Cabaret Chronicles

by Michael Barbieri
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I have close ties to New York’s cabaret community.  For twenty years, I was a technical director, designing lighting and sound for countless shows in the city’s best nightclubs and cabarets.  From The Duplex, to Judy*s, to the Algonquin Oak Room, I worked with some of the most talented performers imaginable.  These people became my friends - closer than friends, actually; they became family.  In 2009, however, I took a long break from the nightclub scene.

Now, as the Dining and Entertainment writer for QLife Magazine, it just feels right that I should return to my roots and report occasionally on some of the goings-on in the cabaret world.

If you’re unfamiliar with cabaret, performers don’t usually do their shows every night - more often, they might play three consecutive Thursday nights in the space of a month, and that’s that.  A successful nightclub show can run once a week for a number of years, if they’re lucky.  But lately, I’ve seen some of my friends doing “event” shows, occurring only once a month.  Here are some of the best I’ve attended so far...

The Q
Imagine a talk show like The View, live on stage, but helmed by 4 gay men, with fabulous gay guests.  This is The Q!  

Playing at The Metropolitan Room, The Q was created by the room’s booking manager, Joseph Macchia.  He’s joined by cabaret denizen Rev. Shawn Moninger, and a rotating cast of hosts as they chat, joke, sing, and welcome guests from different walks of life.  The show’s theme changes every month, so you never get the same show twice!

My first visit to The Q celebrated Gays in Stand-Up Comedy.  Joseph, Shawn, and guest hosts Miquel Edson and Thomas Dieter came onstage to Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family,” putting the audience at ease with some funny banter.  Soon they welcomed gay comics Zach Teague, who horrified, yet amused the room with tales of his mother constantly showing him her vagina, followed by Oscar Aydin, who was more off the cuff; sitting and improvising with the hosts.  Tulis McCall brought the women’s point of view, with a pointedly funny routine about sexual politics - “Women make shit up about men. That’s called facts. Men make shit up about women, and those are called laws!”  Perfect!   Finally, Danny McWilliams became the queen of the one liners, with quips like “The Q is like The View if they all transitioned!”

More recently, The Q featured performances by the cast of the gay-themed Off-Broadway musical The View UpStairs, after which we met members of the Radical Faeries; Reverend Glen, Summer, and Reverend Yolanda - a Trans/Femme/Gender Queer singer songwriter, who gave us two original tunes, “Alien Love Child,” and “Love Divine.”  Even guest host Michael Cusumano considered becoming a Faerie!

The next installment of The Q plays Saturday, April 15th, at 4 pm.  Check for information.  It’s a lovely way to spend a weekend afternoon!

Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway
What could be more gay than old Broadway?!

Cabaret legend and self-proclaimed “exceedingly tired old lesbian” Ricky Ritzel is a veritable font of knowledge.  When it comes to music, theater, film, television and more, Ritzel knows his stuff!  How perfect then, that he should present a monthly tribute to all things Broadway, at Don’t Tell Mama, on West 46th Street.

Inspired by the PBS Musical Comedy Tonight programs from the 1970’s, each of Ricky’s evenings highlight 2 or 3 different Broadway shows.  Not only does Ritzel know his source material, but he REALLY knows talent, and he has a revolving cast of amazing singers.  On the night I attended, the shows being discussed were Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret, Sondheim’s Company, and a big ol’ stinkeroo Broadway flop from 1957, called Shinbone Alley.

Providing dry, amusing commentary for each show, Ritzel first introduced Will TN Hall, as Cabaret’s sleazy Emcee, bid us “Wilkommen,” dressed in a tight t-shirt and black vinyl short shorts, backed by the sexy girls of the Kit Kat Club.  Laura Pavles showcased her fabulous belt voice...and other assets, with the scandalous “Don’t Tell Mama,” Aaron Lee Battle and Sydney Meyer, as Cliff and Sally, were campy and flirty singing “Perfectly Marvelous,” Tara Moran gave us a beautiful “Maybe This Time,” and Michelle Dowdy knocked us out with the title song, “Cabaret.”

Shinbone Alley, based on the stories of Archy & Mehitabel - a cockroach in love with an alley cat - is a real rarity, and here we had the ever lovely Jay Rogers as the roach, and the ever nutty Kristine Zbornik as the cat.  Zbornik, in a leather catsuit and feather boas, gave us a wonderfully silly “Toujours Gai,” and they both sang an upbeat “Flotsam and Jetsam,” while doing a giddy soft-shoe!

Finally, Company.  Now considered one of Sondheim’s best, its out of town tryouts were originally panned, with one critic saying it was perfect “for ladies’ matinees, homos, and misogynists!”  Wow!  But onstage at Don’t Tell Mama, there was nothing but brilliance: Aaron Morishita gave us a lovely “Sorry-Grateful,”  TJ Dose, with a gorgeous, lilting tenor, sang “Someone Is Waiting,” and “Being Alive,” and of course, we got the frenetic “Getting Married Today,” performed by Laura Pavles, Aaron Lee Battle, and Alison Nusbaum, who handled her rapid fire lyrics with aplomb...and with her iPhone!

The next performance of Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway plays on April 28th, and showcases Assassins, Barnum, and The Pajama Game.  See for details.

Richard Skipper Celebrates
If you’re a star of stage or screen, and you plan on being honored, Richard Skipper is the man you want for the job!

Once a month, at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, award winning entertainer, producer, arts advocate, and theater historian Richard Skipper fetes a different artist or event.  A recent show celebrating the 53rd anniversary of Hello Dolly, was a sold out smash!  

I stopped by the Beechman on a frigid Sunday, for brunch and the show - a  tribute to Miss Liza Minnelli!  And on her birthday, yet!

The show began with a video featuring well known moments from Liza’s career, including a duet with her mother, Judy Garland.  Skipper then took the stage, opening with “City Lights,” from Kander & Ebb’s The Act, created for Minnelli in 1977.  15 year old Ameliarose Allen, who will soon play Sally Bowles in her high school production of Cabaret, sang “Maybe This Time,” and of course, the title tune, “Cabaret.”  The incandescent Julie Reyburn gave us “Sing Happy,” and “A Quiet Thing,” from Flora The Red Menace (Minnelli’s Broadway debut,) and David Sabella, seen on Broadway as Mary Sunshine in Chicago, showed off his amazing countertenor with a medley of “All That Jazz” and “Yes,” while Seth Sikes, known for Garland and Minnelli tributes of his own, gave us fabulous renditions of “Shine On Harvest Moon,” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” with uncanny Garland-esque phrasing.  

Being a Minnelli fan myself, Skipper’s celebration felt like a joyful party, with great songs sung by wonderful singers.  My favorite take-away that afternoon, however, was learning that Skipper, Sabella, and Sikes had all been young, impressionable gay boys like me, and we were all obsessed with Liza!!  Yes, stereotypes are often true, my friends!

The next performance of Richard Skipper Celebrates will be Sunday, April 8th at 1 pm, at the Laurie Beechman Theatre.  Check out or for more information.

There’s an enormously diverse range of talent in the world of cabaret, so if you’ve never experienced a nightclub show, any or all of these monthly events would be an excellent way to start.  As the song says: “Come to the cabaret, old chum...”  And as you’ll discover, life is a cabaret!

Michael Barbieri

Food & Entertainment Writer