This Weekend at Germano’s

September 23, 2009

Baltimore School for the Arts Second Annual Cabaret Kick-off

Sep 24, 2009 at 7:00 pm
Come wine and dine and see our students shine!

Germano’s is proud to host the Second Annual Baltimore School for the Arts Cabaret Kick-off, featuring performances by BSA students (Lawrence Bryant, Rachel Winder and Alessandra Fabiani), faculty (Dr. Chris Ford, Becky Mossing, Amy Klosterman and Kathryn Locke ) and alumni (Kerri Jill Garbis, currently in production for a new Broadway musical “Angels” that will launch next year, and Becky Mossing).

Tickets cost $75 and the proceeds benefit the school.

Included is a buffet menu of Antipasto Classico, Crespelle, and Bruschette ; Insalata Mista; Penne Arrabiata, Osso Buco, Grilled Salmon in aromatic herbs, seasonal vegetables; Bongo Bongo, Cheesecake and Tiramisu. Wine, soft drinks and coffee.

This event celebrates the launch of the 2009-10 BSA Cabaret Series of twelve fabulous cabaret performances by the students, alumni and faculty at Cabaret at Germano’s. A 12 show and 6 show subscription is offered at $100 and $50, respectively, and individual tickets redeemable at any of the shows are also available.

For tickets to the fundraiser, order online at or call Carter Polakoff at 410.347.3043 or Germano’s at 410.752.4515. For subscriptions and tickets to individual shows, call Germano’s at 410.752.4515. Seating is limited to 85 for this event so reserve now.

Have a great time for a great cause!

Carolyn Black-Sotir Sings “By George! By Ira! By Gershwin!”

Sep 25, 2009 at 7:30 pm
Experience Gershwin like never before as Carolyn Black-Sotir & Company present the award-winning By George! By Ira! By Gershwin! You will not want to miss this unforgettable evening of Gershwin classics and discover the stories behind the music as Germano’s celebrates the songs of George Gershwin on the eve of his 111th birthday. On a mini-Maryland tour, Carolyn & Co. will also be appearing at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on Thursday, September 24, at Germano’s on September 25—Carolyn & Company are rejuvenated by that great Italian food and cozy ambience—and then move on to the Chesapeake Arts Center on September 26. You may note a special excitement in the air as Carolyn, Tim, and Tom are reunited for this special musical series. (Carolyn convinced Tom to fly all the way from Phoenix to play these gigs; her secret weapon—Gershwin jazz and Germano’s red beet ravioli!)

With a standing ovation from the inspired audience, By Gershwin! was a smashing success.
–Nordwest Zeitung , Germany

Tickets and information

GERMANO’S TRATTORIA — 300 South High Street, Little Italy, Baltimore, Maryland 21202

Maris Wicker at Germano’s

September 23, 2009

Maris Wicker sings @ Germano's by DCMatt.OK, sorry I’m a little late with this.  Maris Wicker appeared at Germano’s on September 11, and Matt Howe took some stunning photos.  Here’s more!

DCCN Bucchino Songbook Salon

September 22, 2009

The DC Cabaret Network held its first Songbook Salon on Sunday.

In an idea stemming from George Fulginit-Shakar, the DC Cabaret Network decided to focus on the songs of John Bucchino from his new songbook It’s Only Life.  Participants were each assigned a song (or in the case of some of the longer numbers, part of a song) in advance, usually based on vocal range.  Members then sang their songs at the workshop, with a discusssion of the material following each song. 

It was a terrific way to get introduced to a bunch of new material.  And in addition to the terrific performances, it was espcially gratifying to hear a variety of informed opinions about the material in question, because there are so rarely the chance to have informed discussions about material at this level.

I have to admit that I cheated a little.  When this project was assigned  I requested/demanded the song Playbill which has been in “meaning to learn” queue for about 3 years.  I was also the only person there not to sing the song in the key it was written in.  Which increases my admiration for the amazing other performers who performed their numbers in the written keys with much less development time with such amazing talent and panache.

Special thanks for George for hosting, to Alex Tang who also played (and set up the transposing keyboard that I was the only one to use), to Alex Tang and Bob Bagnall for hosting, to Cindy Hutchins and Eileen Warner for all that they did to make the afternoon work so well, and to the DC Cabaret Network for sponsoring the event.

Click here for photos

Bitter, Bitter, Bitter…

September 22, 2009

Another year, no MacArthur award.

Diva 5+1: Julia Murney

September 20, 2009

 julia murney

Julia Murney is one of the most in-demand musical theater actresses going today.  Notable career highlights include the tour and the Broadway run of Wicked as well as the Off-Broadway show The Wild Party, where she introduced the amazing Raise the Roof.

D.C. cabaret audiences can thank Murney everytime they hear a local performer do a song by Susan Werner, since it was Murney’s mention of the song on her Jeff Blumenkrantz podcast that inspired my interest in Werner’s work and subsequent dissemination.

imnotwaitingMurney is one of the amazing cast of the show First You Dream, a tribute to the music of Kander and Ebb, currently at  Signature Theater. (Don’t dawdle, the show only runs through September 27th!)  And she has a terrific CD, I’m Not Waiting.

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

There have been moments when, just sort of everything clicks and you’re feeling well and the audience is digging it.  I’ve had it a few times during Wicked.  I’ve had it  the first performance that we did (I think it was the first preview performance) of The Wild Party where the thing that you’re not sure you’re going to be able to pull off comes to fruition.  And the people you’re doing it for all respond in a kind manner.  And that’s pretty amazing.  It doesn’t necessarily matter if the audience is of 2,000 or even 2.  Because, I will say the most recent I can think of is when we ran through the show I’m doing here at the Signature for the first time. When we did the whole thing and we did it for John Kander, we were just in a room and it was for John and a few of the technical people and I said “If we never did this show again, I would be happy.” Cause we did it for John, and I do not have enough words to describe this man.  He is just so magnificent and so kind and made us feel like we had honored his work.  And so if it’s an audience of two or an audience of two thousand, it doesn’t entirely make a difference. 

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

Hmmmm, let’s see.  Certainly the songs —  I would say, in this show because it’s the one I’m on right now —  there are a few of them!  Just last night, I took a poll after the show, saying, “OK, I have a poll for you guys (throughout the cast) – so you get out on stage and you start singing a song that’s kind of quiet (i.e. I do this song from The Act called The Money Tree) and I have a giant piece of phlegm on my vocal chords.  And what do you do?”  It’s quiet… there’s no time for me to go “Ach-chem” to get it out of there… It’s a very interesting thing, because my phlegm holds on.  (I’m sure this is really what your people want to hear!)  My phlegm … when it gets kicking, is really quite muscular.  So that one, it wasn’t my best Money Tree last night, let’s say.

But songs like that – When I did Wicked for a year and a half and constantly was in a battle with the big songs in that show.  More so, The Wizard and I simply because it’s the first one out of the gate, and it’s not a warm-up.  It’s a full-out assault, and some nights you just nailed it and I thought, “Yeah, that’s what I meant to do!” and some nights I’m just “Oooh, I’m sorry, would you all like your money back?”  To answer your question, the most recent would be The Money Tree and I would say perhaps I wrestled it to the ground a few evenings and a few nights it’s done the same to me!

… I did a concert at Feinstein’s in New York this spring, …and I sang Maria from West Side Story, and I will say  that I give props to any tenor who has to sing that song !  It is a hard song!  And as a female I had never attempted to sing it before.  It is a killer song !  … And people look at a song like The Wizard and I and go, “Oh, it’s just FUN and BELTING !” And no, it takes just a little bit of doing to figure it out.  It doesn’t just lie there and let you ride, you have to figure it out!

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?

I would say that the key to making a marriage work between a singer and an MD is not unlike making a marriage work in real life — communication !  You have to feel free to say your desires and you have to be open enough to shut your mouth and listen to them, and then find your mid-line.  I’ve been really lucky and gotten to work with some amazing music directors.  David Loud is our music director on the First You Dream concert.  And he’s… I’ve known him for years and years, and he is a treat beyond treats.  And he knows what he wants, but he doesn’t bully you into it.  He also knows what John wants, because he’s worked with John Kander for so long, so you trust that what he’s bringing you – and John will tell you for his own self, when he hears it – but you can trust what he’s bringing you is John’s philosophy, if you can call it that.  And David is so open, and there’s also a part of David… in one of the songs in the show he’s like, “Oh, oh, what if you go up to that really high note?” and I’m “Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.  That might happen in a recording, but it’s not gonna happen eight shows a week, not on your life!”  But his arrangements are so stunning.  And as a singer he’s an inspiring conductor.  And wonderful guy called Jon Kalbfleisch is our conductor here, but he (David Loud) would conduct us in all the rehearsals in New York and his face just becomes so beautiful and ethereal and you (think), “Oh, he wants that ethereal floaty sound” and you all go into a harmony chord that is so reflective of what is in his heart, and that’s really cool. 

And I got to work with Stepheh Oremus, and  he’s the music supervisor of Wicked (and he did All Shook Up and Avenue Q) and before he was fancy he  did The Wild Party.  So, I’ve known him from way long ago and he’s a treat and he’s a real rocker.  And Tom Kitt is a dreamboat of a human and of a musician.  So I’ve been super, super lucky.

But I do think you have to communicate and it’s taken me a long time to feel brave enough to say what I want.  Because my initial reaction, every time I learn a song for the first time is “I can’t do that.”  Every single time.  Sometimes I’m proven correct.  Most times I’m just freaking out.  Sometimes they just play psychologist as much as they play the piano.

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

 I find — I remember even college — I remember a teacher saying… one of our students got up and sang Empty Chairs at Empty Tables from Les Miz and brought up an image for himself that was so intense that he crossed over and couldn’t sing anymore.  And he was gone… Bringing things in the direct sight-lines of your life may be difficult if you can’t control them, cause you’re not any good to anyone if you’re just crying, and you can’t sing.  Cause I can’t cry and sing at the same time, really.  Some people have that little mechanism to go all crazy.  So it’s more… I try to take images from my life, and take the blurry outsides of them so I’m not looking straight inside the image, so I can control it a little more.

Although there is in First You Dream, in the top of Act II, there’s this trio that David Loud … put together for the women called At the Movies… (Isn’t that beautiful, and aaaah, we love singing it.)  And so every night for that I’m watching a different movie, and that’s kind of fun.  (One) night, because Patrick Swayze passed, I watched Dirty Dancing.  But last night I watched Groundhog’s Day.  I have no reason why … Before Act II starts, I don’t go “Tonight, I’m gonna watch…”I just sit down there, and whatever image comes up first, that movie wins… It’s pretty random, but it’s fun.

5.How do you deal with being a brand?

That’s a tricky question, I will say.  I don’t know how much of a “brand” I am.  I know there’s maybe 27 fans out there who care about what I’m up to.  But being in a show like Wicked, which is an extraordinary thing, much bigger than itself now, certainly makes you much more of a brand than when you started.  And I vacillate between wanting to be out there and not wanting to be seen, in a way.  And Heidi Blickenstaff is in my show and she was saying “Sometimes I don’t want anybody to look at me” which is an odd statement coming from an actor, but I knew exactly what she was talking about. 

For five years I had one Website page that said “currently under construction.”  And that was a lie.  There was no construction.  I would just think, “Oh, god.  I don’t want to make a Web site!  Who cares? What am I going to put in there?  Oh, she’s doing another benefit??!!”   It was just silly. 

And then I spoke to a few people and we talked about the notion of being able to somewhat control your own image which is difficult in this era of bootlegging and YouTube and all of this stuff.  And it came to a point where I was even asked to do some concerts and people would ask “Do you have any tape of you singing, any live tape?” and I would say, “Yeah, you can go to YouTube, but if you don’t like the first thing you see please keep on clicking cause there are 500 things.”  And I tell you what, some of the things that are posted up there, are awful, awful.  I’m sick, my voice is busted.  Whatever it is.  And it’s disturbing.  Frankly it’s disturbing that the kids (I call them “the kids” frankly for lack of anything better to call them)… the people who post them don’t care.  And what they don’t care to absorb that what they’re taping isn’t meant to be taped.  It’s not staged to be taped, it’s not lit to be taped, and you’re not supposed to see just this two-minute clip.  You’re supposed to see it as part of this whole theatrical experience.  And I think there are a lot of things that you don’t pick up on when you’re sitting in an audience, that obviously, if you peruse the same clip over and over and over again, you’re going to pick out. 

And it’s hard, on the one hand, brandwise, to get back to your question – I never would have received fan letters from people in Croatia, which I have.  Amazing!  And people in Singapore.  And people in Australia.  That’s because of YouTube, plain and simple. … But it’s also hard because for me the key to YouTube (because I check YouTube to see what has gone up there) and it is illegal.  My position on it is I know it’s gonna be done but you’d better hide that light (on the recording device) because if I see the light, I’m gonna try to bust you.  If I don’t see the light, then I don’t know.  We came out last night at the top of the show and as soon as we came out after the first number we all looked at each other said “did you see that?”  And it wasn’t a camera.  We had house management go check and it was someone’s Blackberry in their shirt pocket and there’s a light on it.  It blinks intermittently.  But it’s distracting. And it’s distracting when you’re walking – you saw our set – when you’re walking down a steep staircase.   Or it’s distracting when you’re trying to remember all your lyrics.  I don’t know how many times I went up in the levitator during Wicked at the end of Act I and I would see 3 or 4 cell phones flip open because it was time to record the girl going up in the levitator.  And oh, come on, I can see you!  It’s a pitch black house and a bright blue light, and I can see you.  That part is hard.  To be distracted by it …

And the trick with YouTube is not to go to the comments section.  Because as lovely as some people can be, Wow, some of them can be so mean.  And I’m not unaware of a lot of the mean things that are said.  And it’s hard.  I don’t have a rhinoceros skin.  I’m not more confident than anybody else.  I’m certainly not any more confident than some 17 year old who’s judging me from wherever he lives.  And it’s hard.  You want to go, “Oh dude, c’mon, be nice.”

+1 You’ve done a lot of workshops of new shows and have introduced a lot of material.  What tips do you have about working with songwriters and being the first performance of material?

Well, I think it’s a combination thing of letting them hear what it is they’ve written and giving them the chance to hear where it works and where it doesn’t.  But also within that I’ve had some times, and I’ve certainly gotten better at this since years have gone by, where something will be written in a key that is exceedingly high, and I just don’t sing like that.  I don’t want to sing like that anymore.  It’s too high – the children can do that.  Leave that for the kids.  … So I’ll say so.  And I have to say that any writer worth their salt will listen to a singer going “This is too much.”  It sort of falls into the category of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”  Can I high-mix you an F? Yeah!  Do people want to hear that?  Not over and over and over again!  Yes, there is a faction of people – my agent all the time – I’m like, “I don’t want to sing all the …” (and the agent interrupts) “But I want you to!”

It’s hard!  Wicked took a toll on me physically for all the joy that it brought me – and it did bring me a great deal of joy and I loved … doing that show can be so rewarding, and the cast was awesome and the crew was fabulous – but it also took such a mental toll on me and my health and stuff.   That after singing that for a while it’s like “Oh, gosh, I’m exhausted!” And one week of rest is not going to fix it! 

This Kander and Ebb show is a real bear, especially for the women to sing.  And that’s how they wrote.  They wrote for the women to just let loose.  And it’s that combo platter!  It’s very similar to Wicked.  I love Stephen Schwartz; I’ve known Stephen Schwartz for years; and I wanted to make him proud; I wanted to make him pleased.  In the same way that I want to make John Kander pleased.  John Kander!  Because he’s fancy-pants.  Because he’s the grandfather you want! I’d marry him.

So at the same time you’re trying to figure out how to negotiate your way through a show so you can do it eight times a week.  And how to do it healthfully and intelligently.  But you also want to be able to just let it rip.  So it’s a constant negotiation!

Steve Ross Sings Alan Jay Lerner

September 19, 2009

Steve RossIt feels like Christmas has come early this year (and not just at Costco).  Steve Ross has a new CD, I Remember Him Well: The Songs of Alan Jay Lerner.

The CD is a live recording from his stand at the Algonquin earlier this year.  All the trademark Steve Ross strengths come across on the CD, the impeccable taste in material, the variety of well known material and Steve Ross discoveries, the superb musicianship at the piano and the impeccable phrasing and connection in the performance.

My two favorite tracks are a tenderly understated, wistful reading of The Heather on the Hill and a hysterical discovery, I’ve Been Married, an energetic complaint about the matrimonial state.  I also love that he frames Come Back to Me as a plea for his audience to return to future shows!

Here are the tracks:

1. I’m On My Way
2. I Never Met A Rose
3. My Last Love
4. I Talk to the Treeslisten
5. Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Herelisten
6. It’s Time For a Love Song/If Ever I Would Leave You
7. Try Love
8. I’ve Been Married
9. Dancing My Blues Away
10. On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
11. I Remember It Well
12. Gigi Medly
13. The Heather On The Hill
14. With A Little Bit Of Luck
15. Too Late Now / What Did I Have That I Don’t Have
16. Come Back To Melisten
17. Almost Like Being In Love / Wouldn’t It Be Loverlylisten

Why Tim Gunn Rules, Yet Again

September 19, 2009

OK, not a cabaret thought, but I have to share….

I just adore Tim Gunn on Project Runway.  One of the funniest things is that for someone so reserved, it is often so clear when he doesn’t care for a departing contestant.  This week’s departee, Johnny, has certainly been a trial this season.  So not only was Tim even more reserved on Johnny’s departure, he was shockingly blunt (for Tim) about Johnny’s comments in the final judging, “I’m incredulous at that utterly preposterous spewing of fiction that Johnny did on the runway…”

Note to a certain South Carolinian, “utterly preposterous spewing of fiction” might win more hearts than “you lie!” 

Don’t you love that

Joe Peck’s Yale Notes

September 18, 2009

joe-peckJoe Peck was one of the fellows at this year’s Cabaret Conference at Yale, and was good enough to send this report.

Report From 2009 Cabaret Conference At Yale

Wow!  How do I describe one of the most amazing experiences ever?  Please understand, I used to work as an association executive.  I’ve been to A LOT of conferences.  But this one takes the cake!!

From day one, Erv Raible and Pam Tate were on the ball making sure everything was begun right for each and every one of the 37 participants.  Our welcome at the Swing Dorm on the Yale Campus was well organized and provided information necessary to know what to expect for the next ten days.  Except nothing could have prepared us for the incredible amount of information and insight we would be receiving. 

The faculty assembled for this conference was, to a person, fantastic.  Cabaret stalwarts and experts  Erv and Pam were joined by an impressive group of talented performer-teachers:  Tex Arnold, Patrick Brady,  Michele Brourman, Tovah Feldshuh, Rita Gardner, Shelly Markham, Laurel Masse, Amanda McBroom, Sharon McNight, Pamela Myers, Jay Rogers, and Julie Wilson. There isn’t enough space here to talk about the myriad accomplishments of each.  Those with websites are linked here.  Check them out: you’ll be amazed.

Students were immediately put on the hot seat.  This wasn’t a conference of just listening and taking notes – we were going to be DOING and learning.  We all had to sing a song from our book to introduce ourselves to the entire faculty and student body.  After we sang – while we still stood at the mic on stage – faculty gave us oral notes on our performance and the student body provided written reactions for us to read later.  It was like being at an audition, but this time the panel behind the table actually gave you helpful feedback.  Ha!  These comments – all of them – were invaluable.

And then we got our wake-up call – the first evening of faculty performances by Amanda McBroom and Tovah Feldshuh – our first examples of what cabaret can be.  Amanda and her right-hand gal/music director Michele Brourman were the epitome of smooth, beautiful musicality with amazing emotional vulnerability and impact.  In marvelous contrast, Tovah Feldshuh brought us a cast of characters – fantastic monologues and soliloques accompanied by well-placed songs from an entire exquisitely-acted array of characters.

That night was followed by other outstanding performances throughout the conference.  Besides Amanda and Tovah, we saw shows from the entire faculty as a group, Laurel Masse, Julie Wilson, Jay Rogers, and Sharon McNight.  Each show had a different feel, a different personality, a unique point of view – smooth jazz with personal anecdotes, balls-to-the-wall comedy complimented by great vocals, subtle personal humor seamlessly interwoven between music and patter, a marvelous pastiche of individual sounds, styles and personas, etc.  We saw performers doing songs they’d written, songs written FOR them (it pays to make friends with songwriters), and songs we all know taken in a new direction.

Of course there were the classroom sessions.  We had small groups of students performing individually for two or three faculty at a time and getting even MORE personalized input.  Next we came together in larger “curtain call” groups which would be our final performance teams.  Here we had to put together an entire show – song list, theme, patter, staging, rehearsal, etc. guided by an advisory team of faculty members.  Then we had the chance to sign up for individual sessions with faculty we wanted to learn still more from.  Talk about being in cabaret hog-heaven!!!  There were also full student body lectures on topics critical to every cabaret artist such as sound & lights, the history of cabaret, the business of cabaret, a director’s panel, writing patter, a music director’s panel and what a critic expects. 

Of course, we were learning all the time.  Learning while we walked to and from class, at meals in Hogwarts (not really, but it looked like it), at the performances, in our rehearsals.  Learning from the faculty, from our own attempts, from other students’ work.  We heard standards, jazz, Latin music, pop, country, special material, even a Marilyn Manson song (yes, THAT Marilyn Manson).  Our horizons were broadened, our hearts encouraged, and our minds enriched.  It was a heady experience.  Most impressive was the supportive atmosphere engendered by everyone at the Cabaret Conference At Yale.  I guarantee that friendships were begun that week which will last through our careers and lives.

At the end we had an evening FULL of cabaret.  3 student shows – full-on, well planned, well performed, and well produced cabaret shows.  It was the perfect way to end this incredible conference and to send each of us on our way to put into practice what we learned.  The closing night party was the icing on the cake.

This year we had 3 DC area artists at the conference – me, Justin Ritchie, and Angie Gates.  With the way they represented for DC at the conference, we should all look forward to seeing more from Justin and Angie very soon.  And, yes, I can’t wait to do my best to implement what I learned at Yale! 

Diva 5*+1: Lina Koutrakos

September 17, 2009


OK, Lina Koutrakos is one of the most 360-degree talents in the cabaret world.  As a performer she straddles the worlds of rock and cabaret, maintaining both a long-standing cabaret partnership with pianist Rick Jensen as well as fronting a separate rock group.  Moreover she is one of the most in-demand cabaret directors in the country (forget just New York).  As a teacher she is a fixture nationally, not only conducting three regular New York series, but teaching regularly in New York, St. Louis, Chicago with drop-in appearances in other luckly cities (DC and Las Vegas this year).  Oh yeah, she’s also a songwriter whose song Bury Me Deep just won the John Lennon Songwriting Contest in the Gospel/Inspirational category.

And that only scratches the surface of this magnificent performer.  Hope this interview gives you more!

And if you don’t have her amazing recent CD/DVD of The Low Country, why not?

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

There’s many “perfect cabaret experiences” that I’ve had.  First of all, I’m a director, so I see the nuts and bolts of every cabaret show when I’m sitting in an audience….Since I am a director I enjoy seeing the nuts and bolts of a cabaret show, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing – I like it.  But then what happens is that as a singer and director in the audience, by the third or fourth song all of sudden… we’re at the end of the show and I realized I stopped seeing the nuts and bolts.  That is a rare and perfect cabaret experience for me.

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

Okay, I think it just came up in the last few days.  We’re just starting to learn some new songs, Rick (Jensen) and I cause we’re going to do a new show in St. Louis and we’re going to do a show at Davenport’s in Chicago and then in October we’re debuting at the M bar in Hollywood, California.  So that show’s going to be a very important hybrid of everything we do.  So we’re just trying to look at new material for it as well as old stuff.  So I don’t know, I think I’ve nailed everything I’m already up to.  Oh golly, I think I’m stumped.

Okay, this is odd, we’re taking a look at, I think it’s George Harrison, the Beatles’s While My Guitar Gently Sleeps.  And Rick keeps playing it like an old Billie Holliday song.  We’re both taking a look at it as though it were just a comment on the world, but blue.  And it’s funny, when Rick, who I’m lucky enough to work with, arranges something, or even pop music, and takes it and takes out all the pop clichés and really breaks down the lyric, too.  “I look at you sleeping, while my guitar gently weeps…”   What the hell does that mean?  But you know what?  It means plenty – so here we go! And no, I have not won yet.  But it’s a very exciting challenge!

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?

Okay.  Well first of all, I’ve been very lucky.  I’ve had two cabaret musical director “marriages.”  My first “marriage” was a long one, about twenty years, with Dick Gallagher.  We got “married” young, so we found our way together.  I think it benefited both of us to work out our singer/musical director stumbles together.  He went on to play for Patti LuPone quite exclusively.  And I heard that just the other day, I believe she was at the Kennedy Center, and she just dedicated, yet again, over three years after his death her show to him.  So he certainly knew what he was doing. 

And I ended up working, while exclusively with Dick doing my shows and arrangement, I ended up just doing piano bars to make a living.  So four nights a week I was with a different piano player.  What I know is that they stretched the hell out of me, which is great!  Look, I don’t know, but when you’re young and certainly when you’re a girl tjhere;s a little bit of magic about your musical director.  You know, your faux lover until you find one of your own; and he’s making music with you.  As important or more important than someone making love to me.  So, it was a big, big, thing.  And every time I’d go to a piano bar four nights a week, and I didn’t get to sing with Dick (which felt like I was getting into a bathtub, it’s so comfortable and exciting) – hell, it’s everything you want in a lover. 

And there were the people who were stretching me at the piano … and there was a kid (we were all kids then) who played on Saturday night and wrote his own music, and his name was Rick Jensen.  And there was another guy who stretched me a whole other direction, and his name was Chris Marlowe.  I think what happened too, was that we had two seconds in piano bars to talk to each other. You’d run up and hand a piece of music like “Natural Woman” to Chris Marlowe and he’d go, “you just want this the regular way?”  And I’d say, “even more gospel-ly, if you can, and there’s this key change.”  So I think the idea of not having a lot of time and being in front of a live audience really got me over my fear of talking to musical directors.  I used to think that I didn’t have a right to tell them what I wanted or speak to them on their level because I was not a trained musician.  But these guys were so great and so interested in the collaborative dance that I absolutely got carte blanche from them years ago to explain to them anything any way I wanted.  Then it’s like an improv… you throw an emotional and musical ball back and forth. 

Now I’m exclusively in the cabaret world, not in the pop/rock world; I have lots of different musicians, wonderful piano players.  But when I’m doing my shows, creating “Torch” or doing cabaret things, I work with the man I teach with most of the time, Rick Jensen.  And he is my, uh, second “husband”; I’m probably his second or third “wife” (if that’s how you want to talk about it).  We’ve known each other in and out of the pop world, clubs, directing other people’s shows, and just as friends and family.  We both lost Nancy (LaMott) together, and all that stuff.  So we have a language together that doesn’t need words.  And when we need words we both love them so much as songwriters, we throw them around with great, matched ease, if you will.  It’s thrilling. 

So don’t be afraid.  What you have to say as a singer is incredibly valid, especially in cabaret because your interpretation of what you’re going to do is the key to everything with the piano player.  And most of the men in New York City who do this for real and get accolades for it, they are phenomenally interested in this back and forth (That was a lot,huh?)

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

Well, the first thing I was going to say is “anger.”

Yeah, it’s funny because I’m not an angry singer or performer, I would never say that about myself.  I would say “dramatic” if I was going to lean toward that, or “passionate,” even.  But I wouldn’t say anger.  But anger is an easy one.  And I often use it with students when I can’t really get them to understand subtle connections which I am so happy to be able to do now.  I mean the subtleties of how I get sense memories now is fantastic, may it never end.  May I continue to  discover them all.  I even discover some in front of an audience; it’s just so much fun.

But the easy one and the first one that’s easy to get to is anger.  It’s also a tough one to get to.  Especially as women, we don’t have a natural permission to be angry in front of people.  We’re supposed to still be “ladies.”  We don’t get angry.  But to spotlight it and do it front of people takes a lot of guts.  But I’ve always been a bit of a rebel and I like that sort of thing, and I’m Greek, so it all comes very easily to me. 

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

Boy, I’m not going to be popular here. 

The realistic one?  It needs a little bit of more light shined on it because there ought to be more cabaret rooms in more cities and people should to know what cabaret is, first of all.  There is a need to get what we do out to the general public.  It is a very valid and very rooted art form and a lot of people, especially if I’m travelling a lot more now out of town — if I’m not with the local city’s that I’m in cabaret community, they think cabaret is a host of different things.  Even if they get past that it’s a strip club, it’s an old woman in a boa singing “Come Rain or Come Shine” period.  Or they think it’s, unfortunately because Mr. Simon Cowell who up until this year would snarl and say “Oh, that’s so cabaret,” he really helped alienate the entire pop world.  And I’m a rock and roll singer with a very valid rock and roll band, singing in really very valid rock and roll clubs.  It is not a cabaret act when I sing my own music.  And the ONLY reason I think that I am good at doing that authentically is because I learned how to it naked at the piano and my own feelings.  So I think one pressing need is to educate the general public about cabaret.  And how great it is to see somebody up close like that.  Metaphoriacally as well as physically.

And the other pressing need which I’m not going to be too popular for, is we really have to stop touting mediocrity in cabaret as greatness.  That’s really pissing me off.  The bar has to be set a little higher amongst us.  And I don’t mean to say that the people who are in it should stop being in it.  They should learn the craft of it.  And obviously I have a vested interest because I teach the craft, and hopefully I keep practicing what I preach. 

I think the bar for cabaret should be set higher and we should stop touting mediocrity in cabaret as greatness.  Which goes hand-in-hand with the pressing need of alerting the rest of the world to this artform.  If we keep touting mediocrity, then it’s no wonder that Simon Cowell (sneers) at us.

6. How do you deal with being a brand?

I like it.  I like it.  I’ve always like it.  Which is why I’ve always straddled both the cabaret world and the rock and roll world.  I like it and I think I like it because I truly believe at this point in my life, my brand is “authenticity.”  So it works for me because I get to be spotlighted for who I am on purspose.  And I’ve always like that.  I’ve always wanted everybody to take a look at me.  I think it’s very, very intelligent of God that he blessed me with some chops because I wouldn’t be in the spotlight without any talent.  But I like it; it’s what I always wanted.  I’ve always wanted to be a rich and famous pop star my whole life, so the idea that I’m a teeny bit branded makes me feel like I’ve arrived at a piece of my goal.  And I think the good news is that I’m not twenty years old when this sort of thing starts to happen to me, so I’m happy that the brand is that I’m for real.  I like being on stage almost more than being anywhere else, and I’m comfortable with almost anybody, anywhere.  But the truth is, onstage, I’m very much myself.  I’m almost more myself than I am anywhere else.  At the very least, I am the best parts of myself and it’s a wonderful place to be!  So I kinda dig it, as long as I keep what I do on-stage as real as possible.  It would be exhausting if it were a “persona.”  I don’t like seeing it in people on the cabaret stage and I would sure as hell hate doing it.

+1 It fascinates me that somebody that I first saw as a “Southern rock chick” is one of the top directors for Porter, Gershwin and all this Broadway material.  So how does the one influence the other?

I came into the city to be a rock star.  I wanted to be, you know, rich and famous, and I was always a pop person.  The only musical I ever paid attention to as a kid was The Sound of Music.  And after that I grew up and I was only interested in was Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, Elvis Presley.  Aretha Franklin, okay Motown, and definitely electric guitar rock and roll.  And I wanted to come in and become more Janis Joplin than anybody else.  I had a band when I first moved into the city.  I worked three jobs, I cleaned office buildings in the middle of the night, I waitressed, and I had a 9 to 5 job to pay my band’s cab fare.  I did really well for somebody in New York City that didn’t know their ass from their elbow.  But Dick Gallagher at the piano, and he was also a cabaret person, and that’s when I needed to start making a living in the piano bars.  I started hearing songs from musicals and I knew the American songbook because of my parents, they would listen to Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra (and Frank covered the gamut, you know?).  So I knew these things, I knew every pop song and who wrote every one.  So I’m working in the piano bars and every time I’d hear a song, I’d go to the piano player and say, “Who wrote that?  “Who wrote that?”  Mostly for me, the people I ran to the piano for were Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen.  I started falling in love with these things, and I always had a lot of respect for them because I knew them inside-out since being a kid.  And I had to make a living. And I had to sing.  And because I couldn’t afford the band anymore.  I was hungry.  And Dick Gallagher and I started arranging pop tunes.,  I think we could have been one of the first to get on the map arranging pop tunes with just a piano and a vocalist.  And I wont he Best Female Vocalist of the Year award from MAC a long, long time ago and that sort of solidified that I was OK to be doing the pop. So I think I kept both going.  And my dream was always to write my own music and sing the Southern rock that I grew up with (I was a Navy brat, I grew up mostly down South.)  And then I started getting a lot of notoriety and reviews in cabaret – the world was a lot smaller than the big pop/rock world, and I rose to the topof it pretty quickly. 

One day Dick Gallagher said to me, “Honey, you’re doing a lot of this pop stuff.  You just won an award.  Why don’t you start to teach?”  And I cried for two hours because all I heard in my head was “those who do, do, those who can’t teach.”  And I was mortified.  But I realize that now when I stand in front of a plugged in audience of sold out crowds at B.B. Kings or the Mohegan Sun or the Bottom Line, or Joe’s Pub, the reason I am riveting as a center stage singer with six plugged-in screaming guitars, et cetera is because I have learned how to do this with just a piano.  I have learned to find my feelings, to couple it to the music to relate to the audience, and to put it anywhere.  And since it’s something that excites the shit out of me, I teach because I need to pass it forward.  And every time I tell somebody something, I learn more and I can’t wait to get out there again.

It’s like, look, are you going to get dressed up and go to a black tie affair, or are you going to wear your jeans and go hiking?  I like them both, I can do them both, and I’m SO tired of the idea in my youth that it used to be that I couldn’t tell the rockers I’m a cabaret person and I couldn’t let the cabaret people know I was a rocker. You know what?  I’m old, time is ticking.  I’m not apologizing for being able to do a lot of things.  And I’m really grateful for the opportunity to do them well.

*OK, technically it’s now “6+1” since I’ve added a new question to the line-up.

This Weekend at Germano’s

September 16, 2009

Beverly Cosham in “He Said…She Said”

Sep 17, 2009 at 7:30 pm

The renowned performing artist, Beverly Cosham, appears at the Cabaret at Germano’s this Thursday in her new cabaret, “He Said…She Said,” the songs of Johnny Mercer and Amanda McBroom. Mercer wrote many Academy Award winning songs and McBroom is responsible for “The Rose.” She will be accompanied by Mary Sugar on piano. “Cosham is a rare find, even a phenomenon. Possessed with a voice that is probably one of the best natural instruments that we have heard, Beverly Cosham is thrilling. She brings so much meaning to a lyric” – Leigh Spear, Talk of L.A


Baltimore School for the Arts Second Annual Cabaret Kick-off

Sep 24, 2009 at 7:00 pm

Come wine and dine and see our students shine!

Germano’s is proud to host the Baltimore School for the Arts Second Annual Cabaret Kick-off, featuring performances by BSA students, faculty and alumni. Tickets cost $75 and proceeds benefit the school. A delicious buffet menu is included. Details to follow.


Carolyn Black-Sotir Sings “By George! By Ira! By Gershwin!”

Sep 25, 2009 at 7:30 pm

Experience Gershwin like never before as Carolyn Black-Sotir & Company present the award-winning By George! By Ira! By Gershwin! You will not want to miss this unforgettable evening of Gershwin classics and discover the stories behind the music as Germano’s celebrates the songs of George Gershwin on the eve of his 111th birthday. On a mini-Maryland tour, Carolyn & Co. will also be appearing at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on Thursday, September 24, at Germano’s on September 25—Carolyn & Company are rejuvenated by that great Italian food and cozy ambience—and then move on to the Chesapeake Arts Center on September 26. You may note a special excitement in the air as Carolyn, Tim, and Tom are reunited for this special musical series. (Carolyn convinced Tom to fly all the way from Phoenix to play these gigs; her secret weapon—Gershwin jazz and Germano’s red beet ravioli!)

With a standing ovation from the inspired audience, By Gershwin! was a smashing success. — –Nordwest Zeitung , Germany

All shows $10 cover unless otherwise indicated.

Cabaret at Germano’s, 300 S. High Street, Little Italy, 410.752.4515