Will Gartshore shows why cabaret will never die
- Elaine Stritch with Noel Coward in 1970 (AP Photo/Ron Frehm)
American cabaret owes its existence to Prohibition, when speakeasy owners realized Americans consumed more liquor if they were getting entertained. Performers typically played sad songs. Drinkers jammed themselves into often small smoke-filled spaces with tiny round tables for two and a few rows of bar-style seating in back to accommodate as many paying customers as possible.
By the end of prohibition in 1933, the habit had stuck, and many more supper clubs had opened. Large, infamous nightclubs appeared at this time. New York’s Copcabana and the Cotillion Room were famous destinations. Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Ruth Etting headlined. Servers were decked in formal wear and patrons followed the strict dress code–adding to the glamour of the environment. Often, the spaces the held the clubs were decrepit. Club owners relied on dim lighting, heavy smoke and strong performances to distract customers from their surroundings. Cabaret singers often provided political satire by adjusting lyrics to incorporate everyman’s reaction to the headlines of the week.
Today, late-night television has the corner on the political-satire market, and the air inside more and more clubs is smoke-free. However, you can still find cabaret in the Washington area. At the Kennedy Center, Barbara Cook has curated a long-running cabaret series that’s drawn table-pleasers like Alexandra Silber, Euan Morton, and Jane Krakowski, and this summer Signature Theatre has set up a dimly lit black box space with small round tables and bar-style seating. You can’t smoke, but drinks and dining selections from the theater bar are welcome. Beyond that, the differences between cabaret now and cabaret then mostly come down to style and musical selections.
- Will Gartshore (photo: Signature Theatre)
A mainstay of cabaret material. Elaine Stritch regaled audiences with tales of her battles with alcoholism and stagefright and how she lost her husband, John Bay, to brain cancer. At Signature, two-time Helen Hayes Award winner Will Gartshore performed last week; his show, "All the King's Men," is an emotional journey through song, exploring Gartshore's childhood dreams, relationship woes, and recovery from a recent wrist injury.
You gotta know how to pick 'em. Lotte Lenya sang Kurt Weill’s songs about despair and murder. Cole Porter’s songs, the engine of thousands of cabaret shows, dealt with bravery and humor in the face of crushing pain. Gartshore starts his show with a medley he calls "Top of the World," which includes a powerful delivery of part of Coldplay's "Viva la Vida." His 14-song set surveyed artists from across the pop spectrum as he continued to reveal personal aspects of his life throughout the show: realizing his obsession with superheroes, embracing his ego, and drawing the line with noncommittal lovers.
Gartshore told of the balance between loving one’s own creative work and producing something physical and lasting in "The Mason." Tremendous pride for his musical and performing accomplishments and that residing desire to be a superhero rang through on the lively rendition of "C'est Moi" from "Camelot." "I am here to sing for your tables round," Garthshore sang. He made the audience swoon with a "Landslide/My Heart" medley and looked at lost loves via a mashup of "Strangelove” and “Bad Romance."
- Josephine Baker (AP)
Mandatory! Josephine Baker performed in a skirt made of jeweled bananas that curved upward. Martha Raye clowned through her shows, pretending to get her microphone stuck in her famously large mouth. Gartshore relies on PowerPoint slides to guide the audience through his performance. "You know I've been in Washington far too long if I am doing cabaret by PowerPoint," he said.
"Sizzlin' Summer Cabaret" runs to Aug. 6 at Signature; tickets are $25. Call 703-820-9771 or go here for tickets and event schedule.
RecommendedRecent Facebook Activity
Best of TBD In case you missed it
Here's a visual look at the eight most delicious, disgusting meals in the country.
TBD Blogs What you need to read
The Market Report
@TBD On Foot
Only On 7
Now you can get customized weather right down to your street! Plan your day and week ahead with ABC7's Interactive 7-day forecast!