Monday, July 18, 2016

This week, life is a cabaret

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Lovers of the art of cabaret will find a lot to like in Grand Center this week as The Cabaret Project of St. Louis (of which I am a board member) presents the annual St. Louis Cabaret Festival. Held in conjunction with the St. Louis Cabaret Conference, a nine-day professional training seminar for cabaret singers from St. Louis and around the country, the festival features six nights of widely varied performances by local and national artists. Both the conference and festival are spearheaded by St. Louis cabaret entrepreneur Tim Schall.

Faith Prince
It all starts on Tuesday, July 19, at 8 p.m. with First Stage: The St. Louis Cabaret Conference High School Showcase. The evening features young performers from the High School track of the St. Louis cabaret conference. As with the adult tracks, these performers first had to audition for slots. Those who made the cut then got intensive training in the art of song performance from Broadway's Karen Mason and American Idol's Peisha McPhee along with Tim Schall and Webster University's Carol Schmidt. I've seen the High School showcase in the past and it's wonderful to witness how talented these kids are so early in their careers. The performance takes place at The Stage @ KDHX, just east of Jazz at the Bistro in Grand Center.

Jason Graae
Wednesday, July 20, at 8 p.m. brings a double bill of two powerhouse performers: Tony Award winner Faith Prince and her long time friend and L.A. Drama Critics Circle winner Jason Graae. Titled The Prince and the Showboy (a joking reference to the 1957 Marilyn Monroe/Laurence Olivier comedy The Prince and the Showgirl), the evening promises to be one of belly laughs and great music. Having seen both Ms. Prince and Mr. Graae on stage in the past (and having been coached by both of them at previous St. Louis Cabaret Conferences), I can guarantee you that they are tremendously talented actors, singers, and comics. Expect an evening of high-powered entertainment that will keep you smiling long after you leave. The performance takes place at the Sheldon Concert Hall in Grand Center.

Marilyn Maye
Thursday, July 21, at 8 p.m. it's a return engagement by the astonishing Marilyn Maye with pianists and long-time collaborators Billy Stritch and Tedd Firth and (as if there weren't already enough talent on stage) a guest appearance by jazz diva Ann Hampton Callaway. A cabaret legend who appeared a record number of 76 times on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Maye has been packing them in at Carnegie Hall, New York's 54 Below, Feinstein's, Birdland, and in clubs and concert venues throughout the country. Reviewing her appearance here in 2007, I praised her "immediate and honest communication with the audience." "Maye's boundless energy and obvious delight in her material," I wrote, "in combination with her cheerful, off-the-cuff repartee, establish an immediate bond with those of us on the other side of the spotlight."

Both Stritch and Firth are strong solo performers as well, by the way, and for local jazz lovers Ms. Callaway surely needs no introduction. It will be a joyous, jazzy, spectacular cabaret event created specifically for St. Louis Cabaret Festival audiences, and you can see it at the Sheldon Concert Hall.

Tony DeSare
Friday, July 22, at 8 p.m., the Sheldon will play host to Tony DeSare and his Trio in a wide-ranging evening that runs the gamut from Sinatra classics to Prince, and includes some of Mr. DeSare's own tunes. Named a Rising Star Male Vocalist in Downbeat magazine, DeSare has three top ten Billboard jazz albums under his belt and has headlined in prestigious venues such as New York's 54 Below and Carnegie Hall, along with major performing arts centers and numerous symphony orchestras throughout North America and abroad. This is Mr. DeSare's first appearance here in St. Louis, so this is a great chance to catch a rising star.

Saturday, July 23, at 8 p.m. it's back to The Stage @ KDHX for The St. Louis Cabaret Conference Professional Track Showcase. Mentored by Marilyn Maye, Faith Prince, Tedd Firth and Billy Stritch, as well as other members of the Cabaret Conference faculty, these are singers from the most advanced of the Cabaret Conference's three tracks. They're established cabaret pros from around the country, often with many shows to their credit, who are polishing their craft here in St. Louis. The showcase presents each of them in short, carefully tailored sets that display their range and talent. The first pro track showcase was last year, and it was impressive.

Ann Hampton Callaway
The St. Louis Cabaret Festival concludes on Sunday, July 24, with the St. Louis Cabaret Conference Closing Night Showcase and Celebration at the newly remodeled Jazz at the Bistro in Grand Center. After five days of working on their craft, its time for the core group of talented singers of the St. Louis Cabaret Conference to show audiences why they've come from all over the country to be mentored by the Conference's notable faculty. As someone who has seen and/or performed in most of the closing showcases over the years, I can attest to the wonderful variety and skill of the performers who take the stage in this big, two-act show. Seating for pre-show dinner or drinks begins at 6 p.m. and the show starts at 7. This year, your admission also includes a post show party complete with free munchies that starts up as soon as the last bow is taken.

For more information, visit The Cabaret Project web site. Tickets for all events are available via MetroTix. You can also hear interviews with Tim Schall and Marilyn Maye on St. Louis Public Radio and Faith Prince on KDHX, and watch Tony DeSare's preview video on YouTube.

The St. Louis Cabaret Conference and Festival are just two reasons why St. Louis is now regarded as a serious cabaret city. Come one down to Grand Center this week and find out why.

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