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BWW Feature: Singers, Musicians, and Fans, Oh My! For One June Weekend, CabaretFest 2015 Turns Provincetown Into a Cabaret Oz

Editor's Note: When BroadwayWorld.com Cabaret Reviewer Billie Roe was invited to the CabaretFest 2015 Provincetown scheduled for June 4-7, it was to attend as a performer, not necessarily as a reviewer. But we couldn't resist the opportunity to have Billie at least report on some aspects of the long, event-filled weekend and record some of her impressions in something akin to a diary. Based on Billie's descriptive account here, this year's Cabaret Festival in Provincetown, MA, sounds like one of the cabaret highlights of the year.

By Billie Roe

It's not a place you can get to by boat, or a train.
It's far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain . . .

--Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of Oz

We certainly weren't in Kansas anymore, let alone in New York, Boston, Baltimore, or any of the other towns and cities that a couple of dozen cabaret singers, musicians, and aficionados who attended this year's CabaretFest 2015 in Provincetown, MA call home. From the evening of June 4 to the afternoon of June 7, the small but bustling burb near Cape Cod was transformed into a Cabaret Oz with the main drag (no pun intended) of Commercial Street becoming a musical Yellow Brick Road. For four days and three nights there was no place like Provincetown.

The wizard, or in this case "wizardess," of the weekend festivities was beloved Cape Cod resident and noted cabaret singer, Patricia Fitzpatrick, who served as the Festival's Producer. Along with her business partner James Locke (Ambassador Productions), Fitzpatrick re-launched an event that had been on a two-year hiatus after running annually since Bostonian and performer John O'Neill launched the Provincetown CabaretFest in 1999. Led by New York cabaret star Mark Nadler (a wizard of Cabaret if there ever was one), more than two-dozen performers and musicians from New York, Boston, Baltimore, and as far away as Kansas City, attended this year's Fest, all to celebrate what was dubbed "The Art of Cabaret."

Thursday Night, June 4

The unofficial start to what would be a magical weekend was a 5 pm rehearsal for the 20-plus singers who would star in the Friday night concert at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House, a magnificent classic Greek revivalist style church on Commercial Street erected in 1847 by Provincetown off-duty seamen and fishermen. The Sanctuary is literally a work of art, possessing amazing acoustics for our big show the following night. Most of the performers had just arrived in town (including me) and some were singing before they even had a chance to check into their various hotels and inns around town (all of which donated rooms as event sponsors; see the list at the end of this story). The official start of the Festival would come a couple of hours later, with a "VIP" party at the beautiful Sage Inn and Lounge, aptly named "My Martini & Me." The idea was to play off headliner Mark Nadler's Saturday night show at the Crown & Anchor, Running Wild: Songs and Scandals of the Roaring '20s. So Fitzpatrick asked everyone to dress in their finest '20s flapper-style couture and many complied (including Fitzpatrick herself, see photo).

Thanks to delicious finger food prepared by Seth Goldman and his team (photo, left) including singer Ellen Kaye and guitarist Ethan Fein) from New York's Moscow 57 Restaurant (yes, they trekked all the way from Delancey Street to P-Town), and intoxicating vodka and gin martinis using handcrafted alcohol from Berkshire Mountain Distillers, the 1920s party was really roaring. Boston's Brian Patton manned an electric piano and supplied delightful period music (featuring occasional keyboard banging with Nadler) and most of the party-goers participated in impromptu sing-alongs, which never seemed to go out of key in spite of the increasing martini consumption through the night. What a swell party it was!

Friday, June 5

The first morning of CabaretFest started off with a great breakfast, at least for me, at Café Heaven which was a cute little shop featuring painted clouds on the ceiling, colorful seaside oils displayed on the walls, the pungent smell of aromatic coffee in the air, and the friendly owner greeting you with a big smile. Their homemade English muffins with apricot jam were absolutely scrumptious.

Then we headed over to a cabaret performance "Master Class," headed by Nadler and fellow New York cabaret performing veteran Dana Lorge and Music Director Barry Levitt. It turned out to be one of the best classes I've ever attended. With Nadler meticulously dissecting each performer's acting approach, Levitt at the piano rigorously instructing on the fine art of communicating to your accompanist (no plastic covers or binders for sheet music, please. Who knew?), and Lorge comically advising on how not to give either too much or too little patter--all the singers attending this workshop certainly walked away enlightened about how to improve their performance. They would get the opportunity to try out what they'd learned later that afternoon during an open mic at the Tin Pan Alley restaurant, hosted by the effervescent and multi-talented Carolyn Montgomery-Forant (below).

Later in the afternoon, CabaretFest founder John O'Neill ran another performance workshop at the Crown & Anchor, called iCabaret. O'Neill shared his vast experience as a performer, director, and producer by revealing the "secrets to creating your own cabaret show." I could tell you what they are, but then they wouldn't be secrets anymore. Suffice it to say, this was another terrifically informative workshop that if offered again next year, every budding cabaret performer should attend.

Between the early afternoon open mic and big evening variety show there were two "featured" performers who staged solo cabaret shows. At the Harbor Hotel, Boston-area cabaret veteran Brian De Lorenzo offered Come Fly With Me, a tribute to Frank Sinatra for the anniversary year of the legend's 100th birthday, with Barry Levitt providing his adroit swing and sway on electric keyboard. Back at Tin Pan Alley (now more of a piano bar but soon to boast a large performance room at the rear of the restaurant), Baltimore's Markus Dagan held court singing hypnotic versions of Leonard Cohen songs (and those of other musical poets).

After a fabulous dinner at the elegant Mews Restaurant, it was over to the UU Meeting House for The Stars Come Out to Shine opening night revue. After producer Fitzpatrick (looking gorgeous in a stunning silver gown), warmly welcomed the audience in the packed pews, the glamorous, bejeweled, New York funny lady Dana Lorge, introduced more than 20 singers (see end of story for full cast list) during a show that ran two hours and 45 minutes with no intermission and almost the entire audience--seated on plush maroon velvet cushions, Oy!-stayed until the end. The evening proved that Fitzpatrick (with help from Festival publicist and Cabaret Life Productions producer Stephen Hanks) had assembled a group of original and exciting singer/performers (more than ably supported by Levitt and Patton on piano), culminating with the incomparable Nadler (photo top), a crooner, comic, and piano virtuoso who dazzled the audience with his quick wit, powerful stage presence, and incredible artistry as evidenced by his mash-up of George Gershwin's "S'Wonderful" with sections of "Rhapsody in Blue." The audience was mesmerized.

Then it was the turn of the patrons at the piano bar at the Crown & Anchor to be enchanted by Mr. Nadler (left). True to cabaret tradition, after the show a group of thirsty performers headed over for some libations. Before you could say, "Pop, Six, Squish, Lipschitz, etc," the nattily-dressed Nadler had commandeered the piano and performed the entire "Cell Block Tango" number-all six parts!--from the Kander & Ebb Broadway musical, Chicago. When the reincarnation of Al Jolson (another guy who never wanted to stop performing) finally called it a night at around 2 am, Nadler and his band of merry cabaret singers paraded down Commercial Street singing with Broadway abandon, "He Had It Comin'!"

Saturday, June 6th

After a long night of revelry, I couldn't make it to the 9 am Boston Master Class at the Crown & Anchor taught by John O'Neill and Brian Patton, but I did make it to the 11 am Q&A Session on Anything Cabaret in the Cabaret Room at C&A where I sat on a panel featuring Fitzpatrick, Levitt, Lorge, Boston cabaret show reviewer, John Amodeo, and Hanks (in photo left with Billie Roe) who is also my editor at BroadwayWorld.com and now a performer himself. About 25 singers and musicians attended and submitted questions for the panel to tackle-everything from how one should publicize their show to the importance of patter, to how to budget for a show, etc. I thought the questions allowed the panel to cover a lot of ground and offer a lot of advice in just 90 minutes and almost everyone felt they could do it for another hour. The session ended with a tearful moment when Levitt and Hanks both expressed their deep admiration for cabaret artists who pursue their passion, stressing the need for us all to "hold on to our dreams." Amen!

Saturday afternoon was filled with wonderful cabaret shows. At 1 pm at the White Wind Inn, Fitzpatrick offered A Little Bit of This and That, co-starring her infamous "Cougars on the Prowl" buddies, Dana Lorge (photo right) and Helena Grenot. Accompanied by Levitt, this show was really fun and filled with improvisation. Lorge opened and brought down the house (which was actually a small and comfy intimate Salon-like room) with her outrageous standup and funny songs, while Grenot melted the audience with her poignant rendition of Sting's "Practical Arrangement" from his recent Broadway musical The Last Ship. But Fitzpatrick was the headliner here and her earthy, sophisticated vocal maturity and self-deprecating humor charmed the room.

At 5 pm over at the Harbor Hotel, Boston's Lynda D'Amour and pianist Brian Duffy performed Pockets Full of Good Intentions: The Karen Carpenter Songbook, while back at Tin Pan Alley, Cape Cod resident Lisa Jason (photo left) sang Judy and Me: Lisa Jason Sings Judy Garland. For me, Jason's show was the perfect tribute not only to Garland, but to all cabaret singers that have ever had to handle a rowdy bar crowd. With her gorgeous voice sailing above the din, and her wonderfully spontaneous sense of humor to quiet the crowd, Jason (like Garland) captured the hearts of all.

After a nice dinner break, everyone headed over to the Crown & Anchor Cabaret Room for the 10 pm "headliner show" of the Festival, Mark Nadler performing his critically acclaimed show, Runnin' Wild: Songs and Scandals of the Roaring '20s. Entering in suave '20s garb and cautiously surveying the audience holding a violin case posed like a gun, Nadler began one of the most fascinating 90 minutes I've experienced in a cabaret room, guiding the audience through the most decadent decade of the 20th Century. With every song about booze, drugs, or sex, Nadler masterfully weaved fascinating stories about the most notorious entertainers of the time, including Gene Malin (a 6-foot, 200-pound drag queen who was the highest paid performer of 1930), Hollywood sex addict Clara Bow, and religious crusader Aimee Sempel McPherson. If that wasn't scandalous enough, there was the story of one of the most provocative torch singers of the period, Libby Holman, during which Nadler masterfully relates her tale as being part of one of the great murder mysteries of the time. Mind you, he's doing all this while making and drinking a "perfect" extra-dry gin martini on stage (although off-stage he prefers vodka). We all discovered why Nadler earned the supreme title of "Mr. Show Business" from critic Stephen Holden of the New York Times. It was a masterful exhibition of cabaret performing at its best.

Sunday, June 7th

Having experienced first-hand yet another "There's something wild about you child" Mark Nadler night, thank goodness the Sunday brunch and show at the Crown & Anchor didn't start until 11 am. And what a fantastic brunch it was. I thought about how the three days had just flown by, but also how you can become so close to so many good people over such a short period of time. The final show of the festival opened with New York cabaret performer and recently minted MAC Award winner Dawn Derow (a former opera singer and local Cape Cod girl, in photo right with Barry Levitt) performing a five-song set that beautifully showcased her vocal range and acting talent. With Levitt on piano, favorites were a compelling "Bill" (from Showboat) and "Since I Fell," where Derow really took it to the R&B edge showing great versatility. Then with Brian Patton on piano, John McNeill joined in the musical mix with "Could I Have This Dance" and my favorite "Hello, Old Friend."

Some of the "students" from the various performing workshops got to apply what they'd learned and showed off their vocal chops. Allison Hider from Baltimore sang a fun parody, "I'm In the Mood for Herring," Kansas City's Robert Chase crooned a swingin' "All of Me," Lisa Johnson sang an emotional "Maybe this Time," Tracy O'Farrell produced a heartfelt "It's My Party," Peggy Eason offered a rousing "I'll Show Them All," and drag performer Elle Emenope, rocked the house with the perfect choice to end the festival--"That's Life."

While the weekend was filled with music and joy and everyone seemed to leave Provincetown singing a happy tune, by the next day we all learned that the experience ended on a very sad and somber note. On Monday morning we learned that Patricia Fitzpatrick's son Kevin McElligatt (in photo left with his mom and Mark Nadler)--who had been taking photos of the Festival throughout the weekend even though he was terminally ill--died in his mother's arms shortly after the end of the Festival. Kevin's immense courage, fortitude, and dedication to his art are a final reminder to us all that the artistic spirit lives well beyond any one lifetime. God Bless, Kevin!

Like the Land of Oz, Provincetown was a magical place--at least for one June weekend--and the CabaretFest 2015 was a singer's dream come true. Honestly, I can't wait to return next year "to confer, converse, and otherwise hob-nob" with my fellow cabaret performers. Perhaps, like Lisa Jason, I'll even wear my ruby slippers.

CabaretFest 2015 Provincetown Performers included: Adam Berry, Frank Chase, Lynda D'Amour, Marcus Dagan, Brian De Lorenzo, Dawn Derow, Peggy Eason, Patricia Fitzpatrick, Helena Grenot, Stephen Hanks, Allison Hider, Joey Infante, Pamela Jackson, Lisa Jason, Lisa Johnson, Ellen Kaye, Dana Lorge, Michael McDonald, Carolyn Montgomery-Forant, Mark Nadler, Tracey O'Farrell, Charlotte Patton, Barbara Porteus, Carol Robinson, Billie Roe, David & Nancy Wilber

CabaretFest 2015 Provincetown Musicians included: Elaine Burt (trumpet for Mark Nadler), Ethan Fein (Guitar for Ellen Kaye); Barry Levitt, Music Director; Ron Ormsby (Strings for Sunday Brunch), Brian Patton, Music Director; Janelle Reichman (Sax for Mark Nadler); Alan Stringer (Strings for Sunday Brunch).

CabaretFest 2015 Sponsors included: Brass Key Guest House, Bay State Cruise Company, The Bradford House & Motel, 123 Bradford, Bershire Mountain Distillers, Broadway Musical Fantasy Camp, Cabaret Life Productions, Cape Cod 5 Bank, Chicago House Hotel, Crown & Anchor Hotel, Crown Point Inn & Spa, Eben House, The Harbor Hotel, Hollyhock House, John Randall House, LGBT Quitie.com, LotsaShots.com Photography, Moscow 57 Restaurant, New York, Ptown Bikes, Provincetown Business Guild, Queen Vic Guest House, Romeo's Holiday & Spa, Sage Inn & Lounge, The Salt House Inn, The Seaglass Inn & Spa, Tin Pan Alley Restaurant, West End Salon, The White Wind Inn.

Photos courtesy of Bob Bond, LotsaShots.com and Stephen Hanks


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