BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW With Jim Caruso
"Let's go on with the show"! And what a show it's been thanks to the host with the most, Mr. Jim Caruso! The aforementioned show IS Jim Caruso's celebrated CAST PARTY, which has regularly appeared for the past 18 years on Monday nights at 9:30 pm at the New York City landmark, Birdland Jazz Club. It is a weekly diversified talent showcase that is today's equivalent of the Tonight Show and Star Search mixed together to create an evening of entertainment like no other. As host, Jim has the charisma and style of legendary hosts of the past.
Jim enters the stage with a trio of musicians usually led by the outstanding Billy Stritch or magnificent Ted Firth on piano. Always with a big smile, Jim leads the show off with a welcoming song. He is the glue that makes Cast Party work with both his immediate connection to the audience as well as his sincere interest in the performers he brings to the stage.
For those who might not know, Jim Caruso's Cast Party started very organically. Jim was doing Public Relations for a nightclub and threw a Christmas party for a bunch of his friends. There was a piano, drinks and a lot of singing along with Jim hosting the
evening. The next day, the manager asked Jim if he would do this every Monday. Although at first, he hesitated, eighteen years later, he's still throwing his wonderful party.
As we all are making our way through how to keep live performances going while attempting to earn money in the entertainment field during this pandemic, Jim went live with the show first on Instagram Live, then continued the series live with Jim Caruso's Pajama Cast Party on April 6, 2020. He has continued to host the show each week since then with each episode having thousands of views.
A big thank you to Jim Caruso for putting the spotlight on others and welcoming them to his stages. There is nothing more important than realizing that entertaining is not about you, but about what you can give to other people. It is clear to see that Jim Caruso lives by this motto making his Cast Party wildly successful whether in New York City, around the country or now, virtually.
NA: Who is your mentor and what would you like to say to your mentor?
JC: I'm not sure she was a literal mentor, but a wonderful actress named Katie Dacus said something to me that I'll never forget. I was in my twenties, living in Dallas, and going to chorus calls for all the summer stock, theme parks, and national tours that my friends were booking. I sang great, but I was tall and skinny and didn't look like the perfect boys who were getting the gigs. She saw my sorrow at yet another call-back, and pulled me aside, saying, "You don't know how unique you are. It's hard to hear now because being unique is a dirty word. But someday, people will cheer you, and it won't be because you're in the ensemble." It was a wonderful thing to hear. I'd tell Katie that while I still look at the "kids" in the ensemble and yearn to be up there with them, her wise words have stayed with me and helped me through many disappointments.
NA: What has this business given you and what has it taken away?
JC: It's given me life! It's given me a community of smart, stylish, and insightful people with wicked senses of humor and impossibly fast minds. What could look like a weird, show-biz-adjacent side-gig has come to mean the world to me. Other than the obvious financial ups and downs, I don't choose to believe anything has been taken away from me.
NA: What is the hour like before you go on stage?
JC: With Cast Party, which is an impromptu open mic, I'm usually terrified that we won't have enough performers to create a show! (By the way, in eighteen years of Mondays this has NEVER happened.) At 9 pm, my list usually looks very grim, with just a few names. My stomach is turning, I'm in a cold sweat, and I begin to rethink my career. Every. Single. Week. By 9:30 pm I'm able to storm the stage with a great list and absolute confidence that we can give the audience a spectacular and entertaining three hours! It's the miracle of show business!
NA: If you could experience one performance over again, which one would it be and why?
JC: The opening night of Liza's at The Palace was one for the books. We'd been touring the show for three years, so we knew our stuff. We were musically sharp and (finally) knew our choreography. The band was killing, and the charts were stupendous. The starry audience was so keyed up for Liza's return to Broadway, and heads were literally exploding. My dear mom was in the house, and you know how important that is. And Liza. Liza was at the top of her game. The vocals. The moves. The humor. The asides. (She has been known to face upstage, put her hand over the mic, and ask what we'd be ordering at Joe Allen later.) There was a moment at the end of "I Love A Violin" where the four guys would pretend to be winded from the insane choreo and collapse to the floor while Liza stood tall and completely fine. The burst of applause and the crowd rushing to their feet created actual wind as we were lying on the floor trying to catch our breath. Like it was yesterday...!
NA: What are you most proud of?
JC: I'm proud that I've never taken no for an answer. Were there better singers than I? Yes. Better actors? Yes. But in my mind, there was no choice but to forge a way into the business, and to work with the people I love.
NA: What brought you to New York City?
JC: I had a vocal trio called Wiseguys, and we worked in New York City quite a bit. I'd always wanted to live here, so when the time seemed right, I packed my bags and got myself an apartment! It was the best choice ever. I can't believe I still get to live in the greatest city in the world!
NA: What was the craziest night of Cast Party that you can talk about?
JC: The answers to this question could fill a book. When I saw Lauren Bacall and Lypsinka sharing a thin-crust pizza at Cast Party, I knew we had something special. We celebrated Liza's birthday with every superstar you can think of. Donny Osmond made me an honorary Osmond Brother. Betty Comden sang from Wonderful Town. A thirteen-year-old named Ariana Grande sang an Aretha song. A couple decided to throw their wedding reception at Cast Party. Carol Channing sang "Before The Parade Passes By." We've been entertained by Oscar winners, hula dancers, two Village People, three Miss Americas, plate spinners, stilt walkers and an almost-nude contortionist who sat on his own face. People have met, fallen in love, become engaged, and filed for divorce due to Cast Party. It's come-what-mayhem!
NA: Besides Birdland, where is your favorite spot that Cast Party has been performed?
JC: That's like asking which child is my favorite! But the Smith Center in Las Vegas is certainly the most dazzling room, in terms of its beauty and technical perfection. We also love taking the Party to Feinstein's at Vitello's in Los Angeles. They're so nice to us, and the shows are always packed with uber-talented people. Musically-speaking, the
singers who showed up at the Frankin Theatre in Nashville were beyond my wildest dreams! We can't wait to go back to all these places...and find a few more!
NA: What is something we may not know about you as a performer?
JC: I don't think it's unusual, but I'm awash in self-doubt. I fake confidence with the best of them, though. The audience has to sense that I believe in myself. If they smell fear, they start judging.
NA: Who is one celebrity performer you'd love to see on Cast Party?
JC: My brain immediately goes to the performers I loved as a kid. Dick Van Dyke. Carol
Burnett. I would faint if either of them walked in, but have no doubts that they would be royally entertained!