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BWW Interview: John McDaniel And Natalie Douglas of Gulfshore Playhouse's February Broadway Cabaret Series

While the lights on Broadway are still dim, Gulfshore Playhouse is bringing a taste of Broadway to Naples!

BWW Interview: John McDaniel And Natalie Douglas of Gulfshore Playhouse's February Broadway Cabaret Series

Gulfshore Playhouse is bringing a fun, talent-filled Broadway Cabaret Series to Southwest Florida during the month of February. This series features John McDaniel as the Master of Ceremonies, plus performances by Klea Blackhurst, Natalie Douglas, and Lora Lee Gayer. I had the opportunity to ask John McDaniel and Natalie Douglas some questions about their work and the series; see their answers below!

With Broadway and many other performance venues still shut down, how does it feel to be part of Gulfshore Playhouse's February Cabaret Series?BWW Interview: John McDaniel And Natalie Douglas of Gulfshore Playhouse's February Broadway Cabaret Series

John McDaniel: Oh, I'm feeling all of the feelings! We artists are starved to tell our stories and to sing our songs. Many of us, myself included, pivoted quickly to working and performing virtually, which was our only option. There's a certain, special quietness at the end of a song when you're singing to your laptop! Even though you know that it's being perhaps even lovingly received on the other end, there's nothing like the reaction of a live audience. That connection is unique and I think that we all crave the opportunity to get back in front of people who have gathered for an experience.

Natalie Douglas: I'm thrilled! In the COVID-times, live performances have been so very rare. After years of making my living that way, it's a genuine treat to create something new for an audience that'll be in the same room! - no matter how distant.

What has it been like for you as an artist the last year during this pandemic? Have you found other ways to perform or connect with audiences, virtually or otherwise?

JM: Yes, 100%. I created an online monthly series, Sunday Tea with John McD, which has brought me lots of joy and has garnered thousands of views on Facebook Live and also on my YouTube channel. I have also produced a few virtual concerts for Playbill and for Broadway Cares, most notably a highlights concert of a musical I wrote, Sticks & Stones, which starred Audra McDonald among other Broadway greats.

BWW Interview: John McDaniel And Natalie Douglas of Gulfshore Playhouse's February Broadway Cabaret SeriesND: It's been so odd! This trip to Florida is my first work trip since March 2020, making this last 11 months the longest I've gone without leaving NYC in over 8 years! I'm used to being on the road as much as two weeks out of every month. Fortunately, I really enjoy my husband, so we've looked at this time as an extended stay-cation and have spent lots of time baking, reading, organizing, purging and just last month, moving to a new apartment in NYC.

And yes, I've filmed a few concerts for streaming at a later date, I've guested in a few friends live virtual shows, performed one live socially-distanced show at Birdland and recorded a lot of one-off songs for various projects, concerts and benefits. In addition, I've taught master classes for the Eugene O'Neill Cabaret Conference, the Mabel Mercer Foundation, the St. Louis Cabaret Conference and a few private sessions. After this crash course in all things TV-studio-in-my-living-room, I'm finding I enjoy it! It's not ideal, but it's still is a way of connecting with audiences, other performers, and other musicians - and that's what really keeps me going.

You've been involved in a number of productions and projects; do you have any favorites?

JM: I grew up in St. Louis, dreaming of working and creating on Broadway, so when I was offered my first show writing music arrangements and leading the orchestra, I leapt at the opportunity and never looked back. That show was the first revival of Grease, starring Rosie O'Donnell, with whom I'd develop a long-lasting friendship and working relationship, most notably as her band leader on her daytime talk show on television.

ND: Well, I really do love the travel part of my job, so I'll say anytime I get to bring a show to a new town, like Naples, I really look forward to it. Also, I totally love the monthly residency I've been building at Birdland from Summer 2017 up to last March. My "Tributes" series allows me to celebrate a different artist every month, which means I'm always doing tons of research (which I love), learning new songs (which is challenging, but fun!), and singing material I've always wanted to try! I can't wait till we can start back up!

How is working on a cabaret show different from working on a typical theatre production?

JM: There are quite a lot of similarities, actually, in terms of finding honesty, humor and timing, but in a Cabaret, it's all you, baby - no character to hide behind. I find that thrilling.

ND: In every way, building a cabaret show is a much more intimate experience. Even when you create a show with a large band and/or backup singers, most of the rehearsal time will involve just you and your music director as you learn songs, create arrangements and make decisions about what will be in the final setlist. When you're an actor in a show, you're responsible for learning your track and performing it to the best of your ability every night. When you build a cabaret show, you produce, direct, costume, write, sing, create press releases - in essence, you're ultimately responsible for every aspect of the show.

What can audiences expect to see and hear during your cabaret performances at Gulfshore Playhouse?

ND: Hopefully, they'll hear some songs they know and love and perhaps some that are new to them. I also include the best stories I can find about the songs, artists, and times. Since we're building a new version of my "Four Women" show, featuring songs and stories of Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Nina Simone, and Roberta Flack, we'll have a real treasure trove of material from which to choose, including songs like "God Bless The Child," "Mississippi Goddam," and "Killing Me Softly." (And since John McDaniel has worked with Ms. Flack in the past, I can't wait to hear his stories! I've always admired her so.)

With many Southwest Florida theatres just beginning to slowly and safely reopen, it's a very exciting time for local theatregoers who have been unable to see live shows for a long time. What do you hope audiences take away from these cabaret shows?

JM: Yes, how terrific to return to the theatre in a safe environment. Gulfshore Playhouse is taking every precaution with the audience as well as with all of us. I hope that audiences are swept away by the three enormously talented friends we've invited down to Naples - we have some dynamic and unforgettable shows planned for you.

ND: My hope for my audiences is always the same - while we're all together in that darkened room, I hope they are willing to connect with John and me. Seems to me when it's all working well, we make a soul-to-soul connection with the audience and learn a bit about one another, while we laugh...a lot! Obviously, I want them to have a fun time, and can't wait to share these brilliant songs with them!

Thank you again to John McDaniel and Natalie Douglas for taking the time to answer these questions! Make sure to check out Gulfshore Playhouse's Broadway Cabaret Series to see these brilliant artists perform. The series features Klea Blackhurst February 11-14, Natalie Douglas February 18-21, Lora Lee Gayer February 25-28, and John McDaniel as the Master of Ceremonies for every performance. To learn more and purchase tickets, click here:

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From This Author Emily Yorgey