Archive for the ‘Cabaret’ Category

marieannIt was an unusually-warm Wednesday night in April of 1990 when your humble reporter stumbled into the now-defunct Broadway Baby, a wonderful piano bar on Amsterdam Avenue between 79th and 80th Streets on the Upper West Side, and met singer Marieann Meringolo for the first time. There was already scuttlebutt about her; she was known for having the potential to become the likes of another Jane Olivor for her incredible vocal precision and carriage on a stage. Like the aforementioned, she wasn’t exactly the prettiest peach on the tree (although undeniably glamorous) and in fact was quite aloof and somewhat mistrustful of someone she’d just met for the first time. But when she sang…oh, when she sang…she transformed instantly into a Botticelli angel. It was a mere two seasons later that she had a bonafide cabaret hit on her hands with the brilliant Wonderful, Wonderful: The Songs of Johnny Mathis in New York City besides Fire Island and beyond, and has since gone on to phenomenal glory in the arena whether at Feinstein’s with a wonderful evening of the music of Michel Legrand, or her Ladies tribute concert honoring the ouevres of such giants as Streisand and Warwick. However, it is with her most recent offering, Orchestrated!, which features her alongside a seven-piece band replete with lush ornamentation including a full section of brass, that the lady has completely come into her own as a major cabaret star with which to be reckoned. In point of fact, if this show doesn’t cement her success and elevate her to the stardom previously achieved by someone along the lines of the late Nancy LaMott or Eva Cassidy, there is simply no justice in this world. Yes, it’s THAT good.

It should be noted right off the bat that the majority of Meringolo’s selections mostly comprises material she’s done in previous shows, which (as she explains, are being done because while she’s been making her most-recent living as a headliner on cruise ships, are showcased with a full orchestra in tow, and she wanted to bring the beauty of the sound to the cabaret world) are really not the sort of catalog that others might choose to bring to a new cabaret act. This, however, is no obstacle to the miraculous Meringolo; it’s material that might otherwise crumble in the hands of a lesser-accomplished artist and yet somehow she’s owning every moment. In the more-than-capable sight of musical director Doyle Newmyer, she manages to take such songs as “Thou Swell,” “The Windmills of Your Mind,” “Fever” and “I’m a Woman” and transform them instantly into personal anthems. And a favorite old standby of hers, “Italian Menu,” is rendered into genius. More than this is her tribute to Dionne Warwick in a medley of no less than eight songs by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and a tribute to Streisand that features a coupling of “Where Is It Written?” and “I’m the Greatest Star.” And Meringolo does include new music, notably two tunes by Marsha Malamet, “Crazy Love” and “I Am Blessed.” In point of fact, she couldn’t possibly have gotten any single element of the show more pointedly correct. It was certainly no secret in the nightlife world that she was already on a path to greatness, but Meringolo now possesses a maturity previously unwitnessed, not to mention an ability for sustaining an important note in a song, that trumps every possible ace .

And then there’s the band. Oh, goodness, where to begin? Aside from the aforementioned Newmyer, she’s got the legendary John Loehrke on bass, the brilliantly-animated Ayodele Maakheru on guitar, Sipho Kunene doing a wonderful job on percussion, Richie Vitale blowing on the trumpet, Jonathan Kantor on alto sax (who is REALLY outstanding), and the terrific Charlie Gordon on the trombone. The fact that JP Perreaux is loaning his eye to technical direction is merely the icing on the cake.

Marieann Meringolo and Orchestrated! will return to the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, on Friday, August 2nd at 7 PM for one night only. Run. Do not walk. And run QUICKLY!!!

graubart(Note: this piece was originally published in my monthly publication, CaB Magazine, on October 1st, 1992. It recently resurfaced on the Internet and I thought it was appropriate to post here for posterity).

Comic actress Judy Graubart still laughs about being married to Bob Dishy. “It only took us twenty years to do it!” being that the two began their relationship when both were members of Second City over twenty-five years ago. Now, six years later, the two are enjoying happiness both from each other’s company and the arrival of their son, Sam. Graubart, however, has much else to be happy about.

Growing up in Chicago as a rabbi’s daughter, Graubart began her initial performance path in after-school improvisational classes and programs from age five. “It was great for me,” she says over coffee at City Bakery. “I was an overweight kid and extremely nearsighted, and being insecure about all of that, so being involved in these little acting groups just pulled me out of that. It allowed me to think I was funny, and…I just loved being a part of dramatic activities.”

She honed her skills further at sleepaway camps following the death of Rabbi Graubart when Judy was eight, but didn’t get serious about performing until her attendance at the University of Chicago. “I did some productions in college, which were fine,” she says, “but my real break came because of a boyfriend I had, who was good friends with David Steinberg, and he was with Second City at the time. And so I began working as sort of the everything-girl at the club itself. I was a bouncer, I did my share of cocktail waitressing with my share of spills and no tips until finally I really knew the show, and they needed someone to be “the woman” one night; Second City was generally five or six guys and one or two women. So I stepped in and became the Man Who Came To Dinner. I just stayed. And before I was done with school, Second City did a United States tour through the Theater Guild, so I guess the rest is theater history. I’d been planning to be a French teacher, since my major was Romance Languages, but I wound up doing all of this instead. And I love doing improvisation. It’s not easy to do well; I think the ability to improvise successfully is there if actors are willing to relax and use it, but it can be hard to do a scene with somebody if they aren’t skilled in it. There were guys I had to work with who would just butcher what we were doing, and then I remember working with someone like Peter Boyle, who was TERRIFIC. I kept think that working with Peter was like talking with someone from your hometown; someone with whom you just speak a common language.”

The tour ended in New York, and Graubart transplanted herself here along with other members of the company. And distinguished company it was; Robert Klein and Fred Willard were in the company with Judy back in the Windy City, along with the aforementioned Steinberg, and the tour also featured Avery Schreiber and Jack Burns. Following other club dates with members of the company and Second City’s Broadway presentation in the early 60s, Graubart landed an audition and a job at Upstairs-at-the-Downstairs. “I had no money at the time, and I still owe Rod Warren for a sweater he loaned me some cash for,” she laughs. She stayed at the club for a year-and-a-half. “It was unusual for me at the beginning; you know, Second City was revues and this was revues, but Second City was improvised and these shows were scripted. What’s funniest to me is that I don’t remember doing the shows as much as I remember hanging out with Madeline Kahn and Janie Sell, and Dixie Carter and Lily Tomlin, hiding in the kitchen from the AGVA man, and going to the movies between shows, and having fried-egg sandwiches at the Warwick drugstore counter. It was a great time.”

Several plays and commercials continued to put bread and butter on Graubart’s table for a time, she was even a commercial spokeswoman for Cheer detergent. “I got so much mileage out of that,” she tells me. “It was just a bunch of spots of this character seeing how white she could get her clothes with Cheer. And it wasn’t just in the States; I’d gone to Germany to do some spots in German. Actually, it was about that time that Second City went to do a show in London, so I felt pretty international. I did some traveling around that time, France, and Israel. I thought I should cleanse my little Jewish soul after working for Cheer in Munich,” she laughs again. “Do you know, when I was having our son in 1986, I was trying to do some of those hokey Lamaze exercises, where they ask you to recite a mantra. Well, somewhere from the depths of my memory came the Cheer commercial I’d done in German. I started reciting “Cheer, it will get your clothes white as a ghost,” in German.”

Graubart managed to keep the bill collectors from the door and satisfy her artistic self, including the television version of Paul Sills’s “Story Theater,” shot in Canada with a cast of such Second City alums as Richard Libertini, Melinda Dillon, Dick Shawn and Valerie Harper, and then one day came the opportunity to audition for the new children’s educational program “The Electric Company,” produced by the Children’s Television Workshop. She landed the job and would stay with the show for its full seven-year run through 1978, creating characters that would delight children all over the country. “It was such a wonderful feeling to land a show as a regular, a show that was doing some good instead of just being a sitcom or something.” Again she was in illustrious company; Bill Cosby was a regular for the first two seasons, Rita Moreno would be with the show for some time, and other cast members included Todd Graff, Skip Hinnant, Luis Avalos, Hattie Winston, Lee Chamberlin, Melanie Henderson, June Angela, Gregg Burge, Irene Cara, and then-virtually-unknown Morgan Freeman. “It was marvelous that they welded together this group of different ethnic types and different energy levels. I guess I was the low-energy person in the family, except when I was doing a character like Jennifer of the Jungle, swinging on the vine and doing my “Oyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoy” yell.”

And she still tries to see fellow cast members when she can. “I run into Skip and Lee and Hattie all the time, and my husband Bob is going into a film being written by Todd Graff (“Used People”). Luis is hard to track down, because every time I’m on the Coast I try to call him and there are a zillion Luis Avalos-es in Southern California, but one day I’ll hit the right one. And as for Morgan, it’s been fantastic watching him achieve what he’s achieved. It’s a pity that he seems to have a sore spot about doing the show, but I think he’s just so lovable. I remember we used to have these workshops, sketch development workshops, where we had to do a lot of improv-inspired exercises which I was used to, having done all of that stuff with Second City. And I remember Morgan just not having any of it; just going “I’ve worked this hard as an actor to get here, just so I could play children’s games with a bunch of adults?” And the other thing I remember is that Morgan and I used to have crossword-puzzle races. It was great. We were a family, really; we spent a lot of time together off-camera.”

Following her stint, she co-starred with Alan Arkin in the cult-comedy/sci-fi film “Simon.” “A great experience and a very funny film, but way ahead of its time,” Graubart tells me. “If it’s finding an audience now on Comedy Central, that’s terrific. I had a ball making the film.” Other than the odd commercial and voice-over, Graubart has spent the last few years concentrating on being Mrs. Bob Dishy and the mother of six-year-old Sam. Is there ever conflict between the couple, being that Dishy is a slightly more recognizable name than his wife? “I don’t think so,” she muses. “Truthfully, I’d have to think about it…no, I don’t think there is. Although he always told me there was,” she laughs. “I’m always so happy when Bob lands a project that there really isn’t room to feel anything else about it. But there’ve been times when projects would pop up that he’d initiate, or I’d initiate, and I’d want to do them with him, and he’d just look at me and say, “Judy, we are NOT the Lunts!” Which, like any good Jewish girl, would send me to bed for a week, but…no, seriously, we don’t compete. We’re actors seeking work, and there’s a tremendous support system there.”

Now that Sam is firmly ensconced in school, Graubart is actively beginning to seek work again. In fact, a very promising project is lurking around the corner even as you read this. “There’s a series of children’s books out now, called “The Magic Schoolbus,”which star a character named Mrs. Frizzle. She’s a schoolteacher who wears kind of funny clothes and weird shoes; her shoes are sculpted like animals, elephants with trunks and such. They’re wonderful books, and they’ve been gaining popularity. Anyway, they’re trying to develop a tape to go with the books, and as we speak, it looks like I’m Mrs. Frizzle. I don’t know that anything’s going to come of it because I never count chickens, but we’ve recorded it, and it’s probably in the mixing process now, and…we’ll see. Actually,” she continues, “I was telling Sam’s teacher that I was going to be Mrs. Frizzle, and she looked at me really sadly. She said, “But you CAN’T be Mrs. Frizzle! I’M Mrs. Frizzle! Look at my shoes!!” Poor thing, I hope she’s not too depressed. Anyway, I promised myself that no matter what happens, by the end of the year I was going to start looking for work seriously again, so keep an eye out.”

We promise. In any case, whether she’s Judy Graubart, Mrs. Dishy, Sam’s mother or Mrs. Frizzle, she is a consummate delight…and as one of the performers New York has missed so much in recent years, it’ll be nice to see her become the apple of the city’s eye again.

The Three Degrees.
(From left, Helen Scott, Freddie Pool, Valerie Holiday)

One of the most wondrous things about growing up in a showbiz family is that from a very early age you find yourself attending concerts. If you’re even luckier, those concerts encompass a wide range of styles and tastes.

The very first I ever attended were Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center. My recently departed cousin Barry Finclair was one of their violinists, so he always got us great seats. But the first solo concert I ever saw was PDQ Bach, when we were visiting relatives in Poughkeepsie. I was maybe seven at the time, I hated it and I fell asleep midway through. In retrospect, I so wish I hadn’t, because Peter Schickele is a genius.

Aside from all the Broadway shows I ever saw and have seen, not to mention thousands of cabaret acts, concerts are my favorite things to attend. The first one I really remember clearly was Carly Simon, at Hofstra in 1980. This was before she caught stage fright, right around the same time when “Vengeance” was a big hit. I want to say it was a good show, but it really wasn’t. She did all the big hits, like “Anticipation” and “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be” and “Legend In Your Own Time” and “Nobody Does it Better,” not to mention “You’re So Vain,” but she was also trying to transition into harder rock and it was a study in fruitlessness. But I love that I got to see her.

Then in ’82, Mom took me to an Elly Stone concert at the Bottom Line, may it rest in peace. THIS was a big deal. I don’t expect half of you reading this to know who Elly is or remotely care, but she’s kind of a legend; she was the star of “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” and was basically considered the new American Piaf in her day. My mom was such a fan that Elly was and still is considered a goddess in our house (I’m friends with Elly now, all these years later, and she thinks that’s hilarious). But that was the night I fell in love with concertgoing. We actually sat through the second show, and it was also the night I became acquainted with the wonderful work of Kitty Hendrix, who sang backup for Elly and also became a friend of mine. Plus, who wouldn’t want to be thirteen years old and taken to see a show at the Bottom Line?

A year after that I had a chance to see Pete Seeger in concert, which really gave me my love of folk music. He was doing a very informal show in Westchester as a benefit for the Clearwater Project, with which he’s fiercely committed to clean up the Hudson River. As a special treat, he invited Arlo Guthrie to come up on stage and join him to duet on “Guantanamera.” To call it glorious would be an understatement. Which is why, when I was in college in 1986, I took an elective seminar called “The American Folk Tradition,” hosted by Mary Travers. Every week she would have a guest from the folk music world come and do an interview for about forty minutes, and then they’d do a mini-concert for the rest of the hour, sometimes joined by Mary and sometimes not. Because of that, I got to see such artists as Odetta, Judy Collins, Richie Havens, Buskin & Batteau, and the New York Choral Society. The best was on the last day of the seminar, when she had Peter Yarrow as her guest. After the interview, they got up together and sang “Lemon Tree” and “500 Miles,” and then Peter said, “Mary, that was fun, but I keep feeling like there was something missing.” Then we heard a guitar strum from the back of the house, we all turned around, of course it was Paul Stookey, and we all went wild. He strolled down the aisle, playing and singing “The Wedding Song” and joined them on stage, and they gave us a blissful concert for the next hour. It was other-worldly.

That same year, David Bowie played at the Garden with his “Spiders from Mars” tour, and they just happened to add a second date. So my friend Jessica, who is a major Bowie fan, called me and said, “Look, they’ve added a second date and I have no money. If you can get us two tickets I’ll be your friend forever.” Now, I am not the biggest Bowie fan on earth by a longshot, but I knew what a great show he puts on plus I’d never seen a show at the Garden, and I had the cash so I got us the tickets. Whether I’m a fan of his or not, I cried my eyes out when he sang “Jean Genie.” It was THAT good.

That was the same year that the Monkees (minus Michael Nesmith) embarked on their “Pleasant Valley Sunday” tour, and it was coming to Pier 86 (when they still did concerts there).  So my friend Sandy begged me to get tickets for her and myself. I had a mad crush on Peter Tork, so I didn’t exactly need a lot of persuasion. We attended together, and they were amazing, but best of all was that for their opening acts they had Herman’s Hermits featuring  Peter Noone, as well as Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, and The Grass Roots, with whom I’ve had a lifelong love affair (and they sang EVERYthing, “Sooner or Later,” “Live for Today,” “Midnight Confessions,” “The River Is Wide,” you name it).

Right around that same time and through the late 80s, I caught three shows at the Bottom Line that absolutely changed my life for their greatness. The first was Phoebe Snow (again with friend Jessica). The second was Laura Nyro (with a boyfriend whose name I can’t remember) and the third was Janis Ian (alone, but we were all united as one in her genius).  I had a ticket to see Joan Armatrading three weeks later, but that afternoon I caught a vicious flu and had to give the ticket to a friend.

In 1990, my life was to rearrange when I was offered a job as a cabaret reviewer and features contributor for a magazine called Night & Day. My very first assignment was to review a Peggy Lee concert at The Ballroom. And I’d not been a huge fan of Peggy Lee until then, but this was an assignment, after all.  So I spent days figuring out what to wear, what to do with my hair, even what pen to bring with me to take notes. Miss Lee walked out onto that stage with a nine-piece band and knocked my socks off;  it was the sweetest trial by fire anyone could ever experience at twenty-one years of age, to be shown into the Ballroom, guided to the best seat in the house, encouraged to order anything I’d like to eat or drink for free, watch Peggy Lee for an hour, go home and write about it, and then GET PAID!

As if that wasn’t enough, four days later they sent me to the Beacon to review a major concert experience called “Heartstrings.” They rented me a limo, and my cherished friend Kim and I got all gussied up and attended the show and the party afterwards at Citicorp Market. It had a core cast and a script of which the theme was a fable about AIDS infiltrating humanity, and I was afforded the opportunity to discover some really fantastic musical theater performers (including a sensational vocalist named Mary Beth Purdy, who brought the house down when she sang “Come Rain or Come Shine” and has also become a friend of mine since then) but even more than this, it was hosted by Christopher Reeve (darling man, who I got to meet that night and may he rest in peace) and Marlo Thomas, and included such delicious moments as Tommy Tune dancing to “Kicking the Clouds Away” with a chorus of beautiful girls and Barbara Cook knocking all of us on our asses by singing “Love Don’t Need a Reason” by Peter Allen.

The next ten years were spent with attending a LOT of cabaret and jazz shows, two highlights of which were Dr. Hook at the Village Gate and Chaka Khan at the Blue Note (and she is so short you can’t believe it). Then came 2001, when sort-of-ex-husband and I met (long story, we were together and then apart and together again and then apart and now we’re sort of…I’m not sure), and I’m thrilled to say that he LOVES concerts. The first was Jane Olivor at Westbury, about seven weeks after we met because we’re both major fans, and we subsequently attended four more of hers at different venues. (As most of you know, Jane and I eventually worked together on a project and she did me dirt, so I refuse to ever see a concert of hers again. Whenever the lunatic does one). But we attended a whole big bunch of them together. The memorable standouts are of course Cher (in her first Farewell Tour, hee hee) at the Garden, Bette Midler in the “Kiss My Brass” tour (also at the Garden, on the memorable night she was flying off stage on the carousel horse to end the first act and it got stuck in mid-air), Linda Eder at Carnegie Hall (to which we brought his parents, who bitched about my getting such crappy seats), and Il Divo at Radio City.

And then there was the night, in 2002, when he said to me, “Let’s catch a concert at Jones Beach this summer. Look up who’s playing. You pick the artist.” So I looked it up, and there happened to be a Three Dog Night concert, and I worship Three Dog Night. But the problem with a Three Dog Night show is that there’s never a guarantee that Chuck Negron will be in shape to go on, and if he’s not in shape to go on, they cancel altogether and don’t give refunds. So I figured we shouldn’t chance it. I said, “Styx?” He said no. I said, “Supertramp?” He said no. I said, “Pat Benatar?” He said, “Certainly not. I hate her.” (So much for me picking the artist, and I should have known then that the marriage was in trouble). So then I said, “How about Hall & Oates, with Todd Rundgren as an opening act?” THAT idea he  liked. So we got tickets. And they put on a GREAT show; they sang every hit except “Private Eyes.” The downside was Rundgren, who had cocaine running down his face from the moment he came out to sing “Hello, It’s Me.”

Now, I also have this friend named Jennifer. Our birthdays are two days apart, so we can never forget. And she always goes out of her way to get me something incredible as a gift. That’s my Lovey. (I call her Lovey and she calls me Bunny. Don’t ask, it’s a friend thing). Anyhow, in ’07 she called me and said, “So what am I getting you this year?” You should also know if you don’t already that I collect giraffe statuettes. Fifty-eight and counting, to be precise. So I said, “A crystal giraffe from Swarovski.” She said, “No giraffes. I’ve given you enough giraffes.” So I said, “A set of All-Clad cookware. My friend Susan Scudder says you have to be married for forty years before you earn a set of All-Clad.” She said, “I’m not buying pots. What do you want more than anything that you can’t afford?” I said, “Get me a ticket to the Streisand show this autumn at the Garden.” She said, “But that’s October. I want you to enjoy it on your birthday.” I said, “You’re asking me, I’m telling you. I’ll wait three months to enjoy it if it means I can see Streisand.” So she got me a ticket, and the show was on a Monday night (the 9th, if I recall, John Lennon’s birthday). As I was dressing to go to the show, she called  me and said, “I know how much you’re looking forward to tonight and I hate to ask this, but they’ve added a second show for Wednesday and if you can possibly wait, I can get you upgraded to a Skybox in one of the Club Suites for that night.” So I waited the two nights. And it was the best thing I ever did. I saw Streisand from the best seat in the house.

Much more recently and as many of you know, I’ve been taking a lot of road trips with dear childhood friend George. Mostly New England but also Long Island. Anyway, all of a sudden after one of our trips this summer he offered me a ticket to go with him to the Beacon and see the Dukes of September, which is Boz Scaggs, Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, and Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers. Would YOU say no? So of course we went, and it was absolutely magical.

The reason I bring all of this to light is because last night, Scott Barbarino (my cherished publisher at invited me to come see The Three Degrees do their show at Iridium. This will probably be their last time in New York; they’re hitting the road in a few days to do concerts in Japan again. For those of you unfamiliar with The Three Degrees (and shame on you if you are), they’re the female vocal trio who scored a huge hit in 1974 with the song “When Will I See You Again?” The current group is not comprised of the original members, which started in Philly in ’63, but they are three fabulously-talented women named Valerie Holiday, Helen Scott and Freddie Pool. And their energy is mesmerizing. It was literally one of the greatest concerts I have ever seen. Of course they sang that hit, but also “Dirty Ol’ Man,” “Shake Your Groove Thing,” “Maybe,” and did an incredible tribute to their fellow artists from Philadelphia (The O’Jays, McFadden & Whitehead, The Trammps, etc).

In closing, it was a trip to the  moon on gossamer wings. And I can’t wait to go see another concert. Soon.

About seven years ago, a dear friend of mine and I sat at a little bar on Ninth Avenue in the West 40s one night, knocking back a few and having some laughs, when he suddenly said to me, “You know you’re my favorite journalist of all time, right? Well, when the time comes, I want you to write my obituary.” I said, “Oh, honey, STOP!! Don’t be morbid!! And anyway, you’re gonna bury us all!!” He said, “No, no, I won’t. People might remember who I am, maybe for a little while, but I want you to promise me that you’ll write my obituary when the time comes.” So I said, “Fine. Should I ask if you have a title for this little opus I’m supposed to write?” He said, “Yes. I want you to call it Requiem for a Paperweight.” And we laughed and ordered another round and smoked a few more cigarettes as usual, and I figured that was the end of it. But it wasn’t. He died this morning. And writing this article may well be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do, but I’m keeping the title as per his wishes.

The world has lost a wonderful gentleman named Ron Palillo. Most people probably know him best as the iconic character Arnold Horshack from the megahit sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter on ABC for four seasons. Yes, he of the signature gravelly laugh, dorky clothes, comical Brooklyn accent and explanation of his moniker (“I’ll have you know that Horshack is a very old and RESPECTED name. It means, ‘The cattle are dying.'”) Whether he was joining a religious cult, becoming a figure not unlike Peter Finch in the movie Network or merely hanging out with his fellow Sweathogs, Horshack was to the 1970s what Urkel was to the 80s or Screech was to the 90s, in pop-culture parlance. And millions will never forget him or the joy he brought to the cultural landscape.

But I don’t want to talk about Horshack right now. I want to talk about Ron, the man I was blessed to know so well for over twenty years, and the joy he gave me personally as a friend.

In 1990 I got my first job in journalism, writing reviews and features for a now-defunct magazine called Night & Day. One feature of which I was particularly proud was an interview with my dear friend Shirley Stoler, which gave me great pleasure to write. So a few days after it was published, I was hanging out at Don’t Tell Mama on Restaurant Row having a drink at the bar when all of a sudden this guy came over and started staring at me. A little bit short, not a bad body and really luminescent skin. He looked an awful lot like Ron Palillo, but something was different; maybe he’d had his nose bobbed or something. So I smiled at him. He said, “Do you happen to be Andrew Martin?” I said yes, I was. “Oh, I love your writing so much! I was just reading your interview with Shirley Stoler the other day and I absolutely adore her. My name’s Ron Palillo.” I nearly spit my drink out of my nose. “I THOUGHT that was you!! HI!! Oh, I’m so pleased to meet you!! HUGE fan!! So you’re visiting New York, then?” By this point his lover Joey came over and joined us, Ron made introductions and explained that no, he and Joe were living in New York now, they’d just moved back and gotten a place in Chelsea. By three or four drinks later, the three of us were already great friends. They literally poured me into a cab to take me home to Queens after I gave them my phone number and they gave me theirs, and we all promised to see each other soon. Now, everybody knows how it works in entertainment circles in New York; you always promise you’ll see each other again and nine times out of ten you don’t. But this, I learned, is why nobody should have ever underestimated Ron Palillo.

About three weeks later, on a Friday night, I took my buddy Jim Loftus to see someone’s cabaret act at Rose’s Turn on Grove Street (I have absolutely no recollection whose cabaret act it was, so I apologize to whomever they are and I hope I gave you a nice review). We went downstairs after the show to sit by the piano and hear my friend Peter Gloo play and my other friend Elaine Brier sing, when all of a sudden Ron and Joe walked in. As soon as they saw me, they made a beeline for us. “Andrew! Why haven’t you called? You promised!! Never mind, it’s nice to see you now. May we join?” Of course I said yes and introduced them to Jim. Who, once they were seated, said, “Am I dreaming this? Did you honestly just introduce me to Arnold Horshack and now he’s sitting here with us?” I assured him it wasn’t a dream. We all got lit as lords and had a wonderful evening.

So, for at least the next year and longer, I kept in touch with them (I was never quite as friendly with Joe as I was with Ron, but Joe was always very happy to see me wherever it was). In due time, Night & Day Magazine folded, I was then moved over to the New York Native newspaper and then I parted company with them also, and after a few months away from it all except for occasional freelancing at magazines like Details and Lear’s, I started my own magazine, CaB. So I asked Ron if he might possibly be so gracious as to grant me an interview. Believe me, he needed no bidding; he was delighted to know that I’d be writing about him, and invited me to swing by the apartment he and Joe were subletting in Chelsea. It was really a little nothing of a building, a very innocuous brownstone,  and then I got to their apartment and nearly died. It was the most luxurious duplex I have ever seen, and I’ve been to some pretty luxurious duplexes in my day. I said, “You and Joe actually LIVE here? This isn’t a movie set or something?” He said, “Andrew, it’s called being on a hit show for several seasons.”

Then we did the interview. He spoke of growing up in Connecticut and how lonely he was most of the time as a kid, how much he wanted to be a star, how his gravelly laugh as Horshack was actually his father’s death rattle as he lay dying of cancer, how frustrated he’d always been after Kotter because nobody would take him seriously as an actor, and all kinds of other things nobody else could have possibly known about him. Then he showed me his drawings; he’d begun working as an illustrator for children’s books (one in particular, The Red Wings of Christmas, had been written by his dear friend Wesley Eure, who was best known as the star of the Sid/Marty Krofft series “Land of the Lost” and also as the longtime lover of Richard Chamberlain). He also spoke with desperate passion about his best friend, actress Debralee Scott, whom he loved more than life itself. It was an amazing interview and frankly left me more than a bit dazed.

For the next decade, Ron and I continued to have an absolute blast. He and Joe and I had mutual friends in the form of a couple, two wonderful guys named Woody Leatherwood and Larry Scheraldi, who threw the most wonderful parties imaginable at their apartment on West 39th. (By this point, Ron and Joe had taken a new apartment on 49th Street). I recall one night in particular when Ron and I and our other friend Tommy Femia decided to play “The Movie Game” This is where the first person names a movie, the second person names someone who was in that movie, the third person names another movie that person was in, and it just goes around and around until someone can neither name a person or a movie that goes with the subject. The whole point is to be as obscure as possible so you stump the next person. Ron really thought he was gonna get Tommy (the world’s best Judy Garland impersonator) out of the game when, after I named Vigil of the Night as the movie and Ron volunteered the name of Rita Page, Tommy looked at both of us and in his best Garland voice said, “She played my mother in Little Nellie Kelly.” Ron’s jaw dropped to the floor and he said, “That’s it. I’m out of the game. I give up.” It was adorable.

Then, in ’02, my ex-husband and I had four friends from out of town staying with us for Gay Pride Week, and one night after we took everybody to see the Empire State Building, we went to the same bar I mentioned in the first paragraph, on Ninth Avenue between 45th and 46th. We were all having a ball, then I got up to go to the bar and get another drink, and who should be standing at the jukebox but Ron. I said, “Oh, no you’re NOT, Ron Palillo!!” He turned around, saw me, came over and gave me a huge hug hello and then joined our table. The guys were absolutely beside themselves that “Andrew knows Arnold Horshack!!”

Ron was an absolute and understandable mess the day Debralee Scott died in 2005. It wasn’t hard to comprehend why; they were as close as brother and sister, and she and he and Joe were always constantly in each others lives. But I’d never seen him so upset and distraught. Hence, the night he insisted on meeting me for drinks at that bar. And also hence why he decided that I should write his obituary.

One of the very last times I spoke to him by phone was after he appeared in the opening number of the TVLand Awards. He said, “I hate that they trotted me out as HIM one more time, but I made a little cash and got to see some old friends. If Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson from “Little House on the Prairie”)  hadn’t been there I never would have gotten through it. Hey, do you know her?” I said that I most certainly did. He said, “Isn’t she the best? One of the funniest women on earth, and a brilliant actress, outrageously intelligent and the warmest creature you could imagine,” and he just sang her praises for well over a half hour.

Ron and Joe moved to the Palm Beach area a couple of years ago, and while Ron wasn’t particularly happy about it, he was certainly proud of their home. Our very last conversation was a couple of months ago, in Facebook Chat. He was extremely worried that he might have had cancer from all the smoking, he said he’d developed a cough that sounded a lot like his father’s, but that he’d begun seeing a respiratory therapist and that so far was so good. Then this morning, Joe came downstairs, saw Ron clutching his chest, called an ambulance and they set off for the ER, where he died shortly after arriving.

And so here we are tonight. Ron is gone and my heart is aching. But it’s not aching for myself. It’s aching for Joe. It’s aching for his siblings. It’s aching for all the social misfits out there like I was, who knew that in Arnold Horshack we had a friend for life. It’s aching for those people who were ever lucky enough to know him. And by now I’ve lost enough friends to also know that it’s not about all the things we didn’t get to do or having the chance to say a final goodbye, but all the things we DID get to do and all the chances we had to say a hello.

Thus, all there is left to say is one last hello. Rest in peace, my wonderful Paperweight. I love you.

In 1985, cabaret unwittingly found a new fair-haired boy in their midst. Kevin Scott Hall had arrived in New York City from Maine in his early twenties, and seemingly wasted no time in establishing himself  as a permanent and powerful presence in piano bar and on stage. Nearly three decades later, armed with an endless arsenal of tenacity and staying power besides bucketfuls of talent in a variety of areas, Hall has evolved from a vibrant singer and recording artist (including the CDs Live at Middle, New Light Dawning and Holiday Spirit) to a respected university lecturer, vocal coach and teacher (he created the That Singing Feeling workshop), cabaret columnist for, and even a published novelist with his book Off the Charts! Having turned fifty merely two weeks ago from the time of this writing, he also announced what will sadly be his very last cabaret act ever, which premiered at Don’t Tell Mama on Wednesday, July 18th as a birthday celebration and plays its second show on Saturday, July 21st. If the gods are kind, however, someone will convince him that this can’t be the last time. It’s a brilliant presentation beyond words; Hall retains his marvelous pop/rock sensibility as always and simply dazzles. His voice hasn’t lost one micro-ounce of its glorious tenor timbre lo these many years, and clearly he can still wrangle a tune with the best of them, whether Joe Flood’s “I’m In a Hole,” “Come to Me as a Bird” by Julie Gold, Carrie Underwood’s “Last Name,” or “True to Yourself” by Karen Benedetto. He’s aided as always by the spectacular Clare Cooper at the piano as well as Steve Marks on bass, Bernice “Boom-Boom” Brooks on percussion, and Allison Mickelson and Alex Bertrand-Price on background vocals. And the show isn’t without its angst-ridden moments; he recounts making headlines as a stabbing victim in Hell’s Kitchen in 1994. But the show as a whole is a true celebration of the glorious person that is Kevin Scott Hall, and indeed should be witnessed by all who can attend the 6 PM show. He also somehow found the time to grant us an interview in the midst of his busy schedule:

ANDREW MARTIN: We can all assume that when you were growing up in Maine that a career in performance was a focus of yours. But was cabaret something you always wanted to do? What drew you to it?

KEVIN SCOTT HALL: That was actually not true, at first. I was so shy and, frankly, bullied, that I was afraid to get involved in anything at school. I was just biding my time. I was a writer first. However, I did like listening to 45 rpm records and American Top Forty with Casey Kasem every week. And my father played–and still plays–piano, so he gave us an education in standards. There were a lot of parties around that piano, so it was like growing up with a piano bar in the house. I didn’t really have theater aspirations until I was in college and decided to try out for a play, Charley’s Aunt, and got the small but comic role of Brassett, the butler. Then I got the bug. Later, after moving to New York, I was drawn to the piano bars. I guess in some ways it reminded me of home. And I stayed there!

AM: Can you describe what it was like when you first got to New York, and why you almost immediately immersed yourself in cabaret?

KSH: Well, I found the whole auditioning thing to be very lonely. You wait around for hours to sing sixteen bars of a song, and there’s all this fake camaraderie in the hallways. But in cabaret, I could do what I wanted to do, and I was allowed to try and fail and try and fail and sometimes succeed! It’s also very personal and intimate, and that’s more my groove.

AM: Why do you choose the songs you do? You seem to have always had a pop/rock-based sensibility as an artist, but what is that based on?

KSH: Yes, growing up in small New England towns, I did not listen to theater recordings. I had to really catch up on that when I got to New York. My father played standards and I knew some, but I had no idea where they came from. I grew up on radio and, you know, back in the ’70s what was great about radio was that you could have a pop song, a country song, and an R&B song playing on the same station. You don’t find that anymore and, to me, that’s not progress. I still listen to what the kids are listening to, though. There are a few great songs being written and we as cabaret artists can bring them out.

AM: What drew you to start working with Clare Cooper as a musical director?

KSH: Well, when I started working in piano bars–Rose’s Turn, specifically–in 1995, I got stuck with the deadly Saturday happy hour, and there was Clare! She also had a pop-rock sensibility, so we came up with the Rock and Soul Happy Hour. We had a small but very loyal following, and we kept that going for nine years. When you work so closely with someone for that long, it becomes almost like a marriage (I think, I’ve never been married!). We still miss Rose’s Turn. There was no place like it and I’m afraid there never will be again.

AM: Getting stabbed in the chest would clearly be a traumatic experience for anyone. What (excuse the pun) sticks out most in your mind about the experience? And was it simply natural to work that into your cabaret act(s)?

KSH: That was clearly a watershed moment in my life. I was actually on my way home from a piano bar (Eighty Eight’s) when that happened. The psychic wounds of that lasted far longer than the physical ones. I was very angry that here I was, striving to create music from the heart and then I give someone my trust for a moment on the street and he stabs me in the heart. The metaphor of that shook my faith to the core. I was a very angry man for a few years. Anyway, that kind of experience takes you to extreme emotions and I think it lends itself to the act. Don’t try to run and hide from those experiences. Embrace them. Let others learn from them.

AM: How did you make the transition from cabaret artist to teacher? Conversely, how did you make the transition to lecturer on a college level?

KSH: I did a show in the mid-90s and hired a well-known director, and I didn’t feel this person really was able to pull the soul from me. And I was being charged a lot of money. Basically, I thought, I can do this better. And it was a natural fit. I think because I have been through traumatic experiences, I am able to get to the heart of the matter and cut through the BS. I think I have a gentle persistence that can bring honesty out in people. At forty, I decided I’d had enough of the music career. I’d worked at it so long and it was going nowhere. So I went back to school to get my MFA in creative writing (yet another practical choice!). As part of the process, we were given an opportunity to intern as instructors. I was so scared. I’m all about diversity, which is what CUNY is, but I thought, “What are these mostly Black and Hispanic and Asian and Arabic students going to think of this middle-aged White guy?” Well, I discovered that I had changed a lot since being a bullied teenager. I am very real with the kids, and I really use my sense of humor with them. I’m not afraid, I’ll tackle any topic with them. I surely learn more from them than they learn from me.

AM: Where did the inspiration for Off The Charts! come from?

KSH: Off the Charts! is a satiric novel, about the music business, funny but very dark. It was my way of coming to terms with how awful that business can be. But I put it in the dance music world rather than my cabaret world. The business is all about marketing and image and, for my character Sally Testata, trying to keep her sexy even though she’s in her forties. I get angry about what I see in the music business, with some music videos and such. It was hard for me, but it’s very hard on women.

AM: What do you like most about the recording process? What do you like least? Do you think you might do another recording anytime soon?

KSH: I LOVE recording. It’s much more in my comfort zone than live performing, which is all-consuming and still makes me very nervous. Going into a recording booth is very private and intimate and you get to try things several times (although my most successful recorded songs, they tell me, happened to have been done in one or two takes). I have a hundred ideas for recordings and if I could just record without performing live, I would!

AM: Complete this sentence: “In ten years I, Kevin Scott Hall, will be…”

KSH: In ten years I, Kevin Scott Hall, will be teaching a few classes, living on a lake and writing during the summer, and have perhaps a couple more books and recordings under my belt.

It’s safe to say that we all want to take a swim in that lake. The cabaret community wishes Kevin Scott Hall a very happy second half-century, and offers a plea for him to continue delighting all of us as an artist in any and all media.

When one thinks of the great celebrity impersonators of the last sixty years, many names spring to mind. As far as the males, there’s of course Rich Little, David Frye, Fred Travalena, Charlie Callas, George Kirby, Jim Meskiman, and more. Among the women, there’s Marilyn Michaels, Louise DuArt, Christine Pedi, Klea Blackhurst, Suzanne Blakeslee, Tracey Berg, Chloe Webb, Jane Horrocks, Hynden Walch and so many others. And as far as those who cross over from male-to-female impressions, there’s Craig Russell, Charles Pierce, Tommy Femia, Brian Murphy, Steven Brinberg, Jim Bailey, Kenny Sacha, Jamie Beaman, Rick Skye and a plethora too numerous to list. Not to mention the triumph Rainie Cole scored with Always Patsy ClineRita McKenzie’s Call Me Ethel, Totie starring Nancy Timpanaro, Julie Sheppard as Judy Garland and the entire catalogs of Michele LaFong, Alison Briner or Angela LaGreca. But a new and extremely-stellar talent has joined their legendary ranks, and if her first full-length cabaret act I Hear Voices, which will play its final show (for now) at the Duplex (61 Christopher Street) on Tuesday the 12th at 7 PM is any indication, the genre has a brand-new and rightfully-deserving star on its hands. Her name is Carly Sakolove, and to call her a genius simply doesn’t sum up what this lady has got to give. If this were 1962, she’d be a superstar beyond words. But she must become one regardless; she’s THAT good.

Directed by the ever-excellent Bill Russell (a Tony nominee for his work on Side Show, and previously-renowned for his collaboration with Frank Kelly on the Off-Broadway mega-hit Pageant), the evening is basically a therapy session spent between Sakolove and her therapist explaining that she doesn’t merely HEAR voices, but that then they speak through her. The voices in question, however, happen to be those of the greatest divas of our time from Broadway and beyond, including Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Elaine Stritch, Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, Barbra Streisand, Carol Channing, Ethel Merman, Bette Midler and Julie Andrews. Now, to those who either do impressions or are a fan of impressionists, some of them may seem indeed slightly run-of-the-mill. Sakolove, however, has more than a few tricks up her sleeve; she also provides faultless sound-a-likes, either spoken or sung, by Idina Menzel, Dame Judi Dench, Jennifer Coolidge, Susan Sarandon, Heather Hedley, Alice Ripley and Jane Lynch. As if none of THAT was enough, as evidenced when she released her Some People and Send in the Clowns clips within the last season to viral effect on YouTube, it became clear that she can record her brilliant pastiches in one take without a breath from voice to voice, a feat never accomplished by a similar artist. Hence, this is a young lady very possibly headed for extreme greatness within the genre. One is left to wonder what she might next add to her act: Betty Buckley? Barbara Cook? Madeline Kahn? Angela Lansbury? Audra McDonald? Whatever they may be, Sakolove has established herself once and for all as a true wonder of the nightlife universe with her otherwordly talents.

In addition, one must make mention of the splendiferous accompaniment of musical director Dan Micciche. His prowess on the keys is only matched by his phenomenal abilities to display the lady perfectly, and keep up with her numerous personas as they unfold throughout the evening.

Needless to say, I Hear Voices, and of course Carly Sakolove, stand to emerge as one of the greatest finds in the last several decades of cabaret and beyond. For those wishing to catch her final show at the Duplex this Tuesday before she is most certainly whisked away to greater stardom, do not hesitate to call 212-255-5438. In all truth, this is neither a cabaret act nor a concert. It is as much a happening event as seeing Midler herself at the Baths in ’71. Seats are goin’ fast, folks!

(UPDATE: Due to popular demand, Sakolove has extended her show for two additional nights at the Duplex, Thursday, June 21st at 9:30 PM, and Friday, June 29th at 7 PM)

If the MAC Awards have become known as the Tonys of cabaret, the Bistro Awards have certainly become its equally-glittering counterpart. Launched in 1985 by the late and legendary cabaret journalist Bob Harrington in his “Bistro Bits” column in Back Stage, then under the editorship of Sherry Eaker, it was initially just a list of winners before evolving into a live awards ceremony in 1990 at the now-defunct Eighty Eight’s. Recipients have included Dionne Warwick, Carol Lawrence, Larry Kert, Dixie Carter, Cleo Laine, Eartha Kitt, Mario Cantone, Joy Behar, the team of Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney, and far too many more to list in appropriate completion. This year’s ceremony, which takes place on the evening on Monday, April 23rd at 6:30 PM at Gotham Comedy Club (208 West 23rd Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues), features an equally-impressive roster of cabaretfolk and theaterniks; these include Rita Gardner, Billy Stritch, Terese Genecco, Shaynee Rainbolt, Lauren Fox, Billie Roe and Parker Scott among others. The four most prominent awards of the evening, however, are being bestowed by an impressive lineup; for one, jazz legend Annie Ross will present Warren Vache with Ongoing Excellence as a Jazz Instrumentalist. George Faison gives Dee Dee Bridgewater an award for Ongoing Artistry in Jazz. Marvin Hamlisch bestows Outstanding Contribution to American Popular Song to Melissa Manchester. And the Bob Harrington Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented by legendary columnist Liz Smith to Kaye Ballard.

As is well known, Ballard has managed, in a spectacular career than spans nearly seven decades, to conquer Broadway musicals (The Golden Apple, Carnival! and The Pirates of Penzance among others), film (A House is Not a Home, The Ritz, the original Freaky Friday), television (as a co-star with Eve Arden on The Mothers-in-Law), and every manner of concert and nightclub stage ever since her career began as a touring player with Spike Jones in the late 1940s. More recently, she toured cabarets and clubs throughout the nation in the show Doin’ It For Love, along with Liliane Montevecchi and Lee Roy Reams, and she’ll be coming back to New York in June for a one-woman blockbuster evening at Feinstein’s. One may call the lady who began as Caterina Balotta in Cleveland anything they like, but what they must call her first and foremost is a survivor who has seen it all. And The Andrew Martin Report couldn’t be more honored that she found the time to grant us a brief interview from her home in Palm Springs in preparation of the awards next week.

ANDREW MARTIN: What’s the most exciting/gratifying thing about being the recipient of this award?

KAYE BALLARD: Well, just looking at the people who’ve received it before me. Cleo Laine, Eartha Kitt, people that I know/knew and respected. I’m so flattered. I sometimes look back on my life and all of the unexpected things that have happened, and this just happens to be the latest one. Not bad for eighty-six. But I look pretty good, no? (Laughs).

AM: Had you been familiar with the Bistro Awards before now?

KB: Well, I knew Bob Harrington, and I’d heard about it, but I didn’t really know what it was. I knew of the MAC Awards, but not the Bistros. Although they sounded more prestigious. I also want to thank Gretchen Reinhagen for doing her show, because she really kept my name alive in cabaret. But what do awards really mean? I’m just happy to be alive. It would have been nice to win an Emmy or a Tony, but Gracie Allen never won one either. You know, I come from a time when actors couldn’t even get a hotel room, or had to use the back door.

AM: Are you a particular follower of any of your fellow recipients?

KB: Of course! I LOVE Melissa Manchester. And Dee Dee Bridgewater. She’s really wonderful. But I’ve also seen two acts in the last year that I don’t think anyone can touch; one was the Callaway sisters, Liz and Ann Hampton, and the other was Christine Ebersole. So being part of cabaret now, along with such wonderful people, is gratifying beyond words.

AM: What’s your impression of how cabaret has changed/grown/not grown since your first emergence as a star?

KB: It hasn’t grown. It was so much better when I started. There was the Pierre, the Plaza, the Bon Soir, etc. They had an elegance about them, in a strange way. It was an honor to play those places because they had a built-in elegance. I worked with people ranging from Mae Barnes and Pearl Bailey to the Smothers Brothers. Nowadays, there’s too much vulgarity. I’ve worked with people like Bert Lahr and Jimmy Durante and Shecky Greene, who always had total class. I’m so sick of performers who feel compelled to be vulgar. My mentor was Henny Youngman, who never worked blue. I’m very much opposed to working blue. Jack Benny once said, “Funny is funny.” And I agree. As Fred Ebb, who was my writer, once wrote, “Whatever happened to class?”

AM: Tell us about Doin’ It For Love.

KB: It was such a thrill. Lee Roy Reams is the quintessential song and dance man, and Lilliane Montevecchi is so much of something from the past, just an elegant and sophisticated Frenchwoman from another era. So between them and the combination of what I do, it just worked beautifully.

AM: Is there any chance you’ll come back to New York with a solo show any time soon?

KB: Well, as I say, I’m doing Feinstein’s on the 17th of June. I can’t wait!! It’s really what I did in Doin’ It For Love. I’ve always believed that the best of the past is meant to last. It’s all the stuff I used to do, and I also talk some truisms. I think it’s gonna be a good show. David Geist is playing for me, and he’s just sensational. I found him in Santa Fe. He’s the closest thing I’ve ever found to Arthur Siegel, who was my dear heart, as we all know.

AM: We know you had a strong attachment to Arthur Siegel, both as a singer/instrumentalist and a composer. Those of us who attended Arthur’s memorial will never forget your speech or the wonderful duet you performed with Sandy Stewart. Do you have any particular favorite songwriters now for theater and cabaret? How does the new crop differ from yesterday’s greats?

KB: I LOVE Billy Charlap. He is fantastic. And I just love Marc Shaiman. The problem is, I love melody, and there’s not a lot of melody to be had nowadays. Not what I call melody. This is why I loved Arthur so dearly. He worshiped Jerome Kern, so he always came up with a great melody.

AM: How do you feel about the award being presented by Liz Smith?

KB: Oh, she’s one of my closest friends. She was my road manager at one point when I was doing Top Banana. She’s one of the brightest women I’ve ever known, besides being the kindest columnist ever. I’ve never known her to be remotely vicious. It’s an honor to know that she’s presenting the award to me.

AM: What advice can you give to some young women out there who think, “I want to be the next Kaye Ballard?”

KB (laughs): Does anyone really want to be me? I can’t imagine! But seriously, what I would say is to look at what came before you and then look where you’re going. I’ve always looked where I was going. And you should never think anything is old-fashioned. The great ladies of British comedy, like Bea Lillie, Joyce Grenfell, Hermione Baddeley, these are my heroines and the women I wanted to be. I feel the same about Patricia Routledge. My feeling is, I’d rather be Gone With The Wind than Saturday Night Fever, and I would recommend that anyone who wants to follow in my footsteps do the same. Because the truth is, I got a lot more out of it.

It is a grateful worldwide audience that will continue to get as much out of Kaye Ballard as she has to give. This humble reporter will most certainly be there on the 23rd and looking forward to it!

(Note: All who are reading this can purchase tickets for a five-dollar discount!! That’s $55 for each General Admission ticket, or $90 for Premium (includes pre-show champagne reception and priority seating)!! Just click here, scroll to the bottom of the page, and click “Donate.” Type in how many tickets you want at either $55 or $90, and you can pay with a credit card (PayPal not required; a credit card should do just fine). You can also send them a check if you’d rather; message me privately for the details. And don’t forget, ALL ticketholders are invited to an After Bistros supper buffet and party!! Hope to see you there!!!)

It seems apropos, on the eve of the twenty-sixth annual MAC Awards (presented by the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs) for me to provide an overview of my MAC Awards experiences through the years. For those unfamiliar, the MAC Awards are more or less THE night of the year for the worldwide cabaret community; it’s the Oscars, the Emmys, the Grammys and the Tonys all rolled into one for some, in this most treasured little nation we all call our home that is cabaret. And although I’ve only been an active member of MAC on and off for over two decades and am not currently a card-carrying member (if no less enthusiastic), I still look forward to the evening with tremendous anticipation. This year holds some newer frontiers for me; I’ll be conducting a live radio broadcast outside the ceremony (which is being held at BB King’s. 237 West 42nd Street) on WTBQ-FM at 7 PM, and I’ve been asked to give an on-camera interview backstage for NiteLifeExchange. But I will most certainly be out front as always to cheer on the nominees, and have to remind them all as always that every one of them is a winner no matter who takes home the prize. I don’t want to use this article to predict who the winners will be (we all know how THAT turned out the last time I did so), but rather just to take a lovely little stroll down memory lane.

By the time I burst onto the cabaret scene as an adult in 1986 (after a few seasons in “Kiddie Kabaret” at various clubs around town), MAC was firmly established and the MAC Awards had their very first ceremony, at the old Village Gate on Bleecker and Thompson in the Village. I was not in fact present for that or the subsequent three ceremonies and wasn’t yet part of the gilded “inner sanctum” that MAC represented. But in 1990, when I first landed my post as a cabaret reviewer and journalist for Night & Day Magazine, the MAC Awards was my first assignment. By that point, the ceremony had relocated to Symphony Space, on 95th Street and Broadway, and it was a landmark event for me, not merely because it meant I’d really arrived but because it gave me a reason to purchase my first tuxedo. I was so gung-ho that I even hired a limousine, which first picked me up at my day job on 68th and Broadway, drove me home to Rego Park, then waited for me while I changed into my tux; I took my twin sister Barbara to her day job in the city (we laughed and laughed over Martinis in the car), then picked up Janet Sumner in Gramercy Park and her date for the evening, the lovely Kevin McMullan, and then stopped on Ninth Avenue to pick up Mark-Alan and his then-partner Bobby Belfry. Once they were all in the car and we all had a drink, I announced the news that I’d gotten the job with Night & Day and was officially the newest cabaret reviewer in town, which made everybody very happy. We got to the awards and sent the limo on its way, and the first people I ran into were Bobbie Horowitz and her songwriting partner Sharon Spector Schapow, who were literally jumping with joy when I gave them the news. They in turn made it a point to introduce me to Erv Raible, Jamie deRoy, Sidney Myer, Diana Templeton and a plethora of others. I think my biggest surprise of all, though, was learning that I was seated in the second row. And it was a wonderful ceremony; the highlights included Sylvia Syms telling us that a stagehand mistook her for Mabel Mercer moments earlier, and Julie Wilson presenting a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award to the late lamented Henry Luhrman. There was also Jimmy Luzar’s acceptance speech, which began with his inimitable grin and the words, “Hot damn, huh?” and when the final presentation of the evening, Best Female Vocalist, announced Lina Koutrakos as the winner, to which she said to the crowd, “All my friends said to me, ‘Lina, why do you care about a stupid MAC Award? It’s just a popularity contest.’ Well, all I ever wanted to be was popular.”

For the next several years, while the MAC Awards continued to be hosted at Symphony Space, there were some moments that I will never forget. In ’91, I was seated directly in front of Karen Saunders and her then-husband, and when Linda Hopkins came up to present the award for Best Debut (that was a TIGHT race, with Sharon Douglas, Wayne Hosford and The Tonics nominated besides Karen), the lady’s nails were literally digging into my shoulder while Hopkins dawdled over opening the envelope, until she finally announced, “The award goes to Karen Saunders!” and the place broke out into thunderous applause. I was never so happy for that moment to be over, and neither was my shoulder. In ’92, Annie Hughes (who was living at the time just three blocks from Symphony Space, and had been heavily touted as the winner of that year’s Best Female Vocalist) threw a huge pre-show party at her apartment (where I first got to meet Sidney J. Burgoyne and his partner Jack Batman), and I even brought my mom. Annie didn’t win, unfortunately, and it put a bit of a damper on the afterparty, but ultimately we were all very happy for the late Nancy LaMott.

In ’94, the location changed to the new Copa on 57th Street and 11th Avenue. What made this year special for me was because of my own nomination, for Outstanding Male Music/Comedy. My show Open to Criticism had run at Danny’s Skylight Room for seven perpetually sold-out months, and while I certainly never did the show with the intention of winning a MAC, I was definitely being touted as a shoe-in to win it, or so I was told at the time. My competition was extremely stiff, however; I was up against John O’Brien for his show The Night Larry Storch Kissed Me at Eighty Eights, and Rick Skye’s The Flip Side of Neil Sedaka at Don’t Tell Mama. It was also the first time I managed to get my parents in the same room together since my Bar Mitzvah; my dad drove up from Philly, and they both looked terrific. Mercifully, that award was the first of the evening to be presented. Sally Mayes came out of the wings, envelope in hand, made a brief joke about how much she missed all of us since she was busy co-starring in She Loves Me on Broadway, then read all of our names and the names of our shows and said, “And the MAC Award goes to…John O’Brien!” John looked absolutely stunned, he rose, stopped by my table to give me a hug, then walked to the stage to receive his award. At which point I grabbed a waitress and said, “Double Jack Daniels, please, straight up.” I remember little else of that evening, other than both Beatrice Arthur and Barry Manilow being presenters, a performance by Liliane Montevecchi, and a LOT of people thanking me in their acceptance speeches for things I’d said or done in the press, including Mario Cantone and Eddie Brill, which made me very happy. However, I also learned a very important lesson that night; people remember the nominees a lot more readily than they remember the winners. To this day, people come up to me and say, “I’ll never forget the night you won the MAC Award,” to which I usually reply, “Was I there?”

I actually didn’t attend again until 2009 for a variety of reasons, most of which had to do with professional commitments and the fact that I was wrapped up in a non-cabaretgoing marriage from 2001 until 2006. But the night of the 2009 Awards, at BB King’s, was spectacular. I had a wonderful talk before the show with Sue Simmons, had the joy of seeing my chum Laurie Krauz win Best Female Jazz Vocalist, and even had a little encounter with Gloria Lynne, who bumped my chair as she came offstage because she’s too blind to see where she’s going; she said, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” and I said, “Miss Lynne, PLEASE do not ever apologize for anything; you’re heaven-sent!” I brought my cherished friend Alice Kane with me that night and we had a blast, and loved the way Klea Blackhurst hosted the show, not to mention Lewis Black’s speech and a wonderful number by Luba Mason and Andrea McArdle.

For 2010, I brought my dear pal Shelley Bruce as my date. And we had a BALL; she of course knows everybody from the days when she was starring in Annie after replacing McArdle, so we got to spend time with Lucie Arnaz and Lee Roy Reams and the whole bunch. The other nice thing about that night was that my buddy Danny Cohen was nominated for Best Comedian, and he was out in LA doing a show at the Comedy Store, so he got a hold of me that day and said, “If I win, could you please accept for me?” So I said sure, if that would be OK with Lennie Watts and Julie Miller. Well, it was, and he did win, and I did accept for him. It was magical to finally, after being nominated all those years ago, be able to get on that stage and hold the award in my hand, even if it didn’t belong to me. And Danny was so grateful to me for accepting for him and the little speech I made that he even allowed me to keep the little MAC stickpin they gave him. I may even wear it tomorrow night!

Last year, the twenty-fifth anniversary, I brought my friend Eddie Lawrence, and we had a swell time. One of the nicest parts of the evening was the announcement of Best Female Vocalist. I was certain it would be Carole J. Bufford, who is spectacular, although I was also kind of hoping it would be my darling Sarah Rice, who I loved so very much in her show Screen Gems at the Laurie Beechman. Sure enough, it turned out to be Sarah and I was delighted. And Carole will most certainly continue to wow us for many a moon.

So, there you have it. I can’t believe this marks twenty-two years since first attending. And this season comes with a lot of sadness, of course; we’ve lost Barbara Lea, Bradshaw Smith, Paul Trueblood, Teri Lynn Paul, Alice Gallacher and so many others. But I will be there with bells on as always. In my same old wonderful tux. Which I’m happy to say still fits. See you there tomorrow night.

Entertainer Selene Luna (pronounced “seh-LEH-nay,” not “Celine” like Ms. Dion) can probably best be described as an astronomical bundle of talent packed into a surprisingly small parcel. Aside from her prowess as an actress, comedian and an impeccable burlesque artist, and her abundant charisma and star quality besides brilliant bawdiness, the lady stands barely four feet tall in heels. This, however, has never served as a deterrent; she’s delighted audiences throughout the nation and worldwide on stage as well as screens large and small, making notable appearances on Margaret Cho’s reality series The Cho Show. New Yorkers were treated to her delicious personage two seasons ago at the Laurie Beechman Theater as part of the cast of Whatever Happened to Busty Jane?, devised by and starring drag legend Jackie Beat along with Nadya Ginsberg, Mario Diaz and Sam Pancake, and audiences will once again be delighted by her talents in the one-woman extravaganza Special Needs: An Evening of Comedy with Selene Luna on Saturday, March 31st at 9:30 PM, also at the Beechman (407 West 42nd Street at the West Bank Cafe). And though she’s one of the hardest-working women in showbiz, she found the time to grant The Andrew Martin Report a brief interview before leaving Los Angeles for the Big Apple.

ANDREW MARTIN: Can you give us an idea of what your childhood was like? Not just as a so-called ‘little person,’ but also as a Mexican-American?

SELENE LUNA: I come from a working-class Mexican immigrant family, and my being little on top of that only created extra challenges for the family, so it was pretty tough. My parents were the hardest-working, most sacrificial people I’ve ever known. We went without a lot but never needed anything.

AM: Did you always want to be an entertainer? What was your first experience on stage? How have you evolved since that time?

SL: At age five I had already decided that I belonged on stage. I knew I’d always be stared at because of my stature, so I figured on stage people would have to stare at me on my terms. My first experience on stage was when I was about seven years old, at the Christmas pageant for the Catholic Catechism school my siblings and I were forced to attend. I played the North Star, and found the experience thrilling, but I didn’t really pursue it until much later in life. Every performance is an on-going evolution.

AM: Were you always this naturally funny? Do you come from a family of funny people?

SL: I learned very early in life that in order to avoid being bullied, I would have to entertain people. I was always a bit goofy; I was just trying to survive, but I had fun doing it. My parents loved comedy, they were huge fans of cats like Richard Pryor and Robin Williams; they frequented the Comedy Store on the Sunset Strip. My parents also encouraged my siblings and I to put on little shows in our living room. However, I did get in trouble for one of my living room performances. I must’ve been eight, I put on my mom’s red marabou robe, called myself a “Hooker” and tried telling jokes about PCP, which mortified my parents. I’d seen “hookers” on Hollywood Boulevard, but didn’t understand what they did, and certainly had no clue what PCP was. My act was too racy for the living room. For the most part, my family is very low-key, but they all have a great sense of humor; I can be twisted with them.

AM: How did you come to hook up with the Busty Jane crowd (Jackie, Nadya, Pancake, Mario, Drew Droege, etc)?

SL: We were all hooked up with each other long before Busty Jane. We’re long-time friends who frequently work together in various capacities.

AM: What are your hopes for the new show?

SL: Throughout my childhood, I was told that I was “special needs”, but I never understood what that meant. All I knew was that I was really short and people were touchy about it. As an adult, I came to realize that people’s awkwardness around my stature is in itself their “special need”. In my show, I hope to convey that at some point or another we all have special needs.

AM: You received some attention recently for your letter to Rosie O’Donnell for her outspoken opinion about ‘little people.’ Did that accomplish anything significant? Conversely, what are your thoughts now that her show has been canceled?

SL: I responded publicly to Rosie’s dim comments about little people because I wanted the opposing point of view to get the same amount of air time, and I got it. After a series of Tweets back and forth between Rosie and me, she apologized and was a class-act about it, so we’re fine. Showbiz is a very difficult and cryptic business, so I do not find pleasure in any show being canceled. It’s tough out there.

AM: Where does Selene Luna see herself five years from now?

SL: Living in a mushroom, and taking hot baths in a walnut shell.

Audiences can’t be urged more strongly to come out of their own shell and experience La Luna. See you there!

To an entire legion of forty-somethings from the New York metropolitan area, the name Carole Demas evokes some of the most cherished memories of childhood; as co-host of the children’s show “The Magic Garden” on WPIX Channel 11, she and true-life best friend Paula Janis took their young audience on an educational romp that included music, stories, learning other languages, and a supporting cast brought to life by the puppetry of Cary Antebi. What most of those children couldn’t have known was that Demas was also starring on Broadway at the time, as Sandy in the original cast of Grease, alongside Barry Bostwick. Since that time, she’s gone on to success in all manner of media, and most recently opted to return to cabaret with her show Summer Nights, which proved a smash when it debuted at the Laurie Beechman Theater in 2011 (one critic likened her to a cross between Judy Collins and Betty Buckley), and will return to the space for a 7 PM performance on Wednesday, February 15th. And though it’s always a very busy time for the lady (she spends a sizeable portion of the year touring with Paula Janis in concerts), The Andrew Martin Report couldn’t be more honored that she’s granted us an interview in preparation of the show.

ANDREW MARTIN: What made you decide to return to cabaret after such a long absence?

CAROLE DEMAS: I realized I was growing older, and I felt strongly that singing songs that speak to me and sharing that experience with an audience is an integral part of who I am. At this point, opportunities to sing don’t necessarily come your way. You have to make them happen; it’s a use-it-or-lose-it situation. Cabaret is about putting your own performance together–the songs, the dialogue, the flow–it’s a very creative process, and I want to tackle it while I still can. I have so much to sing about–more and more, as time goes on–and I have the perspective now that comes from being in my seventies and, thankfully, still able to sing. Cabaret, as we see it in various cities in the USA today, is becoming a flexible genre. There are those who prefer to preserve it in what might be seen as its purest form–singers presenting their personal view of The Great American Songbook. These classic, timeless songs never get old. They are forever witty, enjoyable, beautiful, and certainly deserve their highly-respected place in our musical history, but even many of the purists are open to the idea that the songbook is growing as time goes by. Songs from Broadway (which has always been married to the classic songbook material), jazz, some ethnic music, folk, certain pop songs and other material are being successfully embraced by the intimacy and personal interpretation of cabaret. So there’s a range of choice, and there are lots of ways to succeed or fail. A singer’s choices are a reflection of the singer–what moves you, what suits your vocal abilities–all kinds of things come into play. It’s also a collaborative process, with a musical director, often a director, too, and sometimes other musicians. Challenging. Defining, in a way. It takes a lot of discipline and creative energy, and mostly it takes a lot of passion. Without that, it’s just too difficult. It isn’t generally lucrative, either. You’re lucky to break even, but the passion keeps you going. I told my husband today that although I look younger than my years, I’m physically and emotionally feeling the changes that time brings about at this point in my life. It comes to me that to deal with the forces of nature, you kind of have to be one–or at least try!

AM: You speak in the show about your childhood in Brooklyn, but don’t tell us much about what drew you to a life in the theater. Can you illuminate us about how and why that happened?

CD: I was born with the gift of a singing voice. My parents both had beautiful natural singing voices, and all four of us got the gene. My parents encouraged me and made sure I got good training when the time came–but I was a shy child, slow to physically mature, and extremely insecure about singing in front of people. We were not a showbiz family. Singing at assembly in school, or in church, terrified me to the point of feeling ill, but still, the drive was there. In my secret heart, I imagined a career as an actress, but I didn’t believe I was good enough to actually do it. I planned to be a writer, or a teacher. I loved children and it turned out I was a good teacher. In college, at the University of Vermont, I auditioned for a few shows and got leading roles. I found it was easier to sing in musicals where I was playing the part of a person other than myself (even though I brought a lot of myself to the process). This was so liberating! Out there on the stage, singing roles in operas and musicals, I felt a resounding “yes” filling me up inside and got the message–this was really who I was.

AM: Was The Fantasticks your first major show?

CD: No, my first major show was Morning Sun in 1963, Fred Ebb’s first book musical, with an earlier writing partner, Paul Klein. It starred Patricia Neway and Bert Convy. I had worked with the Champlain Shakespeare Festival in Vermont, playing small roles and singing with Roy Kelly, and guitarist Chuck Eldred, in a concert of Shakespearean music before each show. After college, I went to NYU Graduate School of Education to earn teaching credentials so I could survive, and I began teaching grades 1-6 in the New York City school system. It’s a long story, Paula Janis  and I ended up teaching kindergarten together, in a double-enrollment classroom in a what was a very rundown area in Brooklyn in the early 1960s. We did a lot of singing with the children, and then, based on the work I had done in Vermont, we formed a quartet with our brothers, Jonathan Rosen and Alex Demas, and found we had a blend made in heaven. We sang as minstrels, The Festival Line Singers, for the NY Shakespeare Festival at The Delacorte in Central Park, for several seasons. How that happened is a crazy story in itself; it was a gig we created and brought to them, they liked it, it was a huge hit, many agents saw us there and a number of them called me about representation. Agent Eva Slane sent me up for the ingénue lead in Morning Sun, and after an audition that scared me silly (my first one ever for a real role in New York), I got the part. Every girl waiting to audition in the alley looked like Brigitte Bardot in false eyelashes and a low-cut sundress. I had worn no makeup and my younger sister’s clothes–my wardrobe at the time consisted mostly of my teaching outfits, selected to make me look at least old enough to be in charge of a classroom! The show was an enormous experience, full of talent but too dark for the critic’s taste, and closed quickly. I did some substitute teaching and some regional theatre, including playing Luisa in The Fantasticks at what became the Milwaukee Rep. To play that role in New York was a dream of mine, and it came true in 1966. It was an opportunity to do eight shows a week in a long run of a successful show (for forty dollars a week, at first, and later a big fat eighty dollars!). I learned so much. My fellow actors were brilliant, good people. It was a golden time.

AM: You’ve spoken of how you and Paula first met when you were fourteen. How did that happen? And did you both always know from the start that you wanted to work together on something like “The Magic Garden?”

CD: Paula and I met as sophomores, singing in the Mixed Chorus in Midwood High School in Brooklyn, in 1955. We’ve been friends now for fifty-seven years! We had no idea that we’d be creating and performing together as Carole and Paula of “The Magic Garden” in 1972! Some of the seeds of that partnership were sewn in our teaching together ten years earlier. The show happened because WPIX auditioned me to be the host of a cartoon show as part of their effort to satisfy The Children’s Television Act of the time. I suggested something different, with Paula and me as a team, and it came to be!

AM: The stories of No No Nanette prior to Broadway have become legendary, up to and including the fact that you were cast in the title role and then replaced unexpectedly. What was that experience like? Do you have any regrets about not having gone on to do the show?

CD: Getting Nanette was totally thrilling! I remember waiters at Joe Allen, who had heard the news, dancing around my table there to congratulate me! A Broadway show!! WOW!! The title role!! WOW!! The musical director wanted a different spin on the role, not a typical soubrette, and while I was certainly a soprano, he lowered the keys of the songs, looking for a slightly different sound. I gave him, he said, exactly what he wanted. I was in heaven! The director, Burt Shevelove, had been ill and hospitalized during the auditioning and casting. On his return, working with a cast he had not personally chosen, he found me–a strong singer but not a real dancer, which is apparently what HE wanted (I was studying tap like a madwoman and I did learn to walk on a ball–a skill I never used again!). They had seemed happy with what I was doing with the role. I adored Ruby Keeler and Patsy Kelly. The cast was wonderful, but there were various problems not having to do with me, and the second act wasn’t coming together very well at that point. We were opening in Boston, and they fired me as I was packing to leave. It was a shock, a heartbreak, and my first horrifying look at how tough the business of show can be. The whole story is described in gory detail in The Making Of No No Nanette, by Don Dunn. Ruby and Patsy both called me to say how sorry they were and that they had no idea this was about to happen. Susan Watson was lovely in the role, and I spent a long, long time in emotional recovery. The presence of the old-time movie stars had inspired a lot of press and excitement about this show, so my firing was a widely-known horror story; I had no hiding place. My agent negotiated a settlement for me, since the show was shaky at that point, and the future of it was in doubt. It turns out I’d have been better off continuing to take my run-of-the-play salary for the duration of the run, which was long and profitable. It was a very painful time. Of course I wish I could have gone on with it, and I deeply regret having lost that chance. This can be a devastating business, and I learned that the hard way.

AM: What were your initial thoughts about Grease, and about Sandy as a character? Did it ever surprise you that it became the longest-running show on Broadway at the time? How did you feel about the film version?

CD: Grease was a leap of faith for all of us. As actors, we were happy to be cast in a show. We were working! Grease was very different, the audience appeal of the 50s had not been fully explored on Broadway, many of the characters were tough–the Chicago production, where it all started, had different music for the most part, and less of it, and was darker and too foul-mouthed (although authentic) for Broadway. Its transformation to a Broadway show was a process we were all working in the middle of. The cast was amazing–they made those characters live, and audiences really cared about them. They were inventive and often hilarious, full of energy, teenaged angst and charisma-strong singers and actors. We pulled together, and have loved each other ever since. The camaraderie was palpable. Every single cast member made a huge professional and emotional contribution, and none of us had any idea if it would survive. Everyone worked so hard–director Tom Moore, choreographer Pat Birch, musical director Louis St. Louis, the designers, the tech people–all under the watchful eye of producers Ken Waissman and Maxine Fox, who took a huge risk with this unprecedented piece. Changes came and went until we were dizzy. Jim Jacobs grew up with the Grease characters. He idolized them. He was their friend and their mascot–the “Doody” with his guitar. They were a rowdy, irreverent bunch, bent on survival despite their lack of privileges. He told me that by the time he and Warren Casey began working on the Chicago version, many of Jim’s “greaser” friends were headed for dead or in jail, but still he adored them, and Grease was his tribute to them. You can imagine how complicated it was, keeping the genuine grit of the characters, preserving some of the rough language, while constructing and deconstructing something appropriate for a Broadway audience. There was a fair amount of healthy upheaval. Tom Moore wrestled with the language and got the balance just right. Naturally, Jim and Warren were reluctant to jettison some of the harsher reality that had made the earlier version a kind of cult hit in Chicago. In the film, and in many future productions (and there have been endless numbers of them!), Grease became softer, but our first Broadway edition was purposefully edgy, yet extremely appealing. Previews were a blur of new numbers, new scenes…we just hung on and gave it our all. As for the film, it reached out to a huge audience all over the world. It was an absolute smash, well cast, well done, and full of changes. Like many films based on Broadway shows, it was not a simple film version of the stage show. The iconic status of Grease owes a lot to the popularity of the film. The cast was largely made up of really talented stage actors and singers, who enhanced the film and continued to have terrific careers in film, television and on stage. As far as the character of Sandy, I was THERE in high school in the late 50s. I WAS that girl. Even back then, there was something exciting and mysterious about those good-looking bad boys in the leather jackets. I loved them from afar. I knew Sandy inside out. My personal goal was to make her shine, so you could understand why Danny would jeopardize his “king of the hill” position for her, when he could have any girl he wanted. The other kids were a colorful bunch. I was fearful Sandy would be mild and pretty and not very interesting compared to the rest of them, so I gave her everything I had. I wanted her to have a kind of innocent passion that threw off Danny’s cool and drew him like a magnet. I think I managed to do that; I was thirty-two years old and finally got the boy in the black leather jacket! The audience wanted those kids to be OK, and they wanted Sandy to triumph. In the end, everyone wins–a good story. Unfortunately, the critics, for the most part, didn’t like it or didn’t get it. A few had some good things to say, but most of them didn’t think much of it. Our opening night party, as the reviews came in and were read, was pretty dismal. However, the audiences loved it. They were screaming, shouting, excited and having a fabulous time. Word of mouth, and some clever promotion, brought them our way and audiences began to build. Grease is clever and funny and heartbreaking all at once. Those kids were so lost, struggling to find themselves–but you had to love them.

AM: Can you describe the process of doing both Grease and “The Magic Garden” at the same time? Was it particularly grueling? Particularly fun? A little of both?

CD: I’m certainly not the only actor you know who was working two jobs at once–and many work day jobs along with their performance schedules. I have known actors who played roles in shows at night and in soaps during the day. That takes incredible stamina and devotion. I was also auditioning for commercials while Grease was running, and sometimes even shot one as long as they were prepared to get me out of there in time to get to the theatre! I did about two hundred commercials over maybe twenty years. Most of them were good ones, national spots–they kept me going through the harder times. There were long stretches without a single day off, but I committed myself to being entirely present in everything I did–giving it my all. Fortunately, although it was difficult at times, I think I was not guilty of doing a sloppy or careless performance. Energy was key, and I had a lot of it in the 70s (no drugs–honest!). There’s a lot to be grateful for if you can manage to make a living doing what you truly love. That said, my dual roles in Grease and “Magic Garden” were difficult, because when Grease began, we were working on a Broadway contract at the Eden Theatre, which was off the Broadway grid. We played a five-show weekend from Friday night through Sunday night–a typical off-Broadway schedule at the time. Monday was my only day off. I got up at 5 AM, arrived at the WPIX studios at 7, and Paula and I (and our amazing puppeteer and friend, Cary Antebi) spent the day in The Magic Garden. We completed one show a day at first. There was an outline, but no written dialogue. The shows were shot in real time, with almost no cuts. We rolled along for ten minutes and more at a stretch–a freewheeling, improvisational visit that extended our real friendship out to all of those children who joined us. You had to be on your toes. I was pretty tired sometimes, but the joy of it kept me going, and Paula and I had such a great relationship–we were able to bring ourselves, our lives, our talents together in a way that really worked. It was a labor of love. We joined the two writers for meetings and brainstorming, provided the station with some program ideas and lists of songs, stories we could perform and childhood memories we wanted to share, rehearsed and put together musical arrangements in the basement of the Eden Theatre. Paula brought me something to eat and had her first baby, Victoria, in a carrier on her back. We made a hundred dollars a week each, and never had the brains to protect any of the material we actually created. After awhile, we shot up to two-and-a-half shows each Monday, and when we had completed enough of them, the show went from once a week to every day. We made fifty-two of them. They ran and ran, children grew up and others came along, and “The Magic Garden” was on the air for twelve-and-a-half years. The Children’s Television Act was rescinded by the Reagan administration, and a new station manager decided that the construction of the show, which had almost no commercial blocks built in, wasn’t earning enough income, and yanked it from the schedule. We still had a big audience–as big as Sesame Street and Mister Rogers. People mourned and called and wrote, to no avail. Paula and I had been performing live for years by that time. These live shows and our recordings kept the garden growing and here we are, forty years later, with old fans and new. Amazing!

AM: What can you tell us about The Baker’s Wife, and what that experience was like, as well as how you feel about the show never quite making it as the success it was predicted to become?

CD: Well, I introduced “Meadowlark” to the world. In a way, I’ve laid my claim to it (inasmuch as any performer can do that), and have had the joy and challenge of it ever since. It is gorgeous, multi-layered–I find new things in it all the time. I suffered terribly at the hands of The Baker’s Wife, but I have my way with “Meadowlark,” critically-acclaimed recently, as “fully realized…an astonishing interpretation,” “thrillingly sung,” “spectacular,” “…transported the entire room,” “I’m obsessed with her version,”etc. It’s almost hard to live up to, but this is one of Stephen’s most brilliant gorgeous songs, and I hope to keep singing it for a long time.

AM: Does it ever surprise you to have become a star of children’s programming in the eyes of so many people who are now in their forties?

CD: Yes! It surprises both Paula and me–and delights us and fills us with endless wonder and satisfaction. I used to tell stories to my sister and brothers and the younger kids on the block when I lived on East 39th Street in Brooklyn. I made up tales that continued from day to day, as we gathered on my front stoop. I never imagined that this was fortuitous! Paula and I have the best fans in the world; people from every corner of life, many who share their love and memories of our show with their own children now. The constant emails are astonishing testament to how “The Magic Garden” changed people’s lives, gave them comfort, made them feel safe, developed their love of music, remains a part of them in the most vivid and deeply-affectionate way. We don’t do as many live performances as we used to, but we keep on trucking as well as we can. We’ll be doing two shows on April 1st at Boulton Center in Bay Shore–part of our year-long celebration of the fortieth birthday of “The Magic Garden.” Meeting our fans and their children after these shows (hundreds of them stay to talk to us) is a revelation. They are full of things they have saved up to tell us–they are all smiles and tears–they are a gift. They are thrilled to find that our friendship was real and continues to be. We could not ask for more than the inspiration we receive from these amazing fans. We aren’t Madonna or anything, but our fans have built Carole and Paula and Magic Garden Facebook sites of their own, and we are surprised and thrilled to find that there are something like thirty-eight thousand friends out there. We can’t possibly keep up, and we’re grateful to the hosts of those sites. Their enthusiasm is astonishing!

AM: How did you come to choose your song selections for the new cabaret show? Was it strictly your own ideas, or did (musical director) Ian Herman have any input as well? And how did you and Ian first come to work together?

CD: My song selections are things I have grown to love over fifty-two years of a career, and life before that! Changes in the business–in the kinds of shows that appeared on Broadway over the years–presented vocal challenges. How to keep the “line” of a well-trained legit voice, and still sing the shows that were coming along without destroying your voice; I learned to do it. I no longer sing legit material, but I still have a big range, which gives me a chance to sing a variety of things. I sing what I love, what is meaningful to me. I bring that to my audience. It’s eclectic, to say the least. Ian and I became friends and collaborators when he accompanied a class that met weekly in my apartment. We were actor/singers who had all studied with Warren Robertson, so we had a mutual approach to our work. We were mostly people who were teachers as well as actors, or had starred on Broadway. We took no prisoners. It was the most difficult work. I learned more in those two years, from my fellow actors, than at any other intense time of study in my life. Most of the songs are things I want to sing because of what they say. Ian tends to make choices that are more musically based. It’s a good combination. Over the past thirty-five years or so, Ian has become a dear friend. This kind of intense creative work encourages, in fact, almost demands, an emotional as well as professional intimacy. It’s very open–can even be very raw. There are laughs and tears, mistakes and pleasures. You get to know each other pretty well, and the mutual respect, the love of music, the explorations, the arguments, the “good finds” lead to a special bond. Ian is a brilliant pianist, composer and arranger, and he also has a good heart and a wicked sense of humor. He accompanied my lifelong extraordinary voice teacher, Felix Knight, and understands the vocal technique that is the basis of my singing. We learn from each other. He brought the wonderful Sean Harkness on guitar to our collaboration and that has begun a whole new chapter of friendship and creativity. Paula is always there, her fine-tuned eye and ear looking out for me. I am so lucky to have her–to have them all–in my life. MAC has helped me, as have other willing members and singers. There’s a lot of support in New York City if you know where to look for it (I’m learning). You can’t do this alone–or at least, I can’t.

AM: What is an average day like for the Carole Demas of today, if there is such a thing?

CD: That’s a question with a lot of answers! My husband, Stuart Allyn, is a sound engineer/acoustician/audio-visual designer. He does a lot of work on location, and his designing is done in his office here. Paula and I each have offices at home, but our main office is here. We live on a property with many trees and a pond, on the edge of a woodland nature preserve, have two dogs, two cats, and my turtle, who has been with me since 1964. I clean the cat pans and scoop the poop, and do what everyone who lives with animals does–and our lives are richer because our animals are a part of every day. I am a passionate gardener; I work long hours all summer on our three acres of property. It’s very physical. and I love it and groan and moan when tackling the rocks and the roots and the clay is difficult. I do cooking and cleaning and laundry. Sometimes I have part-time help, but not always. I feed birds, and contribute to the Great Backyard Bird Count every year. We are active in our community, especially in environmental preservation efforts. I sing for benefits here and in New York and elsewhere, and do other kinds of volunteer work. I research songs, and rehearse in a terrific setup Stuart has made for me, with a mic so I can tell where I am vocally, and what it might sound like in a venue with tech. We sometimes have little performances here, so he has lit an area by the piano with a few stage lights! He mixes much of what I sing. I am so lucky to be with this wonderful man for over thirty years now! All this activity is good for me and keeps my motor running, although sometimes I think what I really need to do is shut it off now and then! We have no children (not how I dreamed it would be, but we’re OK). We are very involved with our large families. This house, which Stuart designed, is a place where big family gatherings are very much at home. We have friends for dinner outside all summer long. Our friends and family are blessings we cherish. Our home is big, beautiful and rustic, celebrates the beauty of what is outside, and hopefully nourishes the people we are lucky enough to share it with. It’s an ongoing project for twenty-five years now. There are daily chores, obviously, but no two days are ever the same. I do get tired, and wish I were maybe fifty again sometimes, but I can honestly say that I have never been bored in my life.

AM: Are there any additional frontiers you’d still like to conquer, in terms of show business or otherwise?

CD: I’d like to write books–a novel or two, a memoir–I have so many thoughts. This is no small fantasy, but it takes much more focus and discipline than I have to give it right now, and of course there’s no way to know if I’d be any good at it. My cousin, Corinne Demas, is a college professor, and a superb and successful writer. Being close to her and her lifelong dedication to her craft has made it clear to me that one does not become a good writer just by wishing it were so! If I am blessed with a very long life, I hope to try–I can do it sitting down! I wish I had done roles in film. Too old now, alas, unless some unexpected chance comes along. I did a fair amount of television and a film or two of no great import. I’d like to study and become a master gardener. But I’m running out of time!

One can’t more strongly express how important it is to make the time to catch Carole Demas on Wednesday, February 15th at 7 PM at the Laurie Beechman Theater, 407 West 43rd Street. Those who can’t should visit her website. Be there or be square, as they might say in Grease!