Mishap at Olney

August 30, 2008

No, not Rabbit Hole itself. 

Ron and I went to see the play last night and it was spectacular on all fronts — script, acting, directing, production.

However, as the show was winding down, in a tender and quiet moment, the fire alarm in the theater went off.  And the actors tried to choke out the next two lines and keep the mood, but it was all but impossible. 

And by the way, you know that first ammendment argument about the irresponsibility about yelling “fire” in a crowded theater?  Trust me, having now had the experience, it’s not that big a deal.  I think a majority of the crowd last night at Olney was weighing the effort to unfold, refold, and re-unfold their walkers again against the possibility of death by asphyxiation and asphyxiation was winning.  But I digress…

When we were outside during the unexpected intermission I said to Ron, “you know, the play is probably about 4 lines from the end.  We could take off now,a nd not miss much.  But I want to see the end of this story.  Not the story of Rabbit Hole, but the story of seeing Rabbit Hole.”

Anyway, after the audience re-assembled in the theater after a 10-ish minute delay, the wonderful and valiant Paul Morella and Deborah Hazlett re-took the stage to applause.  They restarted a few lines before the point where they were interrupted.  They got to the point of the interruption and then said the next two lines.  And then the play was over.

OK, I was wrong by 2 lines.

(By the way, I’ve been present for two other notable DC theater mishaps — the matinee of 3Penny Opera with Sting where the curtain failed, and the matinee of Merrily We Roll Along at Arena where the show had to be stopped for 20 minutes before the final scene of the first act for set problems.)


OK, I was two lines off.

Barb Jungr at the Metropolitan Room

August 30, 2008

Friend-of-this-blog Barb Jungr* is appearing at the Metropolitan Room in September:

‘I Got Life’ a new collection celebrating the repertoire of Nina Simone, Jacques Brel , Dylan and more, accompanied by Charlie Giordano.
  • Thursday, September 4th, 7:30pm
  • Friday, September 5th, 7:30pm
  • Thursday, September 11th, 7:30pm
  • Friday, September 12th, 7:30pm
  • Satrurday, September 13th, 7:30pm
  • Thurdsday, September 18th, 7:30pm
  • Friday, September 19th, 7:30pm
  • Saturday, September 20th, 7:30pm

The Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22, NYC — (212) 206-0440

So many people I know who’ve seen her in person absoltely rave about her.  I’m hoping to get up to NY for it.

 *Click at the right for her “Diva 5+1” interview

Diva 5+1: Mary Foster Conklin

August 29, 2008

Mary Foster Conklin has had a career as varied as cabaret itself.  She started as a punk-rocker/classical actress in the late ’70s and has been evolving since.  (The official bio follows below).

I was really blown away by her recent CD, Blues for Breakfast, a tribute to the songwriter Matt Dennis (Angel Eyes / Let’s Get Away From It All). 

 She’ll be featured in this year’s Mabel Mercer Foundation Cabaret Convention and is at work on a new show to premier in early 2009.  And she has a MySpace page.  And she still graciously made time to do an interview!!! 


1.  Please describe a “perfect” cabaret experience that you’ve had.

For me, a “perfect” cabaret experience includes the following:  a juicy theme, clean execution with solid musicianship, an element of surprise, and some element of risk.

This summer I reprised Mirrors Revisited, an evening of theatre songs by rock and roll composers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller that I’ve presented several times over the last few years.  The songs are dark and dramatic, musically challenging, rich in story and really run the gamut as far as musical styles.  Rather than working within the confines of the original arrangements, my music director and I were exploring new directions to take the music, which required input from all the musicians involved.  I had also added songs to the evening which still needed to be integrated into the existing program.  Fortunately the planets lined up and the show went really well.  There were no train wrecks and the musicians allowed me to take everyone on a wonderful journey.  We did the show in August and I was relieved that people came out to see it and they really got it.  It’s wonderful to be able to work on material that you’ve sat with for a while because it’s really a part of you.

2. What is a recent song you’ve been struggling with?  Have you won yet?

I always keep a pile of material that I tinker with, but I see it more as a process than a battle. Songs are sort of like clothing that either fit or they don’t.  I’m coming off a few years of singing solely one composer, so it’s been a challenge to once again open myself up to new material, especially blues and pop.  I try to stay open and allow myself the permission to explore a new piece.  I think it was Margaret Whiting who said you had to do a song in performance at least three times before you knew whether or not it was right for you and I agree with that.

3. The relationship between a singer and the musical director really is a “cabaret marriage.”  What are the keys to making the marriage work?  And for the times you need to work with a surrogate, what are the steps you take to get quickly on the same page?

While I believe that marriage is monogamous, I feel that in music it’s important to have multiple partners in order to stay flexible and in the moment.  I work with both piano and guitar as my main instrument and each has its own set of challenges.  The key to any successful musical partnership is solid preparation, clear communication and mutual respect.  Really know your music and be prepared to read down a chart for a new pianist.  Know what tempos you like and how to get there.  When I work with musicians in California, I usually mail recordings of the songs that include metronome signatures.  At a certain point in my career, it became essential that I know how to read music and be able bang out the chords in my arrangements – even learn how to write out my own lead sheets, which made it much easier to work with different musicians, because I had learned to speak their language. 

4. What is a particular image that you can rely on to be an effective sense memory when you’re performing?

Everybody’s process is different as far as what works to bring a song to life.  For me, if I can summon up a sense of the place where the song is, that’s enough to center me.  There’s a number from the Mirrors show about the murder of Ramon Navarro that describes his apartment in great detail.  I had a loved one die at home, so I usually focus on remembering the carpet and I’m there.

5. What is the most pressing need the world of cabaret has today?

Artists and club owners need to work more aggressively to present and promote programs that showcase interesting cabaret.  The best example I can think of was the idea that Lennie Watts hatched a few years ago of people singing their favorite record albums called Under the Covers.  I ended up going out to see a lot of people I wouldn’t have normally seen and was fascinated by the choices that were made.  That particular program offered a good mix of standards and contemporary music, which also helped attract more people who were less cabaret-friendly.

+1  Could you please share some thoughts on your mission to mine some of the more obscure gems of the cabaret repertoire? And how do you manage the audience when you are presenting programs packed with songs that most don’t know?

It was never my intention to become such a music geek, but it’s becoming harder and harder to locate sheet music to much of what is the Great American Songbook and even some well known pop composers.  My whole Matt Dennis project began because I’d called one of his publishers for a lead sheet and got some clueless person who said “Well, if Sinatra didn’t record it, why should we even have it on file?”  Since then, I’ve made a point of including at least one lesser known tune in all of my shows because this music is fast disappearing and needs to be heard.  As far as presenting programs of obscure songs, you have to try to size up your audience ahead of time, because you don’t want the evening to come off like homework or medicine.  I’ve found that it’s helpful to mix and match with more familiar material and to use patter to set up the lesser known tunes, like a disk jockey.

                                                                  *     *      *

MARY FOSTER CONKLIN has appeared in theatres and clubs in the metropolitan New York area and throughout the United States and Canada.  A New Jersey native who came to New York to pursue acting, she ended up working more as a vocalist.  Her transformation from actor to jazz singer began when she joined drummer/composer Art Lillard’s 16-piece Heavenly Band and her song selections naturally shifted from show tunes to blues, Latin and bebop. 

As a leader, her choice of songs has always been an eclectic mix of contemporary material and standards, with  a hybrid sound that combines straight ahead jazz with traditional pop and cabaret.  She also has a passion for discovering lesser known standards.  Her recent recording, Blues For Breakfast – Remembering Matt Dennis (Rhombus Records) is a collection of songs by the late Matt Dennis, best known for his hits “Angel Eyes” and “Violets for your Furs”. This award winning album is a culmination of three years research which began at the Library of Congress and has since been performed on both coasts, to critical acclaim. The CD has been hailed by the press as “delightfully dramatic” (Jazz Times) “a work of art and heart” (powerlineblog.com), and “an overdue reminder of the honored place of Matt Dennis in American music” (Jazz Society of Oregon). 

Conklin’s talents have earned her a place on the stages of The Metropolitan Room, Sweet Rhythm and The Iridium in New York, The Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles, and The Cultural Center and Park West in Chicago.  She has been praised by The New York Times as “a highly creative singer whose style blends cabaret and jazz so thoroughly as to defy any easy categorization,” and was awarded a MAC Award for Jazz Vocalist by the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs in 1999.  Her debut CD, Crazy Eyes, was listed as one of the ten best CDs of 1998 by In Theatre Magazine, and won a Bistro Award presented by Backstage Magazine for Outstanding RecordingHer second recording, You’d Be Paradise, was released in September 2001 and was a jazz bestseller for two years on www.CDBaby.com.  Visit Mary’s website at www.maryfosterconklin.com for more info.

Signature finds “lost songs”

August 27, 2008

Signature Theatre’s Cabaret Series Kicks Off with

The Lost Songs of Broadway, 1940s – 1950s

Performances run September 3 – 6 in the ARK Theatre

The Lost Songs of Broadway 1940s – 1950s opens the Signature cabaret season next week

The show features Will Gartshore, Eleasha Gamble, Jobari Parker-Namdar, and Kimberly Sherbach in performing a collection of terrific tunes from some of history’s forgotten mid-century musicals.  With music director Gabriel Mangiante on the piano, the show promises material by Cole Porter, Jule Styne, Kurt Weill, Rodgers and Hart, Harburg and Arlen, and more in the show directed by by Michael Baron.  

Lost Songs performances are September 3 and 4 at 8:30 pm, with two shows a day on September 5 and 6, at 7:30 pm and 9:30 pm.  The setting is Signature’s 110-seat ARK Theatre transformed into a dramatic nightclub complete with intimate table seating.  Starting an hour before performance time, patrons can visit Ali’s Bar in the Signature lobby and bring choice wine, beer, and sophisticated chef-prepared fare right into the Theatre.

Tickets for all shows are $30 and are available by calling Ticketmaster at (703) 573-7328, visiting www.signature-theatre.org, or at the Signature Theatre Box Office.

(photos: Kimberly Sherbach (t) and Eleasha Gamble (b))

Road Report — Las Vegas a la lounge

August 26, 2008

Ron and I had a great evening on our last night in Las Vegas.  I’d been wanting to try the $6.99 steak dinner special at Ellis Island which was rated as the #1 value by the Las Vegas Advisor.  Ellis Island is a casino right behind the Strip with a pleasantly lived-in vibe and the place seemed to have a higher concentration of locals than tourists — always a good sign.  And the meal was a great value as promised — although the prime rib (10.99) that I saw at another table looked like enough for 3 meals.

At the suggestion of DCCN board member Cindy Hutchins, we saw Barbra and Frank: The Concert That Never Was at the Riviera. (To continue the frugal theme, we got half-price tickets.  And a $5 tip to the hostess got us ringside seats.)  The show was put together with a certain amount of with and panache and provided a pleasantly entertaining 90 minutes…  It was filled with great singing, great arrangements and terrific songs (although shows like this always make me wish that the artists would  trust the audience enough to do something really quirky from the songbook — Maybe Love Is Only Love instead or Hello, Dolly! or It Happened In Monterray instead of Fly Me to the Moon).  The music direction from Rob Hyatt was superb. We saw the alternate cast, David diCosta and Nancy Lee.  Interestingly, diCosta who only vaguely resembles a young Sinatra was vocally a dead ringer.  Lee was much more effective visually but slightly less vocally.   However, the alternates were ultimately imitiating the original cast imitating Streisand and Sinatra — and the extra level of disconnect  occasionally showed.

We then blew the budget and went to the Baccarat Bar at the recommendation of Vegas-based blog reader and diva Karen Michaels to hear David Osborne.  It was terrific being in such close proximity to so much money changing hands while listening to great music.  Osborne played a terrific range of material.  I was especially impressed by a set of Joplin songs that he played with a lighter touch and finesse that I’ve ever heard applied to the material.

I’m sure he came out singing…

August 26, 2008

…if not banging on a pair of symbols!

I think I can speak for the DC Cabaret Community in welcoming the newest junior member, Robert Patrick Pace, the days-old son of Lynn and Blake Pace, the King of the Keys at the Flaming Pit.

Mother and baby are reportedly doing fine.  Father is a question mark.

Joe Peck Sings Sinatra — publish mid-September

August 26, 2008

Joe Peck Sings “Sinatra & Styne: It’s Magic!”

Joined by outstanding Music Director Alex Tang, Joe Peck will debut a new show, “Sinatra & Styne: It’s Magic!,” on September 27 for Indigo at the Atlas.

The show is a tribute to two amazing musicians – Jule Styne and Frank Sinatra – each of whom left his own legacy. But when they collaborated – it was magic. Come hear Alex and Joe share this wonderful collection of memorable tunes that were composed by Jule and recorded by Frank.

If you can’t make it to Indigo, you have a second chance to see the show on October 4 at the Prince Theatre in Chestertown, MD with Music Director Peter Darling.

Critical Standards

August 26, 2008

I thought the world at large might find the following portions of the guidelines that Cabaret Scenes recently its reviewers of interest.

3.Whenever possible, employ constructive criticism.  Approach a review as if the performer asked for helpful advice.  It is rare that a show is so wonderful that there is nothing helpful that can be said.  If approached in this way, with the criticism incorporated into your review, it would be more valuable to the performer and to the magazine. Our goal is to educate the performer and our readers so it is important to keep this in mind when
writing the review.

4. Avoid lists whenever possible. A list of songs sung doesn’t provide the kind of insight into a performer/performance that our readers have come to expect. We need to know what made a song work (or not work).

If you think I get tough…

August 24, 2008

… check out my Cabaret Scenes colleague Elizabeth Ahlfors in her review of Valerie Ahneman: “To succeed in cabaret, however, she now must work on her vocal assets, choose meaningful music, perform it well, and entertain an audience.”

But at least she looked fabulous!!!

And speaking of looking fabulous, not only am I a fan of Project Runway, I really love the Tim Gunn blog.  I don’t know who writes it, but whoever it is perfectly captures his tone of diplomatic directness glossed with erudition.  I aspire to one day writing a sentence like “Her intractability coupled with her shrillness made her an exhausting opponent. “

Tom Griep comes through!!!

August 23, 2008

I’m currently in Las Vegas for the wedding of two friends of our who live out here.  The happy couple asked Ron and I to each do a number at the reception.  Ron chose to do Perhaps Love.  And of course it was easy for him to do since he has the instrumental track of the arrangement of the song from his brilliant debut CD, Haunted Heart.*

I wanted to sing the wonderful Shelley Markham/Judith Viorst song The Sweetest of Nights, which is the perfect number to sing for any occasion.  And it’s not like I was going to find a karaoke track for it, in my key.

However, Tom Griep and his terrific AuditionTrax service came to the rescue.  I sent him a pdf of the sheet music and an mp3 of me singing it acapella for tempo and builds, and Tom had a piano track to me the next day.  He even arranged an outro to give me enough time at the end of the song to say, “Here’s to Dave and Tobie” and have a button.  And his fee was really reasonable.**

Thanks Tom!

* OK, I admit to a shameless plug for the home team.

** I write this not so much as a plug but to describe a resource that has been succesful for me.