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BWW Review: First VIRTUAL CABARET CONVENTION Boldly Goes Into A New Era Of Cabaret

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KT Sullivan is in the Captain's Chair and it looks real good on her.

BWW Review: First VIRTUAL CABARET CONVENTION Boldly Goes Into A New Era Of CabaretLast year (was it really only a year ago?) I assigned a different writer to each night of The Cabaret Convention; I thought it was greedy to take all four special events to myself but I also thought it would be good to have different points of view, different voices reporting on the proceedings. Each evening of the convention was destined to be two to three hours of exciting entertainment and glittering personalities overflowing with individual talents - I had been to the convention in the past, I knew what to expect. It was something that should be shared with others, a memorable occasion filled with glamor and excitement.

This year there is no dressing up in my Sunday-go-to-meeting, socializing in the lobby of Lincoln Center's Rose Theater, and watching as the artists stand in the center spot to present their Cabaret Convention offering, and everyone knows why. In fact, it looked like there wouldn't be any Cabaret Convention at all. The fans who live for the event and the artists who thrive on the exposure it gives them were destined for disappointment (more disappointment) in 2020, and what a shame it was going to be. That, though, has not been the case this week, thanks to the Herculean efforts of KT Sullivan, Artistic Director of The Mabel Mercer Foundation and driving force behind The Cabaret Convention. Yes, it takes (as the saying goes) a village to create something like The Cabaret Convention, whether it is happening in person in a pre-COVID world or on a virtual platform in the middle of a pandemic, and every single person who contributes should be acknowledged, should feel proud. It would be wrong, though, for anyone to make the mistake of not saying it right out loud: KT Sullivan led the charge. KT Sullivan didn't just dream of this train - she designed it, built it, hired the crew, sold the tickets, boarded the passengers, and drove it safely into the station, probably wearing a different hat for each task while doing it. So, on behalf of every person who has benefitted from the online presence of a virtual Cabaret Convention in a year that has seen very few highlights and moments of happiness, this writer and aficionado of the cabaret and club scene wants to say Thank you, KT. Ya done good.

Now let's talk about the first ever Virtual Cabaret Convention. It's gorgeous. It is just. So. Gorgeous. There has been a big learning curve over the last eight months in the field of online performing, and though we all wait in anticipation, dreaming of the day when live entertainment will be possible again, the simple fact is that there is no knowing when that is going to happen. So the performing arts community has to cut their suit to fit their cloth, and Team Mabel Mercer clearly did their homework, sat down and studied what was coming out of the virtual performance platform, then devised a way to present this program in a way that was as professional, glossy, sleek, and elegant as the brand that the organization has come to represent. Score! They did it, and they did it with style. Using computer generated graphics and TV announcer voice overs by the cabaret legend (not a word I use lightly so, please, take my word for it) Sidney Myer, each episode opens up on proceedings that are better curated and better orchestrated than some television award shows. The lighting and camera work for the various concert segments are par excellence, and John Fricke's script is everything a TV special script should be; he keeps it bright, fun, and informative, and he also keeps Ms. Sullivan on point (as some know, an extemporaneous KT can be slightly tangential, which is adorable in real life but costly in broadcasting). Under the watchful eye of Chinua Thomas, the evenings that have shown online so far rank as superlative television specials.

Brilliant was the idea to film the artists singing in various clubs around the city of Manhattan. It has been thirty two weeks since people sat at the tables in those rooms and had Randy Cohen Lester serve them a drink at Don't Tell Mama or Dana Schaaf at 54 Below bring over a cup of tea. The rooms are lonely, the patrons miss the servers, and the artists need to be on a stage. By filming segments of the program in clubs like Pangea, The Duplex and Iridium, audiences can get a glimpse of some of their favorite places in the city -- and viewers in far away places have a chance to see what our Manhattan club scene looks like in first rate film footage. Anyone who longs to see the inside of those rooms again surely got a bona fide thrill from seeing those videos, made specially for this event. The big surprise, though, is this lovely little cabaret corner created in the offices of The Mabel Mercer Foundation! The Foundation's Charles and Susanne Bullock made a gift of a baby grand to the office and Sullivan and co. turned their cozy workplace into a swellegant virtual club - and it is this writer's opinion that, when these four days of performances are over, the decision needs to be made to make this a regular thing. While the world is still in crisis, the foundation can bring high quality performances to the world with scheduled programming in this lovely new space. Obviously, in the real world they can't pack their office with an audience and put on a show, but there is no reason that the artists of Manhattan can't swing in to the foundation offices on the weekends to film a concert to stream at a later date. Even when a vaccine and a cure for COVID are found, the foundation could continue to produce online shows for audiences in other cities, states and countries, for seniors and others who are less apt to go out to a nightclub; it would be an incredible opportunity for KT to showcase some of the new talents for which she is always on the hunt. If what we are seeing in The Virtual Cabaret Convention is an indication of the quality of content that can come out of a video filmed in someone's office, well I say everyone should get a white baby grand for their own work space and start making music videos! Because of this The Mabel Mercer Foundation now has a global reach and, not to put too fine a point on it, an organization like this is always in need of funding - regular programming of this nature could make money for the foundation AND for the artists performing in front of that baby grand right next to KT's desk.

In an effort to avoid verbosity (too late!) I will avoid presenting a laundry list of who appears in the two nights I've already watched. I will say that KT has curated a rather hefty number of people into the first night's hour and forty minutes - so many performances and reminiscences that it's likely people will wish it were a full two hours and featured some more of their favorites. And, as much I love to see these faces of the friends and leaders of the community, the night that really got me going was last night's show, one which showcases new talents, teenagers with an eye on the art of cabaret for their future. Is that even a thing? Teenagers interested in cabaret? Apparently it is because there were nine of them on camera last night; the truth is that the community is filled with young people who appreciate the art form, and one hopes that, with this incredible new development in the foundation's office, the public will get to see them, too, at some point - artists in their twenties, even thirties, who could use the nurturing spotlight of a mentor. These are difficult times, with or without Coronavirus, and, as the song says, the children are the future; so seeing a diverse group of young people in last night's forty five minute presentation is a fine and uplifting vision of hope for what is to come - imagine how great it will be when they are old enough to vote (I had to get that in there).

Tonight will be the final night of free performances through The Virtual Cabaret Convention (though donations are gently and respectfully encouraged) and tomorrow night's program will be a pay-per-view night with a ticket price of Twenty Dollars (come on, now!). With two exemplary nights of entertainment under their belt, there is no question that the next two shows will be worth catching. While evenings one and two followed the themes of Cabaret Yesterday and Today, and The Future, the Wednesday evening show will present Cabaret Around The World, featuring remote performances from artists outside of the city, even the country (thank you, technology!) and the Thursday night program will showcase some of the industry's Classics filmed in live performances from Birdland Theater. If it is any kind of endorsement, I can tell you this: I am very protective of my own free time these days, super choosy about how I spend my down time - and there is NO way I am going to miss these shows. The last two have simply been such prime evidence of how growth can elevate an art form, and I am interested in all kinds of evolution and entertainment.

The truth is that if the global health crisis had not happened, the industry might never have known what was possible through the online platform - or at the very least, it might have been a while before someone thought of reaching audiences AROUND THE WORLD with this technology. Because of the situation, though, KT Sullivan, The Mabel Mercer Foundation, and The Cabaret Convention are more modern, more diverse, more accessible than ever before. I bet KT Sullivan thought she might live out her days standing at a microphone, being beautiful, and singing sweetly; instead she has become a trailblazer. She is taking the art form into a new realm.

Nice work if you can get it.

See the first night of The Virtual Cabaret Convention HERE

See the second night of The Virtual Cabaret Convention HERE

Register for the third night of The Virtual Cabaret Convention HERE

Buy tickets to the fourth night of The Virtual Cabaret Convention HERE

Visit The Mabel Mercer Foundation website HERE

The Cabaret Convention Team:

Director: Chinua Thomas

Executive Producers: Rick Meadows, KT Sullivan

Musical Director: Jon Weber

Marketing Coordinator: Jason Martin

Copywriter: John Fricke

Promotion Designer: Derek Bishop


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