Jeff Harner brought Because of You, Fifties Gold
to Davenport’s for Cabaret Week 2022
According to one of the event coordinators, Claudia Hommel, of Working in Concert, “Chicago Cabaret Week was a great expression of the cabaret tradition in Chicago. American cabaret had its start in Chicago in the early 1900s and, like the city itself, cabaret in Chicago is embracing people and performance genres from around the world.”
Hommel explained that “the idea for Cabaret Week was based on other week-long events that showcase cultural forces in Chicago, such as Restaurant Week and Theater Week, where we could showcase the diversity of the cabaret community and the many forms of cabaret.”
The planning for Cabaret Week began in 2019 and in 2020, the event was scheduled to be part of the Chicago Year of Music – with more than 45 cabaret performances at venues across Chicagoland. But the event was put on hold because of COVID, and it took two years— and the continued efforts of the four cabaret organizations involved — for the vision of CCW2022 to be realized.
As fellow event organizer, Hilary Feldman, founder of Acts of Kindness Cabaret, explained. “After losing the initial inaugural festival, the successful launch last month was especially gratifying. The coordinating organizations’ kickoff performance held at Epiphany Center for the Arts was a blast to be a part of. We have such depth and diversity of talent in the Chicago cabaret scene. It’s an honor to help showcase that.”
To fellow event coordinator Anne Burnell, of Chicago Cabaret Professionals, the event “Cabaret Week was everything we had dreamed of, providing a great opportunity for people to experience some of the best artists in the country. For fans of cabaret as well as those who have never been to a show, this was a great opportunity to experience what Chicago cabaret is all about.”
Among the performers who expressed what Cabaret Week meant to them was Nancy Hays, part of a mother/daughter duo with Mary Heffernan, performing classic solos and duets from the stage and screen. The duo performed Judy, Liza and More, a Mother’s Day Concert, on May 8. According to Nancy, “Performing Judy, Liza and More on Mother’s Day at the beautiful, intimate Le Piano, as part of the first Chicago Cabaret Week was historical for several reasons. It represented the only time in our own family history that my daughter Mary and I appeared as a duo, portraying the most famous mother/daughter duo in musical history, Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli, in a performance representing the only time in their history when they appeared together on a concert stage at the London Palladium. It was truly “once in a lifetime!””
For vocalist Joan Curto, who has been called a “cabaret icon” by NBC news Chicago, performing a show of Sondheim songs at the Cliff Dwellers Club was memorable. “I was thrilled to be a part of the first Chicago Cabaret Week. Cabaret has been a part of Chicago’s music landscape for many years, and to have this recognition for the unique and special art form of Cabaret in our great city is an honor. To bring the songs of Stephen Sondheim to this celebration is also an honor. His songs lend themselves to a smaller room, where stripped of a full theatrical production, audiences can hear the full flavor and genius a Sondheim song brings.”
For Madeline Morgan, who performed at the Beverly Arts Center, “It is exciting being a part of Cabaret Week. I was able to pay tribute to the artistry of the great Sarah Vaughn at the Beverly Arts Center in two shows. What could be better, except my tribute to Ella!”
For Kevin Pease, Artistic Director at Beverly Arts Center, hosting a Cabaret Week event was significant for the center and the community. “Cabaret has had a rich and storied history in Chicago dating back to the 1920s and continues to be a vital part of the city’s cultural landscape. So, the Beverly Arts Center was honored to participate in the first Chicago Cabaret Week, and to promote and support the work of local artists, like Beverly resident Madeline Morgan. We are tremendously grateful for the work of Chicago Cabaret Professionals, Acts Of Kindness Cabaret, The Cabaret Project, and Working In Concert for providing a platform to celebrate live music in our community and, through this event, we hope to build lasting partnerships with the other participating venues in service of elevating live music.”
For Jeff Harnar, the week was a kind of homecoming. “Alex Rybeck and I were delighted and honored to be swept into the excitement of the first Chicago Cabaret
Week. In addition to our sold-out performance at Davenport’s, the Chicago-Paris-Cabaret-Connexion engaged us for two seminars on “Building Your Show” — allowing us to share some tools we’ve found helpful along the way in our 39-year musical partnership. We’re both based in New York City, but speaking for myself, having started my professional career in Chicago at the age of 10 and having been part of the superlative New Trier High School theater program, it was thrilling to be returning to Chicago as cabaret gets a well-deserved, highly anticipated, weeklong spotlight. The vibrancy of the arts in Chicago was vital in my young life and knowing that cabaret is flourishing here now makes me smile for the next generation.”
For Paul Motondo, who performed A Baritone on Broadway at Venus Cabaret Theater, this was an opportunity to present a show that takes us inside his world as a fledgling actor/singer in the late 1980’s.
“I was truly honored to be part of the first Chicago Cabaret Week. I think the intimacy that is created in cabaret between a singer and the audience is something so special. In one of my reviews for Cabaret Scenes Magazine, Carla Gordon wrote, ‘Paul understand cabaret as conversation on pitch.’ To me that is truly the goal of this art form: sharing your truth through songs and stories and to bring your audience on a meaningful journey. I hope I accomplished that with my show at Venus.”
For Kyle Hustedt, the Founder and Artistic Director of The Cabaret Project and a member of the Feathered Beaus, which performed at the Kick-Off event, and also at Drew’s on Halsted, the week was full of excitement. “As a producer, artist, activist and advocate of the art form I am thrilled to have been invited to lead this endeavor. Cabaret, for me, is far more than just the singer and bringing our burlesque colleagues into the mix is log overdue! I am thrilled to champion other forms of nightlife entertainment as part of the cabaret community – the family tree is larger than one branch and we should all embrace that. The Beaus as a kick-off act was especially exciting! We know that many Chicago patrons haven’t had the opportunity to experience what we are offering as we have largely been touring or engaged out of town, so it was nice to be making fans and meeting new audiences in our home city.”
For Greta Pope, the Chicago Cabaret Week was special for reasons professional and personal. “I’m proud to have been an early Board Member of Chicago Cabaret Professionals and to have continued my involvement through participation in Chicago Cabaret Week 2022. Cabaret is a style of performance that can include all genres of music and my show at The Polo Inn in Bridgeport — Paris Noir…American Jazz in Paris — was an exciting celebration of 20th century jazz artists who took this uniquely American art form to Paris and to the world. Jazz has become one of the world’s most celebrated musical styles and we wanted to show the rich traditions and styles of the music — delivered in the fabulous swingin’ jazz style.”
For Jazz singer/actor Bobbi Wilsyn, performing a tribute to Lena Horne with her quartet of talented musicians in the historic Bronzeville neighborhood was memorable. The cabaret featured musical favorites from Lena’s movies and the award-winning Broadway show, The Lady and Her Music. “It is very exciting to present Stormy Weather which pays tribute to the quintessential cabaret star, Ms. Lena Horne. Performing at The Haven in Hyde Park as part of the first Chicago Cabaret Week makes this the perfect opportunity to share Ms. Horne’s story and her music.”
For Chris Anderson, Operations and Events Manager for Fulton Street Collective, and the founder and driving force behind the “Jazz Record Art Collective” hosting a performance by the interdisciplinary French artist Clotilde and the acclaimed American pianist and keyboardist Chris McCarthy was a great experience. The cabaret was a piece inspired by the Beat Generation poets. “It is a pleasure to be involved with Chicago Cabaret Week. We were thrilled with the lineup and are really looking forward to the performance with Chris McCarthy and Clotilde. This city has so many wonderful music rooms with their own unique vibe. I would hope other music entities would get involved with what the community is doing — and hope there are more collaborative events like this in the future.”
For Jackie Smook, performing Under Your Skin at Davenport’s Cabaret for Cabaret Week was a once in a lifetime experience. “It has been a dream of mine to have a one-woman show. When I was asked to be a part of Cabaret week, I had no words. I was beyond honored and excited to be a part of this magical event right here in Chicago — and I really love that each show in Cabaret Week will have its own flavor. Under Your Skin is the first show I ever wrote, and I was so happy to bring the world of standup, opera, and puppetry together in a room with bubbles and many different characters at the fabulous Davenport’s!”
For Donna Kirchman, a co-owner of Davenport’s, hosting an event for Cabaret Week was continuing a tradition of being an integral part of the Chicago cabaret scene.
“For almost 25 years, Davenport’s has been a leader in cabaret culture in Chicago. We were thrilled to be part of the first Chicago Cabaret Week where we introduced a new talent to the entertainment scene. Jackie Smook, who has been performing monthly at Davenport’s for almost eight months, brought a fresh, original take on Cabaret. Her show was autobiographical, funny, reflective, and wholly original while at the same time celebrating classic music from more than 100 years ago.”
For Lou Ella Rose Cabalona, of SamaSama Project, a 14-year-old band that is a fusion of Filipino traditional folk and contemporary music, performing at the Hideout as part of Cabaret Week was a special moment in the journey to bring Filipino music to Chicago. “With live shows slowly coming back, it’s been thrilling to have the opportunity to share the stage with amazing singers and musicians of Chicago Cabaret Professionals — but more than that, it’s heartwarming to have this family of artists supporting us and cheering us on. It was beyond exciting that our band was featured alongside other wonderful artists and performing groups throughout Chicago Cabaret Week and it’s pretty special we get to showcase Filipino music – from folk songs to pop, which we call OPM (Original Pilipino Music) – to mainstream audiences in Chicago with the festival!”
Chicago Cabaret Week (CCW) has been years in the making — and for the performers and venues that have been working diligently to bring this event to life — CCW2022 was especially meaningful.
by Charles Kouri