fantastic teacher there, who was an opera singer. He sort of took me under his wing. I studied with him for a couple of years, and started doing some recital and concert work--mainly art songs, lieder, and opera. Now my voice is like a bari-tenor, which is good for musical theater.
TM: It's also good for cabaret; for some reason, so many of the male singers seem to be fairly high tenors.
KANE: I've heard that, and it sort of surprised me. This community is so supportive. I went to the MAC Awards this year, and everyone seemed so nice! It's been such a great experience for me to be a part of it, even while I'm still feeling my way. To see all of these wonderful performers is like a master class.
TM: I caught Steven Brinberg's Simply Barbra show recently, on the night when you were his special guest. Did you enjoy doing that?
KANE: He is so good. I had heard of Steven, but I had never seen him before. The weird thing was that we had a rehearsal before show, but we just sort of marked through it; so it wasn't until the performance that night that I got to see this creation! It was a lot of fun.
TM: What's your show at the FireBird going to be like?