I’ve recently seen a bunch of cabaret presentations that attempt in some way or another to give background information about a song, writer, or event. Here are some observations I’ve picked up along the way:
Know your audience – Yes, blindingly obvious. But like mistakes people have pointed out to me in the headlines on posts, easily overlooked. One often ignored factor is that many cabaret performers are younger than their audiences. So it may be worthwhile to have a certain humility and realize that what is interesting, fresh information to you may be very old hat to your audience. Someone who deals brilliantly with this, of course, is Andrea Marcovicci, who is terrific at separating “reminders” to her audience from things that she is presenting as new information.
What else is out there? – For example the quote by Jerome Kern “Irving Berlin has no place in American music. He is American music.” seems to turn up in every damn discussion of Irving Berlin for obvious reasons. And while I groan every time someone uses it, I find it even more suspect when someone doesn’t (i.e. I Love a Piano at Arena). Similarly, I asked Andrea Marcovicci* about her decision not to reference the famous Dorothy Parker quote about Astaire/Rodgers (“She gave him sex appeal; he gave her class.”) in her Astaire show. She commented that while she thought the quote was clever, she thought that Astaire had plenty of sex appeal and that Ginger Rodgers was already pretty classy.
I have Wikipedia too, so tell me YOUR spin on the facts – Just telling me that Irving Berlin was born as Israel Baline in Belarus does little for me. But the observation that this most American of songwriters was born outside of the country (and implications for immigration policy) really gives me something to think about. And if it’s done as a patter break in the middle of God Bless America, well that’s a home run. Also, are there any facts covered in the song that may be unintelligible for a modern audience (e.g. Reno as a code word for divorce?)
*As far as I’m concerned nobody does historical/instructional patter better.