By Daniel Johnson

by Daniel Johnson

In preparation for her New York City cabaret debut February 5, 2023, at the Laurie Beechman theater, Cynthia Clarey, previously known for accomplished performances in musical theater and opera, gave an absorbing interview to Broadway World’s Michael Walters. He explained how Clarey began a new career in Chicago as a cabaret performer – how she began collaborating with Chicago cabaret legend Beckie Menzie and became, in a few short years, a leading and popular member of the Chicago cabaret community.

Recipient of this year’s Chicago Cabaret Professionals Advocacy Award, Clarey has become well known for her work here. As previously reported in these pages, (September 2020) Cynthia ‘had a long journey from opera to cabaret: as her voice matured it dropped about an octave. She then turned to teaching and in Chicago was introduced to the local cabaret scene.

“Opera is more technically difficult for a singer, but cabaret is up close and personal. There’s nowhere to hide!” she said. “I connect 100 percent to cabaret. It really feels like home.”

Observers have said of Cynthia’s cabaret work that she really “gets it!” After long international career as a singing actor, which took her to six continents, Cynthia Clarey brings to the world of cabaret decades of life and stage experience. About her show she says “the waters in our country have been muddied with hate, fear, and division. What are we going to do about it? Can we do anything about it?”

In Bridge over Muddied Waters, which debuted in Chicago and has been performed elsewhere, Cynthia explores musically where we have been, socially and historically, and how we got here, finding truth, compassion and even humor along the way. With songs by Luther Vandross, Lionel Ritchie, Abel Meeropol plus original songs and parodies, it seems to this writer that Cynthia has no trouble bridging the gap between activism and entertainment given vexing subject matter, her instinct is to use her performance to heal.

As she told Broadway World, “I knew what I wanted to say, but I had to find the songs that would say it for me.” Explaining how each song had its own point of view, she continued: “And I’m not even sure how some of them came to me; like “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” comes out of the previous song. It’s not something that’s lighthearted. It’s saying that we must make the best of what there is, because this is what there is. Things would just pop into my mind when I was writing what I was going to say, and I’d discover that this song goes with this and that one with that. I put it all together and took it to Beckie and I said, “This is my show.” We had done a couple of shows before, lighter stuff. She said, ” You know, I think this show has legs.” I’ve performed the show quite a few times now, and it has really become a solid piece.”

Alex Cohen writes in her Playing Around column online “Peppered with historical reference, this is a personal show with universal message: the end to bigotry and prejudice . . . The artist employs her unusual voice to best advantage. Direction is subtle, accompaniment rich without taking over. With luck, she’ll be back in New York (from Chicago) repeatedly in years to come.”

Stephen Mosher begins his glowing notice in Broadway World with: “Chicago cabaret artist Cynthia Clarey recently made her New York City cabaret debut at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, playing to a room filled with respected industry proficients, which is not something every out-of-towner can easily boast – an impressive feat, indeed. Cynthia Clarey‘s reputation, clearly, precedes her –  and it is a reputation quite well-earned, and well-deserved. Cynthia Clarey is a performer that the New York City cabaret industry is most certain to embrace and welcome, for the lady is wonderful. She is exciting, she is interesting, and she has something (well, some things) to say.”

Ms. Clarey had some help promoting her debut, on Facebook she thanked (among others) Steve Marcus for doing an incredible job with promotion, as well as Joanne Halev and Lina Koutrakos who were great in getting the word out. She also singled out Gloria Hopkins who made it possible for her to bring her original collaborators, Beckie Menzie and Irwin Berkowitz, with her on tour.

By Elizabeth Doyle

DeLovely: An Evening of Cole Porter with David Edelfelt and me started “on the road” more than four years ago, when Charles Troy invited us as his guest stars to the Elkhart Jazz Festival in Indiana. That led to our first of three DeLovely shows at our Chicago home, Davenport’s. Paris, France and the Cole Porter Festival in Peru, Indiana were our next notable out-of-town Porter gigs.

New York was the next logical step. We aimed high and got booked at Feinstein’s/54 Below, in the lower level of the infamous Studio 54. (More on Michael Feinstein below.)

Delovely at Feinstein’s 54 Below

The conundrum with out-of-town engagements is who will actually attend your show? My husband, Paul, worked the standard (and not-so-standard) marketing angles and David and I put the word out to all our social media followers.

We did draw some New Yorkers, most notably Steve Ross (the Crown Prince of Cabaret) Jon Weber of NPR’s Piano Jazz, Eric Yves Garcia (the marvelous singer/pianist) and NY musical theater writers Nan Hoffman and Laurel Haynes.

Many our supporters flew in from eight different states and England. Colleagues, neighbors, family members, friends and fans paid for plane fare, hotel rooms and their night at Feinstein’s. We were flabbergasted and deeply grateful for the level of support we received.

A side note: We shared the evening (and dressing room) with Luann de Lesseps, from The Real Housewives of New York City. Many of her tv cast mates were in the green room with us, including a couple of tv camera people. She performed her show, Countess and Friends, before us. We had, shall we say, decidedly different audiences.

David and I had a fabulous experience at 54 Below. The sound and lighting, piano, layout of the room and staff were all top-notch. Audience members said the food was great, too.

Next on our road trip was Feinstein’s Cabaret at Hotel Carmichael in Carmel, Indiana. Hotel rooms were included in this booking and we marveled at the music theme throughout the building. The lobby, halls and guest rooms all featured posters of famous sheet music, music-themed paintings and replicas of hand-written music scores. There was also a piano in the lobby bar. Music everywhere!

Again, this was an extremely professional operation with great lighting, sound, piano and club layout. The staff was especially helpful.

Going for a Feinstein’s trifecta, our next road trip found us at the Feinstein’s/Nikko Hotel in San Francisco. We were given elegant guest rooms at the hotel, so going to the sound check and performance was literally an elevator trip away.

The Nikko show room was slightly different in design, but no less excellent in terms of sound, lighting, piano and sight lines. There is a group called Friends of Feinstein in San Francisco, so we picked up some audience members who did not know us but were drawn to the Cole Porter topic. Although this was our first performance in California, we did draw a great mix of friends, fans and family. Lovely San Francisco singer Cory Jamison also graced our show with her presence.

A word on Michael Feinstein, who is not only a mainstay in cabaret performance, but is a veritable champion of other singers practicing this art. He has created cabaret rooms across the country which are designed with performers and their audiences top-of-mind. (Even the green rooms are stocked with niceties such as clothing steamers, tea kettles, water, lighted make-up mirror and a place to hang clothing. Truly a home away from home.) Thank you, Michael!

Our next performance of DeLovely and possibly our last Chicago iteration of the show, will be May 16 at the Cliff Dwellers during Cabaret Week. You don’t need to be a club member to attend so this is your opportunity to experience this venue with its stupendous terrace view of Millennium Park and Lake Michigan. (For more details about this show, check out Cabaret Week promotional materials, TBD.)

Is it surprising we’d have such a delovely time on the road with Cole?

By Anne Burnell

We wanted to manifest being out on the road again with our recording Two for the Road, which was made during the height of the pandemic, and released August 17, 2022 at Epiphany Center for the Arts, Chicago. The CD cover itself came from that pent-up feeling, and while we were making the recording we didn’t know for certain if we would be able to tour again. We’re counting our blessings!

The Plymouth Arts Festival in Wisconsin was our first stop, a huge festival that takes over a small town. People came from all over upper Wisconsin. We picked up a bassist Hal Miller, who was a fine player, and fit right in with our drummer Jim Widlowski, whose Chicago credits include playing for Hamilton and Wicked. Hal was recommended both by Chicago Cabaret Professionals Education Director Ellen Winters Reynolds and member Johnny Rodgers.

Then to St. Louis, Missouri and the Blue Strawberry, a gorgeous cabaret where many touring acts appear, such as Susan Werner, and Liz Calloway. Jim Dolan, the manager, and the brilliant tech director Phil Evans helped things go smoothly.

Senior arts critic from KDHX, Chuck Lavazzi made us feel welcome to the Gateway to the West and helped promote the show with an online interview. This was our debut in St. Louis, and my birth mom and half-sister came from three hours away to hear us live for the first time!

On to Florida, where we are appearing regularly at The Reserve Retreat, a hip coffee/wine shop, boutique hotel, and restaurant − Courtyard music outdoors with musicians Pete Szujewski, Dave Hardman, Alejandro Arenas, and Don Mopsick.

At The Reserve Retreat (Mark Burnell, Don Mopsick, Anne Burnell and Pete Szujewski)

We are thrilled to play in the Sarasota Jazz Festival 2023 on Trolley Night, with drummer Pete Szujewski, and bassist Joe Porter.

We performed in the Monday Night Jazz Cabaret series at the Florida Studio Theatre, featuring arrangements from Two for the Road and our other albums, with amazing jazz cats Dave Hardman, who has performed with Andrea Bocelli, and Alejandro Arenas from La Lucha.  The theatre itself was elegant with gorgeous sound and lights by our tech person Cassidy.

At Florida Studio Theater Mark and Anne Burnell with Alejandro Arenas and Dave Hardman

Our last public performance on the Florida leg is Jazz at Two on March 24, 2023, presented by the Jazz Club of Sarasota at the Unitarian Universalist Church.  JazzClubSarasota.org

On the road we also got to hear many people who inspire us: Alexis Cole, Helios Jazz Orchestra, Kurt Elling, Lizz Wright, Frank Portolese, Scotty Wright, and Eddie Tobin.

Touring is risky, but it’s so rewarding to share music with people from all over. We find the six degrees of separation is real, and when it comes to music lovers, it’s probably less.

During this tour, Mark also played auditions for Carnegie-Mellon University, the Asolo Theatre, and played an Improv performance for Florida Studio Theatre. We have four more private events in Naples and the Ringling Museum before heading back to Chicago.  We’ll be performing at Drew’s on Halsted (April 14), producing Chicago Cabaret Professionals “Musical Monday, Tin Pan Alley” (April 17), and co-producing the 2nd annual Chicago Cabaret Week, May 12-21.

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