Saturday, December 26, 2009

Life is a Cabaret, Part 1

[Being the first in a series of entries chronicling the development of my cabaret show Just a Song at Twilight - The Golden Age of Vaudeville. These are companion pieces to Andrea Braun's Talking Cabaret with Chuck Lavazzi blogs at the web site for The Vital Voice. Performances are March 26 and 27, 2010; tickets at]

The answer to the question “How did you get started on a solo cabaret act?” is very similar to the answer to the question “How did you get started on drugs?”

“I forget, man.”

No, just kidding. Actually, it’s “little by little, and now it’s too late to turn back.”

The whole thing began with an afternoon session at the 2007 St. Louis Cabaret Conference – the four-day professional workshop on cabaret and musical theatre performance that Tim Schall has been producing since 2006. The session was on “building a show”. As an exercise, we were asked to outline a show that we might like to do, paying attention to material selection, flow and the like.

The show I started to put together back then – “Celluloid Heroes: Portraits in Reel Life” – might still see the light of day. But after working at it for the better part of a year, I realized two things:

1) I wasn’t really all that passionate about that particular idea

2) This is a LOT harder than it looks.

What started me thinking about this show was a comment from my producer, Jim Dolan (of The Presenters Dolan) after the Alumni Showcase for the 2008 Cabaret Conference. The song I had chosen for the showcase was “Take Your Girlie to the Movies”, a minor vaudeville comedy number from 1919. The reception was remarkably warm, given the age and obscurity of the song, and Jim suggested that I should consider putting together a show vaudeville-era comedy and novelty songs. Webster Conservatory faculty member Neal Richardson, who acted as music director for the performance, had already said that he shared my fondness for early 20th-century popular songs and would be interested in acting as music director should I decide to go that route.

Clearly, the Cabaret Gods were trying to make Their will known.

I was up to my eyeballs in acting opportunities at the time, though, so I filed the idea away under “something to think about when I’m not rehearsing two shows at the same time”. In the spring of 2009, between Metro Theatre Company’s To Kill a Mockingbird and the revival of the NonProphet Theatre Company’s Corleone, I had a few months to revisit the idea, and it began to take hold.

I ran some of the song ideas by Tim Schall, my vocal coach, and he was as enthusiastic. The die, finally, had been cast, and I began tackling the first big question: where the heck was I going to find all that 100-year-old sheet music?

The answer proved to be simpler than I had thought.

To be continued...

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