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More Cabaret-Shaping Moments

Natalie Douglas, K.T. Sullivan, and David Gurland reveal their cabaret-shaping moments. logo
Hosting the 14th Annual MAC Awards, I got the chance to see a lot of old friends from my crooning days. One good pry leads to another, and before I knew it, I had a whole extra week's worth of fascinating answers to last week's query. So, the conversation continues.

Who was the biggest influence on your cabaret career?

James Luzar was working the bar at Eighty-Eight's, and decided to do a cabaret show. Now, Jimmy, a MAC Award-winning director and performer, has a self-described "voice like a hinge,"

Natalie Douglas appears at
Brandy's Piano Bar and
has a CD, Not That Different
but the show was one of the most powerful things I'd ever seen! One of the reasons he's now such a gifted director is because, as an actor, he is without comparison. I got very excited, seeing him. I had always trained as an actor. Singing is something I did for fun. My mother taught me to sing in our kitchen when I was four to keep me from driving her crazy. So here was someone blending the two things I loved--singing and acting--in such a brilliant way. Jimmy and I ended up working together at Broadway Baby, and sometimes, when the club was empty, we'd just sing for each other. We came up with the most bizarre arrangements--things that made us laugh and cry--the sheer joy of performing. We challenged each other and learned so much. He taught me to work with images when I sing. Who am I picturing as I sing the song? Where am I? Because I sing a lot of standards, he taught me to only sing songs that I can bring something wonderful and new to.
- Natalie Douglas

Cleo Laine was my inspiration. I was in Oklahoma studying opera, and one of my teachers brought her in for a special benefit at Oklahoma University.

K.T. Sullivan will be appearing
in Pizza on the Park in London
this August, and at the Gershwin
at The Triad, next fall.
I was sitting in the balcony and she started to sing "Lorelei." She was really getting down on this Gershwin song, as only Cleo can get down, with all the top notes, too. It was all so sexy and I sat there thinking, "OOOH! I want to do that!" The kind of reaction she got from the audience was nothing like anything I could get chirping my high notes. I decided right then and there that I wanted to be a sexy lady singing songs at a piano! To me, she brought such joy and range to singing. I always had the idea that club singers had to have low voices. In the movies, even The Helen Morgan Story starred Gogi Grant--Helen Morgan was a soprano! When I heard Cleo, with her huge range, I knew I could do that. It's funny, the only person who ever caught the Cleo connection in my show was Liz Smith. She called me a combination of Cleo Laine and Lovelady Powell, who now has a shop in Sag Harbor. Go figure!
- K.T. Sullivan

A while back, I heard a black market tape of Barbra Streisand at the Bon Soir in 1961. Now, of course, I had heard Streisand my whole life, but this showed a whole other side. It was amazing! In a time when music was coming from clean-cut middle-class white-bread bobby-soxers, there was a rather weird, ethnic looking girl on the downtown scene. She wasn't in an evening gown like everyone else.

David Gurland appears at
the Downtime Club
She was in funky clothes, singing weird songs with a voice like nobody had ever heard. She was a total freak! I think a lot of us feel a bit like outcasts in some way, and cabaret seems to give us a home to do what we want. I felt that, in my own way, I was offbeat and really needed an outlet. I had done quite a bit of theater, but was thought of as a character actor and was never given the pretty songs. I wanted to choose what to sing, as opposed to letting other people choose for me. I liked singing high and light, and never felt there was much of a place for that in the theater. Seeing Phillip Officer and Tom Andersen use that part of their voice really inspired me a lot. They weren't afraid to show the vulnerable side to their personality. Cabaret was the perfect place to be me!- David Gurland

Click here to visit Jim Caruso's website.

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