Review: JIM CARUSO'S CAST PARTY Open Mic at Birdland Means Much Mirth and Music for Mondays

J.C. as M.C. makes for a host of high-energy moments

By: Feb. 07, 2024
Review: JIM CARUSO'S CAST PARTY Open Mic at Birdland Means Much Mirth and Music for Mondays

Strangely, a pleasurable return trip to “Cast Party,” the Monday night open mic at Birdland on West 44 Street that began a couple of decades ago, reminded me of something from my childhood.  

Review: JIM CARUSO'S CAST PARTY Open Mic at Birdland Means Much Mirth and Music for Mondays

An open mic: What is it?  Well, it’s a package full of surprises.  You can never be sure of what you’ll get.  I remember that, when I was a little boy, I used to look forward to my weekly “What will it be?” mystery moment.  You see, a local store sold these special intriguing packages that would entice a curious, optimistic kid like me.  They were called “Surprise Balls” and the price was about equal to my weekly allowance of less than a dollar.  Secured by rubber bands, brightly colored tissue paper was rolled into a puffy, round shape and each mysterious ball would contain a few different unspecified tiny trinkets.  Which one should I pick from the bin?  What would be inside this time?  There were things like a plastic ring (which might not fit my finger) or a paper mustache or a pair of dice or maybe a balloon.  One child’s treasure is another child’s “I wish I’d picked the one in the purple paper.” I think it was the unpredictability and hope that kept me buying these packages week after week, running to the shop tightly clutching my coins and imagining what fun treats I’d find as I eagerly pulled apart the paper.  Usually there was at least one thing I liked …and there was always the next time, right?  Frequenting the city’s open mics can be like that.  As with the Surprise Balls in the store, in store for you at an open mic might be a night of delight and not-quite-right up your alley entertainment, something distinguished, disappointing, disarming, dismaying, or a discovery of a performer whose future appearances you’ll want to seek out.  As they say “something for everyone” and “Variety is the spice of life.” 

Some open mics have their regulars; each has a different overall sensibility and atmosphere; some attract or solicit more pros and ringers while others include more wanna-bes and warbling singers who should probably not give up their day jobs. Still, experience teaches us that it’s not wise to assume that dropping in just once will result in a representative sample.  And if you leave early, you might miss something great. 

As always, self-aware/self-deprecating host Jim Caruso was the sly, wry, twinkle-in-his eye guy, with glee and winks, kibitzing with the customers, bantering with the band and performers.  He's the court jester holding court.

His cheery go-to opening song with pianist Billy Stritch, “A Shine on Your Shoes,” is polished and perky. Referencing the more laidback, poker-faced bass player, Tom Hubbard, they decide to count how many times he actually smiles during the night.  The evening, lasting more than two hours, had a pretty good batting average of solid talent, including many young performers visiting from Australia.  Songs that are droopy, dismal downers are taboo as they could threaten to dampen the “Party” atmosphere in “Cast Party” where entertainment equals energy. So powerhouse Nicolas King’s smile-inducing, super-happy, super-high-octane “This Can’t Be Love” checks all the boxes. Yes, optimistic old Broadway showstoppers are welcome, and so with the title number from On a Clear Day You Can See Forever Joan Ryan clearly sees to it that excitement is on the horizonAva Locknar is another impressive belter. And, oh those talented Australians!  

Ready for anything, when a singer mentions the novelty song “Aba Daba Honeymoon” in passing, Mr. Stritch plays and sings it perfectly from memory. Some performers will come with their own pianists or accompany themselves, giving him a break.  But he and his “Party” partner seem indefatigable, if you don’t count the mock weariness claimed from bringing on hundreds of performers of all stripes at Birdland and on the road. And traveling to Australia to do so is blithely suggested.  We wouldn’t be surprised.  “Cast Party” is a real ball, wrapping more treats into one bright package than those wrapped-up Surprise Balls from my childhood.


You can find more shows, including upcoming iterations of Jim Caruso's Cast Party, which runs every Monday night at 9:30 pm, at Birdland's website.