April 25, 2018

The German Cabaret Legacy in American Popular Music by William Farina

Evanston resident, author William Farina has written an excellent book about how Germany’s Weimar cabaret culture has impacted much of Western music and culture in the past several decades.

The Weimar Republic is loosely defined from 1919 to 1933 which is the time after World War I in Germany until the run-up to World War II. The 1930s saw the rise of Nationalism and the Nazi Party leading up to the global maelstrom between the Allies and the Axis. As one has watched the rise of nationalism in our own country, one could draw some unsettling parallels between our present day and that of this storied era of German history.

Troubled times frequently result in artistic ferment and the Weimar Republic is a particularly good example. Kurt Weill and Frederick Hollander were writing music, Lotte Lenya (Weill’s wife) was setting new standards in performance and a young Marlene Dietrich was creating a persona that would find world-wide popularity.

Josef von Sternberg (The Blue Angel), G. W. Pabst (Pandora’s Box with Louise Brooks), F. W. Murnau (Nosferatu) and Fritz Lang (Metropolis) were but a few of the filmmakers working in Germany at the time. Leni Riefenstahl was also writing and directing films throughout the 20s and 30s before signing on as the official visual recorder of the Nazi regime.

German performers, writers, directors, composers and authors, many of them Jewish fled and created new lives for themselves in Hollywood, in New York and in countless cities in the U. S. and other European locales. Little wonder that all of the arts would be impacted by this diaspora.

Lotte Lenya & Louis Armstrong

Interesting connections are made throughout Farina’s book. Jim Morrison of the Doors was a film student of Josef von Sternberg which may explain why he recorded Weill’s Alabama Song. The Beatles got their true start playing cabaret venues in Hamburg, Germany, even recording German versions of some of their songs. Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan wrote that he became semi-obsessed with the song Mack the Knife. Lotte Lenya also recorded a version of Mack with the legnedary Louis Armstrong.

Marlene Dietrich, who performed live cabaret shows from the early 1950s to the mid-1970s, was instrumental in creating the “big name” tradition on the Las Vegas Strip. No less than Burt Bacharach was her music director/pianist before his run of song hits. In her final film appearance, Dietrich shared a scene with David Bowie singing the song Just a Gigolo.

Marlene Dietrich

Broadway writers Kander and Ebb renewed interest in the Weimar Republic with their groundbreaking musical Cabaret which cast Lotte Lenya in a supporting role on Broadway. Many of the songs from their other musicals, most notably Chicago, have a Berlin cabaret feel.

Weill songs can be found on recordings by the likes of Bette Midler, Marianne Faithful, Teresa Stratas and Dee Dee Bridgewater. Mack the Knife alone has been sung by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Buble, Bobby Darin, Sting and Lyle Lovett, to name a few.

Ute Lemper

Current German cabaret artists like Ute Lemper and Max Raabe continue to play to sold-out houses across the globe.

My show at Dank Haus on Friday, April 6 will include a short presentation by William Farina and my interpretation of songs by Kurt Weill, Kander & Ebb, the Beatles, Burt Bacharach, Bob Dylan, selected song hits of Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf along with some of my own creations.

Show details below. Tickets must be ordered in advance.

Flats and Sharps Music Stores

Remember the days when you could go to the downtown loop and find sheet music stores where you could actually peruse the current hits and Broadway shows?

Thank heavens for the few music stores that still carry a selection of piano, vocal and instrumental sheet music. Flats and Sharps in Rogers Park with a second store in Norwood Park carries a good selection of sheet music, instruments and musical accessories.

They also have music lessons and host open mikes and other concerts. If only every neighborhood had a musical nexus like Flats and Sharps.

A while back, I was looking for the sheet music purveyor, Coulson’s, which used to be near the 410 S. Michigan Avenue Building and was told it had moved. A Google search informed me that they now have a store on the 6th level of the 900 N. Michigan Avenue Building. The next time I pop in Bloomingdale’s, I plan to check out Coulson’s selection of sheet music.

I know that almost all sheet music is available on-line, but there’s nothing like going into a music store and seeing the classical, pop, Broadway and rock tunes on display. The real treat is when the clerk actually can recommend their favorite new show, the best beginning adult piano book or the new Leonard Cohen songbook that just came out. Brick, mortar, personal attention and music! I’m there.

http://www.flattsandsharpe.com/

https://coulsonssheetmusic.com/

Billy Elliot, Porchlight’s musical at the Ruth Page Center For the Arts

Have I the perfect evening out for you, that is if you like musical theater and want to hang out in Chicago’s Gold Coast.

Porchlight Theater has mounted a bang-up production of the musical, Billy Elliot at the Ruth Page Center. Based on the hit movie of the same name with music by Sir Elton John, this is perfect family or date night theater fare.

Two talented young boys alternate playing the title role (I saw both sing at Monday Night Live at Petterino’s). Jacob Kaiser was Billy the night I attended and he surely sang, acted and danced his way into the audience members hearts. Another endearing character is Iris Lieberman playing Billy’s spunky, but addled grandmother. Other stand-outs are Sean Fortunato as his gruff father and Shanesia Davis playing his outspoken dance teacher.

The cast is augmented with young dancers, some who are making their theatrical debuts. If you have any fledgling dancers in your home, you may want to consider taking them to Billy Elliot in lieu of The Nutcracker. Their dance sequences are tutu cute. Excuse me, I just couldn’t resist the pun.

I parked at the public LAZ lot next to Hotel Indigo at 1250 N. Dearborn Street. The Ruth Page Center validated my ticket rendering the parking $12 for 6 hours.

You may consider having a light bite at the Three Arts Club Cafe in the Restoration Hardware store at 1300 N. Dearborn Street. Just be forewarned that they don’t take reservations and their kitchen closes at 8 pm most nights, with a 6 pm closing on Sundays.

The theater, parking and cafe are on the same street just blocks apart so the six hour parking window is just right.

Billy Elliot has been extended to December 31, 2017.
I can’t think of a more uplifting Chicago production to see this holiday season.

https://porchlightmusictheatre.org

http://3artsclubcafe.com/food/

http://www.ruthpage.org/

Chicago Cabaret Professionals Annual Gala at Park West honoring KT Sullivan, George Howe and Claudia Hommel’s SongShop

Not only is there a dynamite cast of local favorite singers at the annual Chicago Cabaret Professionals Gala, but the organization is honoring three entities that all music-lovers should know about.

KT Sullivan is one of the most impressive cabaret artists performing today. She was a headliner at the storied Oak Room at New York’s Algonquin Hotel for almost 20 years, starred in the Broadway revival of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and has performed at places like Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center and the Spoleto Festival. She has concertized in London, Paris and Australia and has been seen and heard on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion and PBS. She continues to serve the cabaret community not only as a performer, but as artistic director of The Mabel Mercer Foundation since 2012.
https://www.ktsullivan.com/
Many people know George Howe as the indispensable sidekick to Daryl Nitz, but he wears several other hats as well. His long-running Monday night open mike at Davenport’s draws pros and amateurs alike. With his fine vocals and piano, Howe demonstrates an encyclopedic knowledge of songs of all types. He is also an accomplished composer having written the scores to family musicals such as “Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type,” “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” and general audience fare such as “Queen Lucia,” “Sleepy Ugly” and “Northanger Abbey.” For more about the amazing George Howe, please visit:
http://www.georgehowemusic.com/

SongShop, created by Claudia Hommel, has provided a safe workshop environment for singers of all ages and levels to explore the approach, interpretation and performance of songs. Homes, churches, schools and theaters have hosted SongShop concerts, but the most long-standing affiliation has been with DePaul University’s Adult Education Division. Hommel has not only kept the Chicago SongShop going strong but has branched out to Detroit. Along with her own performing schedule, she has conducted song workshops in Paris and at institutions across the United States. SongShop has not only nurtured singers, but has educated listeners about the emotional connection possible when lyrics meet the hearts and minds of audience members.
http://songshoplive.com/about

Other performers at the Gala include Anne & Mark Burnell, Cynthia Clarey, Joan Curto, Elizabeth Doyle, David Edelfelt, Hilary Ann Feldman, Laura Freeman, Cathy Glickman, Carla Gordon, KT McCammond, Denise McGowan Tracy, Beckie Menzie & Tom Michael, Marianne Murphy-Orland, Daryl Nitz, Judy Rossignuolo-Rice & Bernie Rice.

Doors open at 5:45 p.m. “Cocktail” performance begins at 6:15 p.m. The Gala Performance starts at 7:00 p.m.

Tickets are also available at www.ticketfly.com 877.987.6487

Avoid fees and purchase tickets at the Park West Box Office 773.929.5959

CCP will take ticket sales via check, credit card or PayPal by mail or on our website. For more info call our hotline 312-409-3106 or email ccp408268@aol.com.

An American In Paris at the Oriental Theater

I had heard about this charming musical ever since it premiered on Broadway to great acclaim in 2015, so it was with great anticipation that I caught this national tour version of An American In Paris.

The production has several things going for it. Ballet sequences are breath-taking as conceived by director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon.  George Gershwin’s music provides the lush soundtrack for the whole show. Not only do we hear permutations of his famous An American In Paris orchestral work, but we are treated to portions of his classical Second Prelude, his Concerto in F, his Second Rhapsody and his Cuban Overture. Beloved songs like I Got Rhythm and The Man I Love are sung by cast members, but lesser known tunes like Fidgety Feet, Who Cares and Liza shed new light on Gershwin’s song catalogue.
The technical aspects of the show dazzle with creative use of screen images on the electronic back drop and moving screens. Parisian buildings, paintings and other famous sights delight the eye throughout the show. A recurring view of the river Seine is most amusing as two boats are depicted by different artistic techniques.

The plot harkens back to the basic romantic formula found in black and white movies. Three men who are friends are all in love with the same ballerina. Boy and boy and boy meet girl. Only one boy gets girl.

The action takes place in Paris right after World War II in 1945 so the frothy doings are sprinkled with references to the German Occupation, the Resistance, and the Holocaust making this a work of both light and dark.

For me the orchestral music, the dance sequences, the stage images and Craig Lucas’ snappy dialogue outshine the singing, but this is a quibble when the over-all effect of the production is to know that one has spent a delightful evening at the theater.  Broadway In Chicago will be running An American In Paris at the Oriental Theater through August 13, 2017.

http://www.broadwayinchicago.com/show/an-american-in-paris/

Chicago Paris Cabaret Connexion Kick-off Concert Sunday, July 23 at 6:30 pm at PianoForte

Headliners at PianoForte include Lynne Jordan, Claudia Hommel, Elizabeth Doyle, Kat Victoria along with Ava Logan, Cynthia Clarey, Natalja Aicardi, Ty Cooper and Barb Smith with pianist Paul Coscino.

People keep asking me what this “Connexion” is all about. In a nutshell, it is a three day conference with American and French singers in Paris. This is no mere touristic visit to the City of Light, but a meeting of vocal artists from Chicago and Paris to discuss the performance, history and future of cabaret. We hope this to be the first of annual conferences which will alternate between Chicago and Paris, our sister city.

Some of the weekend highlights will include visits to the Museum of Montmartre with its excellent collection of cabaret memorabilia, to the Sunday morning open sing-along at the Petit Bal Musette on the rue Mouffetard and to Le Lapin Agile which has been a cabaret venue since 1860.

Clinicians both French and American will present a concert on Saturday evening, September 16 at Studio Raspail; conference participants will be featured in a concert on Sunday, September 17 at l’Espace le Scribe.

Morning and afternoon sessions will be master classes and special presentations such as Kat Victoria’s show on Black female singers in Paris, Michel Trihoreau’s history of cabaret with singer-guitarist Michel Grange and Yves Bertrand’s program on singer-songwriter Marcel Legay.

The conference is not only for singers. We have some fans who will be attending the evening performances of the “Connexion” in Paris.

Cabaret fan Clyde Whitaker is flying into Paris from Thailand.

The funds we are raising in Chicago are predominantly to pay for the Paris venues and the salaries of French musicians and clinicians. Please support this musical project that strengthens the bond between Paris and Chicago. Your attendance at one of our benefit concerts, your purchase of a raffle ticket or your donation will help make this international cabaret exchange a reality. Long live cabaret in Paris and Chicago!

For more information on the Chicago concerts and the Paris Conference, please go to: http://www.chicagopariscabaretconnexion.org/index.php