BWW Feature: Cabaret With Our Feet Up
A CELEBRATION OF JEWISH BROADWAY is a one-man show that has been playing cabaret clubs in Manhattan and cities outside of the state of New York, usually sold-out houses because the show is so doggone good. Having seen the show twice, there was no actual reason for this writer to cover it again -- but what happened online Sunday night was something worth writing about. Of course, the show is still remarkably enjoyable and, honestly, nobody can do with a lyric what Ari Axelrod can do, but his voice! None of that was news - what was surprising was how astonishingly refreshing and intimate the online performance was. For one hundred nine days people have been sheltering in place in Manhattan and the first online performances started within the first three days when Sean Harkness took to his Facebook page for a live streaming show. In the months that have passed many people have performed in real-time via Facebook and Instagram, usually to great success, sometimes for fun (and for free) and sometimes for tips. There are artists who have sold tickets to online screenings of their filmed performances of shows and those who have taken to performing in Zoom rooms. Peter Michael Marino did a series of sold-out performances of DESPERATELY SEEKING THE EXIT in a Zoom room, singers like Danny Bacher have been booking through MetropolitanZoom, and other artists, like Axelrod, are handing it all on their own; and what Ari presented on Sunday night when he performed for 73 paying guests was an evening of theater available in their homes that was unique, personal, intimate, and remarkably casual.
And ten dollars.
For ten dollars (10% of which was given to charity - The Anti Defamation League) people sat in their homes doing whatever they wanted and watched as Axelrod and his musical director, Mike Stapleton (luckily, also Axelrod's flatmate) just hung out at home and made remarkable music together. Many people have said, over the years, that a good cabaret show should feel like you're sitting in the singer's living room - well you are!! Never before has the feeling been so overwhelmingly prevalent as when watching Ari Axelrod talk about Jewish Broadway creations and then sing the songs... from the basement. During the 90-minute program, the young up-and-comer got up, walked around, grabbed record albums from the bookcase to show the audience, played with his dog, sang to his dog, changed positions in the chair twenty times, slid off the chair and sat on the floor, played his conga, and just talked, and laughed, and sang music of so sweet tones, and such unique interpretation as to render a listener awe-struck
Cabaret is an art form that has depended on the connection between the performer and the audience. Live streaming events this writer has watched have been thoroughly enjoyable and, frankly, one of the benefits of watching them is not having to put on clothing, being able to take your phone into the bathroom and keep watching while you're doing whatever it is you're doing in the bathroom, being able to eat, scratch, pick, sneeze, anything you like, whenever you like, and that's fantastic. The benefit of patronizing a Zoom Room concert is getting to be a part of the experience. In between numbers Axelrod could talk directly to people he knew, he would refer to people in his life and we, the audience, could look at them, he knew who was there and dedicated numbers to them. There was a solid connection between him and the crowd, and one between members of the audience, as well: friends, family, strangers, all watching Ari and watching each other watch (and appreciate) Ari.
IT SHOULD NOT WORK. Performing a club act through a webcam should be fun and entertaining, it should be neat, it should be engaging, but how it could be intimate is a huge question. It is a question that Ari Axelrod is answering by demonstrating: it can be done. It was ninety minutes of absolute joy and personal connection. It was proof positive that the personal intimacy for which one goes to a nightclub act can be achieved through an online concert.
That's the ten-dollar-cover & two-drink-minimum question that has been plaguing some of the people. From artists wondering if they should take the leap to cabaret journalists refusing to review online content, from club patrons thinking the experience won't be as good to leaders in the club community wondering if post-COVID cabaret is possible, the burning question has been hanging in the air.
The answer is yes. You just have to make like a kid and believe. Just believe you can do it. Then go out there and be yourself for the camera, because the camera doesn't lie. Learn your words, get good light (and a Zoom Room co-host to act as a producer who can mute noisy patrons), turn on the camera, and just be yourself, relaxed, authentic, and inviting. It can pay off with a global viewership that reaches more people than some artists have ever put into a cabaret room. For this moment in time, this is the choice that performers have, and it is proving to work for many people who have tested the waters of Facebook live, Youtube live, Instagram live and Zoom Rooms.
Welcome to Cabaret in the year 2020.