October 19, 2019

Au Lapin Agile, a trip back in time to a quintessential Parisian cabaret

Cabaret can mean two things in Paris. If you are looking for topless women, champagne, feathers and lots of glitz, head for the Moulin Rouge, Lido de Paris or Crazy Horse and their glamourous ilk in Montmartre.

If you want something less expensive, very musical and a little bit retro, head for Au Lapin Agile for “poèmes et chansons (poems and songs)” and shots of cherry house wine.

Cassita, resident chanteuse Au Lapin Agile

Lapin Agile Owner Yves Mathieu

There is a resident group of professional singers who lead group sing-alongs and perform mini-sets of their own throughout the evening. Everything is in French but those who do not speak the language can enjoy the familiar melodies and soak up the timeless atmosphere with paintings covering the walls as they sit at wood tables that very well may be ancient.

The little house cabaret has existed since 1860 when it was first named Rendezvous for Thieves followed by Cabaret for Assassins.

In 1875, Artist Andre Gill painted a rabbit jumping out of a sauce pan thereby giving the venue its new name, Gill’s Rabbit. Before 1900, the title evolved into the Agile Rabbit or Au Lapin Agile, a delightful historical play on words.

The great cabaret artist Aristide Bruant (immortalized by Toulouse Lautrec) bought the club after the turn of last century and created a meeting place for struggling yet creative luminaries such as Picasso, Modigliani, Apollinaire and Utrillo.

Some of the current excellent performers include Patrice and Oona, a singer-songwriter duo, singer guitarist Gerard Caillieux, baritone Frédéric, the son of the current owner, Jean-Claude Orfali, pianist extraordinaire and Cassita, a clarion-voiced accordionist who summons up the spirit of Piaf.

If you want to brush up on your French before a visit, here is a page of lyrics from group songs sung at Au Lapin Agile.

au-lapin-agile.com/paroles/

This September, Au Lapin Agile was kind enough to let us bring Cabaret Connexion 2019 to their venue on their off night. David Edelfelt and I presented our Porter in Paris show with guest stars Jacques Protat, Jean-Jacques DeLaunay and Ava Logan, followed by Paris Qui Chante featuring Christine Steyer, Jean-Claude Orfali, Mylène Launay, Maryline Rollet, Francoise Miran and resident chanteuse Cassita. Angelina Réaux, Claudia Hommel and Anne and Mark Burnell were guest stars in the regular Friday show later in the week.

David & Elizabeth playing at Lapin Agile 9-19

A few words of advice, use the restroom before you are seated because making that trip once the show has started is problematic. If you want a beverage besides the cherry wine, order that at the beginning of your evening. For those who have trouble sitting on hard benches, opt for one of the banquette seats lining the walls.

The current owner since 1972, host and singer Yves Mathieu and his family have been have keeping the flame alive by including French song favorites from the last hundred years all the way back to folk songs from the 15th century. Bravo, Yves and family!

For the real heart of Montmartre and perhaps of musical Paris, an hour or four at Au Lapin Agile is what the doctor prescribes.

Tuesday to Sunday, 9pm-1am
Cash payments only
22 Rue des Saules, 75018 Paris France

Here is the English site for visitors, but the French site has more info.

au-lapin-agile.com/1-au-lapin-agile-anglais/

au-lapin-agile.com

Glessner House Courtyard concert on Sept. 25

I recently played a concert in the Glessner House courtyard with bass player Jim Cox. The evening was so lovely that I wanted to let people know about the second show I will be doing with guitarist John Papodolias on Wednesday, September 26 from 6 pm to 8 pm.

Attendees bring their own food, beverages, blankets and lawn chairs. It’s like a mini-Ravinia experience with Italian white lights strung across the Glessner House courtyard giving a soft glow to the atmosphere.

The cover charge is $10 per person and that also includes a tour of the museum after the show if desired. How could you pass up a chance to see Glessner House at night without crowds?

A little about Glessner House which is one of the understated gems in the city. William Tyre, executive director and curator of the museum has worked tirelessly for 12 years to provide a historical and architectural experience like no other.

John Jacob Glessner (an industrialist involved with the beginning of International Harvester) and his wife, Frances hired notable Chicago architect H. H. Richardson to design them a stunning home in the Prairie Avenue district, south of Chicago’s Loop. Completed in 1887, the 17,000 square feet of space looks like a fortress from the exterior, but feels cozily intimate inside. The owners of Victorian homes must have looked a bit askance at this forerunner of more modern Chicago architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan and Mies Van der Rohe.

My outdoor live music event would be a great way to experience the Glessner House, but a visit any time of the year is a must for anyone interested in Chicago history or architecture. Locals and people from all over the world find their way to this architectural masterpiece. Join them!

www.glessnerouse.org

Songwriter Tom Lehrer: Biting Wit and Deep Thoughts

Over the years, I would hear mention of the name Tom Lehrer as this legendary songwriter of irreverent and topical tunes such as Poisoning Pigeons In the Park, The Vatican Rag, or National Brotherhood Week. Nor can one forget Buddy Charles’ stupendous rendition of Masochism Tango or the droll Hannukah in Santa Monica, a non-Christian holiday standard.

Lehrer’s popularity in the 1950s and 1960s included LP sales and writing music for the television show, That Was the Week That Was. Lehrer shifted his focus to teaching academic mathematics and musical theater in the early 1970s at places like MIT, Harvard, Wellesley and the University of California at Santa Cruz.

He was definitely a man of many interests having worked at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, enlisting in the military and doing a work stint for the NSA.

His relatively small catalogue of songs is still relevant today. Lehrer is now 91 years old. Isn’t it high time we start a tidal wave of interest in his material? Shame on me because I don’t currently have any of his songs in my repertoire, but hope to rectify that soon.

My friend Lydia Stux gave me this link of Lehrer performing a special concert in Denmark. He has this nerdy charm, with his horn-rimmed glasses and his surprisingly good singing and playing.

Enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHPmRJIoc2k

The Last Czars on Netflix

The Last Czars, a six episode series which premiered on Netflix July 3, 2019, uses dramatic re-enactment scenes interspersed with very animated scholars weighing in on documentary-style questions.

We continue to be fascinated by royal families, as the popularity of the shows Victoria and The Crown would attest. One hundred years have elapsed since the murder of the last Imperial Russian royal family so this seems a propitious time to re-examine the downfall of this storied monarchy.

Robert Jack portrays Tsar Nicholas, the final royal ruler of Russia, as a man who was incapable of changing with the times, which were turbulent indeed with starvation, strikes, riots, a disastrous war with Japan and the run-up to World War I being some of the problems during his reign. On a personal level, he was madly in love with his wife, Empress Alexandra (a granddaughter of Queen Victoria) and father to four daughters who were ineligible to rule. Joy at the eventual birth of his son and heir, Alexei turned to sorrow when it was discovered that he suffered from an inherited family illness, hemophilia.

We see Alexandra, played by Susanna Herbert, fall under the spell of mystic and possible madman, Grigori Rasputin, mesmerizingly embodied by British actor, Ben Cartwright. Both Nicholas and Alexandra came to believe that only Rasputin could keep the young Tsarevitch in good health.

The series delves into how the family was executed and the possibility of survivors, most notably that of daughter, Anastasia.

If you are a fan of European history, the Imperial Russian family in particular, this docu-drama has good enough acting, cinematography, costume and production values. Some of the dialogue in The Last Czars may annoy you as stating the obvious however.

DNA testing has taken away some of the mystery surrounding the final chapter of the Emperor and his family, but historical interest remains high. I may just go google the current price of a Fabergé egg and take a virtual tour of the Hermitage Art Museum.

Deadwood on HBO, the series and the new movie

My father was a U. S. Attorney for 8 years and had to spend summers in Deadwood, South Dakota for federal court sessions. Our family benefited by spending weeks exploring the whole Black Hills area, Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, Hot Springs, Hill City with its coal train locomotive and horseback riding being some of the attractions.

The real draw for me on these trips was the town of Deadwood with its storied past as a gold rush town, a gambling mecca and the place where Wild Bill Hickok was murdered by the infamous Jack McCall.

Show creator of Deadwood, David Milch set the HBO series in the time period when the lawless town was literally being mined for profit and being dragged into the orbit of government and civilization.

The excellent cast of Deadwood reads like an impressive who’s who of future tv shows. Timothy Oliphant subsequently added Justified and Santa Clarita Diet to his resume. Anna Gunn as his school-teacher wife went on to play the beleaguered spouse in Breaking Bad. Ian McShane as the town underworld boss has been seen in American Gods, Ray Donovan and Game of Thrones. Mollie Parker went on to House of Cards and Goliath. Paula Malcomson played Katniss’ mother in the Hunger Games movies. Kim Dickens and Garret Dillahunt both have been in Fear the Walking Dead. William Sanderson as Mayor and hotel owner E. B. Farnum plays a quirky sheriff in True Blood. Titus Welliver has done stints in The Good Wife, Sons of Anarchy and Bosch. Seasoned actor Powers Booth has been recently seen in Nashville and Agents of S. H. I. E. L. D. Calamity Jane played by Robin Weigert recently popped up as a therapist on Big Little Lies. And I have not even touched upon the guest stars.

I make special note of Keith Carradine who is a wonder to behold as Wild Bill Hickok and Gerald McRaney as powerful bad guy, George Hurst.

The language is as raw as I remember. Four letter words and graphic scenes of sex and violence abound. This is unique dialogue that gives a nod to the time period and allows the characters to use the rough and raw words of whore houses, gambling dens and booze joints.

As you may have noticed, streaming services are revisiting series that still hold interest for viewers. In the case of Deadwood: The Movie (May 2019), David Milch picks up the story ten years after the end of the original series.

While I loved communing with these characters again and loose ends are indeed tied, the film was not of the same artistic quality of the series. By all means, watch this ground-breaking remarkable series as a newcomer or as a repeat customer. The Movie may be optional.

Just remember, aces and eights are the dead man’s poker hand. At least in Deadwood.

Pose on FX and Netflix

Show creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Steven Canals have an unusual hit on their hands, a dramatic tv series about African-American and Latino gay and gender-bending individuals who take part in the New York Ballroom scene of the 1980s.

Men, dressed as women, compete for trophies in club fashion and beauty contests. Actor Billy Porter has created an indelible character as the emcee of these pageants. Competitors band together in different “houses” with “mothers” who head the households. AIDS and discrimination are scourges of this community in Season 1.

The world of real estate, Trump and high finance of the era also figures into the story as a buttoned-up businessman consorts with Angel, (heartbreakingly played by India Moore), a prostitute she-male who participates in this competitive underworld.

There are some tv regulars in the cast like Kate Mara (House of Cards, American Horror Story), Christopher Meloni, Kathryn Erbe and James Van Der Beek (Dawson’s Creek), plus Sandra Bernhard in Season 2, but it is the lesser known actors that bring real heart to the show.

MJ Rodriguez as Blanca, the mother of the House of Evangelista and Dominique Jackson as Elektra, the rival mother of the House of Abundance have a love/hate relationship that keeps the viewer riveted. Damon Richards, an aspiring dancer (played by Ryan Jamaal Swain), is a homeless kid who becomes the first member of the House of Evenaglista.

Even though these are characters you have never seen on tv before, the writers, actors and directors instantly bring you into this rarified scene, if you are open to it. This might not be to everyone’s taste, but I for one love the over-the-top clothing as well as the raw emotion and high production values. Critics and a host of awards second that opinion.