"I don't sing because I'm happy; I'm happy because I sing"

The second half of Saturday, Nov 1st was spent in Cabaret Heaven. I went to two shows that highlight the extremes of the craft’s spectrum. 180 degrees away from each other, these two shows (and these two ladies) exemplified the different personal energies that a cabaret show can encompass. One was beautifully meditative and emotional; the other was explosive and emotional. Either way, I was struck tonight at how the same stage (The Metropolitan Room) can be transformed from an intimate exploration of one’s personal transformative state to a high-rolling, bongo-playing set on fire. I was a cabaret student yesterday, that’s for sure.

After recovering from Halloween 2008, I went to see Raissa Katona Bennett perform her show “Putting Things Away” at the Metropolitan Room. It was just David Caldwell at the piano and herself at the microphone, directed by Eric Michael Gillett. A simple setup for a simple, straight-forward but emotional show.

Raissa kept to mostly original works and story/character-based songs that required emotional stamina and acting. Within the 13-odd songs, I believe I only recognized “Will You?” from the set, although that could have been due to cabaret-song ignorance. Standout songs included “I Furnished One Room Apartment” (lyrics by Michael Mooney, music by Stephen Hoffman), a scathingly funny “You Wanna Be My Friend?”, a beautiful Menken/Spencer song “How Could I Not?”, and a David Caldwell original entitled “Tomb With a View.” Raissa does not steer clear of the extremes of tears and laughter – instead, she goes right into her emotional core on more than a few numbers and doesn’t let go. She’s definitely an actress-singer, one who does not shirk the character’s moment to moment experience throughout the song. One song in particular (referencing her character’s relationship with her mother) brought up incredible sorrow and anger from Raissa, showing a depth of her acting skills uncommon in standard “cookie-cutter cabaret.” She ended her set with “We Live on Borrowed Time” by David Friedman, reminding us to take the reigns of any project, love, or opportunity as time goes by. I was happy to spend some of this borrowed time with her that late afternoon.

Upon leaving Raissa’s show, I put down my name for Terese Genecco‘s late-late-late night show (11:45pm) and returned to the Metropolitan Room after doing a few errands. Terese is a San Francisco-based singer, although she has toured across the nation with her “little big band.” I was soooo excited to finally meet and see her perform, having at least read about her performances via cabaret emailing lists and other online accounts. I was glad I put my name down earlier – with this being the 2nd and last show of hers in New York this round, the place was PACKED.

Dressed in a black suit and white necktie, with her dark brown/black hair cut short and spiky, Terese embodies a classic big band singer done modern. She had a 7-piece band on that tiny stage (some spillage over onto the stage left area). With piano, drums, bongos, upright bass, sax, trumpet & trombone, there was an incredible amount of sound emanating from the stage, filling the relatively small Metropolitan Room. However, Terese has a voice and an energy big enough to match her tiny band. During the night, she expressed that she once envisioned herself as the “white lesbian Sammy Davis, Jr.” She stayed on that track with amazing re-arranged versions of such songs as “Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home,” “Got a Lotta Livin’ to Do,” “With Plenty of Money And You,” and “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head.” She even re-introduced the bongo-based arrangement of “Come Rain or Come Shine,” as originally recorded by Judy Garland.

Mid-way through the show, Terese brought up a young but already accomplished singer, Shawn Ryan, known for being a semi-finalist on Season One of “America’s Got Talent.” They first sang a duet of “Any Way the Wind Blows,” and I could tell from their banter that the two of them (almost photo negatives of each other by sex, height, and hair color) are great creative friends. Terese then left the stage for Shawn, who sang an incredibly funny version of “I Kissed a Girl and I Liked It” (funny due to the fact that his husband was watching the show from his booth in the back!). Terese returned for a hot St. Louis-blues-rock version of “St. James Infirmary” arranged by the legendary Russell Garcia.

Terese’s next song choice took almost everything out of the equation as she sang a song just by herself and the piano, proving herself to be a singer of emotional caliber in addition to her big-band persona. She sang the gorgeous song “If I was a Boy” by Maria Gentile & Caren Cole, written from the point of view of a lesbian who just wishes to be able to love her woman in the open, or to have a relationship with her dad without restraint. In light of Proposition 8 in California on the ballot this year, and being threatened to pass by a narrow margin on November 4th, this song had me holding back tears. I lost – a single tear ran down my cheek. Oh, and by the way Vote No on 8, California!!!

She ended the night with another big-band hoopla with Shawn Ryan teaching her how to “Shimmy.” She allowed each band member their own solo, providing further proof that each of them were brilliant musicians in their own rights. Terese also pointed out all the singing and composing talent in the room, including Hector Coris, Michael Feinstein, Marilyn Maye, Jenna Esposito, Rob Langeder, and Tony DeSare. I left the Metropolitan Room tired but enthusiastic, with a raw voice and raw hands from too much wooping and clapping.

Terese Genecco & I

Shawn Ryan & I. I think we were born with the same T-zones…

All in all, a great night of Cabaret!!!

First Halloween in New York – after much hemming and hawing, I came up with a Living Dead Doll costume completely made from pieces in my costume box and made my face up. Pete opted for a mask made with his baby-faced website logo. We then traveled down to the Chelsea-based New York Halloween Parade. I was used to the Santa Monica Blvd/West Hollywood parade of Los Angeles. However, this was probably more awesome, as New York’s is an actual “Parade” of costumed people walking down the street, separated from onlookers with cameras behind police barricades. Walking in the NY parade feels like being a pseudo-rockstar. Professional and non-professional photographers run around as well – I had one photographer stop me for a photo (he got in close on my makeup). And you had to be wary of car-drawn floats blaring music and large mardi-gras costumes too. All in all, a lot of fun.

For the parade, we met up with Stew Noack – a photographer, designer, and amazing costume maker who dressed up with a group of his friends as characters from “The Venture Brothers.” He went as one of the villains (damn, didn’t remember the name), and had “flames” arising out of his head & one hand made of moldable, lightup led-based tubing. With a switch, he could make them pulsate too. He’s going to make my costume for next year even if I have to lock him in my basement to do it. 🙂

We saw political dress-ups, some Sarah Palins, a flushable George Bush, a pro-Obama group yelling and beating drums. One group dressed like a bunch of flies being chased by Venus fly traps. There was a VHS-tape monster, a group of dancing gnome-creatures, and a gorgeous “spider” puppet hanging from the side of a building that danced incredibly spookily.

After food at the 24-hour-open Around the Clock diner in the East Village, we went home. This next part was the best bit: being stuffed into a late-night subway train with a huge number of people in costume. It was surreal, and I LOVED it.

More photos at my flickr.com Halloween 2008 set here.