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BWW Feature: Women's History Month: The Doyennes

These are the women working in cabaret who have defined the industry and the art form.

BWW Feature: Women's History Month: The Doyennes

The cabaret and nightclub industry is one of the few that one can reasonably say is dominated by women. Don't worry, gentlemen, we see you, we acknowledge you, we know you're there. Let's face it, though, folks - everyone grew up watching movies where a glamorous lady put on a beaded gown, maybe a feather boa, and stood in that spotlight, doing her thing - it's an image easily conjured in all of our minds. The business of cabaret, though, goes so much further than sequins and maribou for these grand dames - they work hard to do what they do, toiling for many hours in blue jeans and sneakers before putting on the gown... yes, even Julie Wilson wore jeans and sneakers (though there is some question about KT Sullivan). The women whose names bring throngs of audiences to the nightclubs have labored to get where they are, and though they may not know it at the time, they are clearing the way for the women who will follow them. Ask any woman of any age or experience level and she will be able to recount for you her experience in the business and tell you who the women are that she feels created the opportunities.

The nightclub industry is one where extraordinary women have enjoyed those few steps that take them from Broadway to cabaret and back again. Women like the new chanteuses Christine Andreas and Melissa Errico, rocker Orfeh, belter Lillias White, storyteller Joanna Gleason, and legends named Buckley, Gillette, McKechnie and Rivera all shine on the cabaret stage. Sally Mayes swings, Tovah Feldshuh does characters, Faith Prince even teaches and directs cabaret, while performing as well. Television stars like Marilu Henner and Gloria Reuben share their gifts with grateful audiences anxious to share in their musical talents, and comedy stars always come back to the clubs - this is the beauty of small venue performing - anyone who has a song to sing and a story tell is welcome.

Within the community, there is a set of women who have made nightclub performing their lives. Oh, there have been acting jobs onstage and on film, commercials and voiceovers, but the mainstay of their work in show business is small venue performing. These women started in the clubs and have stayed there, acting as more than just entertainers - they are leaders in the community of Cabaret

These are The Doyennes.

Karen Akers made a big splash in a famous Broadway musical but she made her mark in the clubs. From the moment she began singing in the nightclubs of New York, people urged their friends to see the chanteuse in action. The urgency to see Karen Akers is still there, in any of the cities and countries where word has spread of her acclaim - her inimitable craft of musical storytelling is all but legendary.

Jamie deRoy has been called "The Female Ed Sullivan of Cabaret" and it's not far off. Yes, she has spent her life presenting talent to the public and to the press, yes, she has had a hand in helping artists launch their careers, yes, she has impeccable taste in talent. However, she has one thing that Ed Sullivan did not have: she is funny as a rubber crutch on a banana peel. Visit Jamie deRoy's WEBSITE


Natalie Douglas practically lives in the showrooms. When she isn't actually on the stage at Birdland, she's probably sitting at the bar watching the evening's act. If she isn't doing that, she's likely singing in a group show for Meg Flather or Scott Coulter. Or maybe she is singing in California, St. Louis, on a cruise ship, or overseas. The indefatigable Ms. Douglas has made music her life and the audiences love her, ardently, for her contribution to the art form of cabaret... and for the joy she has brought each and every one of them, which is considerable. Visit Natalie Douglas' WEBSITE.

Sherry Eaker may not have created The Bistro Awards but she has kept them going all these years. As the editor of Backstage and as the leader of The Bistros, Sherry Eaker makes it her responsibility to see every club act in town and to call out quality when she sees it. She has been a supporter of the arts and the artists for more decades than most performers stick around. There are few who love the art of cabaret as much as Sherry Eaker, a fact she has proven every day of her adult life. The Bistro Awards WEBSITE.

Bobbie Horowitz is the renaissance woman of the community. An author, a songwriter, a fashion and lifestyle expert, Ms. Horowitz is the creator of a popular series titled "It's Just a Number" that highlights and tributes performers of cabaret who also happen to be of, shall we say, an advanced glamor. To show that age is, in her own life, just a number, Bobbie Horowitz never appears in public without looking like she is about to walk a red carpet. A major supporter in the business, Bobbie sees everything: if you're doing a show, she'll be in the front row.

Lina Koutrakos serves as a mentor to many a cabaret singer, whether the role she fills is that of director, teacher, or friend. Many turn to Lina for guidance in their artistry and she replies, always, with an open hand of assistance. That does not distract her from her own career as one of the industry's coolest rock and blues singing entertainers, whether on a stage of her own or sharing a stage with her combo, CLEARLY NOW. Greek to the core, Koutrakos approaches her work and that of her mentees and friends with devotion and passion... and lots and lots of volume. Visit Lina Koutrakos' WEBSITE.

Ann Hampton Callaway holds a special place in the hearts of music-lovers, club-goers and fellow entertainers. A strong woman with a unique gift for composition and improvisation, Ann Hampton Callaway sets the standard for quality and independence as a female artist. Ann leads by example, and everyone wishes they could be a little like her, as an artist and as a person - that's right: one of the most gifted and influential women in the business is also one of the nicest. Visit Ann Hampton Callaway's WEBSITE.

Julie Halston is cabaret's reigning Queen of Comedy, a title she has held for a couple of decades, now. The Broadway star and member of the Charles Busch Acting Company, Ms. Halston made a commotion on the club stage years ago and the clubs have never been able to get rid of her. She fills the rooms with people and the air with laughter, and during quarantine, she did it via a weekly talk show. No matter what she does or where she goes, Julie Halson always comes back to the nightclub stage, and when she does Manhattan is a happier place.

Andrea Marcovicci had an acting career on the musical theater stage and on-screen when she became the bright light of the cabaret industry a few short years ago. Possessing of some ethereal magic that made her glow on the stage and an intelligent banter that challenged audiences to go a little deeper, Ms. Marcovicci brought to the industry an old-world elegance melded with a modern-day feminism that drew people to her like a moth to flame. Originality will do that. Visit Andrea Marcovicci's WEBSITE.

Karen Mason opened the club Don't Tell Mama some thirty years ago and she has sung in nearly every New York City nightclub since. Revered by all, this interpretive artist of song is hailed as a legend in the business, and she has been, from an age too young for anyone to be considered a legend. Broadway and regional theater call her away at times but Mason always returns to the clubs, usually with a show of epic belting and devastating ballads, but there can never be enough of her annual Christmas show. Visit Karen Mason's WEBSITE.

Sue Matsuki didn't know she was going to be a leader in the community when she started her cabaret career, she just got up on the stage at Don't Tell Mama and sang. As time went by, though, Sue's dedication to the art and the community found her at every show, supporting all the artists, offering advice, an ear, a shoulder, and great hugs. Somebody called her the present-day Godmother of Cabaret, but she's really just Mama Matsuki, covering the art for Cabaret Hotspot, making her presence known, and inventing the wonderful Jazz Brunch at Pangea. That's Mama Matsuki. Visit Sue Matsuki's WEBSITE.

Marilyn Maye played the Supper Clubs of days gone by and did The Carson Show more than any other singer, but was living in a peaceful retirement someplace out west when she decided to play some dates at Manhattan's Metropolitan Room. Hurricane Marilyn has been cleaning up New York City cabaret ever since, selling out every single show and picking up new fans along the way. Once called "The greatest white female singer in the world" by Ella Fitzgerald, she is now simply known as The Best In The Business" by everyone in the club industry. Nobody is like Marilyn Maye. Visit Marilyn Maye's WEBSITE.

Amanda McBroom writes the songs that everyone wants to sing. A singing actress who writes songs in her spare time, Amanda McBroom was one of the first women in the industry to start her own label and record her own music. She produces her own shows so people can hear that music, and she isn't all ballads like The Rose: she's funny and silly, and wildly unpredictable. People who revere her for being a leader might be thrown off by just how silly she is... but they get over it fast. Visit Amanda McBroom's WEBSITE.

Maureen McGovern had a big hit in the Seventies with a famous movie theme pop song, so people were naturally a bit surprised when she began singing standards in nightclubs. Well, those standards in those nightclubs are what gave her an artistic home, a voice all her own, and an enormous fanbase for the rest of her life. With a voice and range like no other singer in the world, Ms. McGovern has made a mark on the music industry that can never be erased. She is adored by all and invaluable to the art form. And everyone loves that song from the TV show "Angie." Visit Maureen McGovern's WEBSITE.

Sandy Stewart hit the ground running at the age of fifteen and hasn't stopped singing since. Working on radio and television, in clubs and recording studios, Sandy Stewart has always had a very particular way of connecting to the material, through lyrical interpretation and through her unique jazz vocalizations. The Grammy Award nominee and Perry Como Show regular is one of the most respected women in the business, especially noted for her work in the jazz genre, performing to sold-out rooms, as she did at Beach Cafe just weeks before the quarantine.

KT Sullivan keeps cabaret alive. A respected member of the community of performers, KT was a popular club artist in the Nineties, but when Donald Smith died and KT became the Artistic Director of The Mabel Mercer Foundation, things changed in New York Cabaret. With tigress-like ferocity, Ms. Sullivan has fought to keep the art form and industry alive, she has taken the annual Cabaret Convention to new places (that Donald never dreamed of) and she has continued to produce her own shows, reminding everyone that those who administrate can also entertain. During the last year, KT has gone even further in her mandate to grow the business by creating online content and by vowing to participate in making cabaret an all-inclusive industry where artists of every demographic feel welcome. She is the industry's fearless leader. Visit KT Sullivan's WEBSITE.

Editor's note: No list is ever comprehensive, and this one is based solely on my own opinions. If you feel I have omitted someone, please drop me a line at stephen@bwayworld.com - only polite notes, please!


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From This Author Stephen Mosher