If a Mighty Oak Falls in a Cabaret Forest and Nobody Hears It, Does It Make a Sound?

Posted: February 2, 2012 in Cabaret, Culture, Entertainment, Music, New York City, Nightlife, Performance, Uncategorized

Author’s Note: Your humble reporter is opting for the rare choice of writing this blog in the first person. Normally I don’t choose such a convention of journalism, but I see no other way to write this blog and make it personal than to call regrettable attention to myself. And believe me when I say this will be one of the most difficult articles I have ever had to write. Bear with me, however.

Almost exactly twenty-two years ago tonight, after submitting some samples of my skills to John Hammond at That New Magazine, Inc (the parent company responsible for TheaterWeek, Opera Monthly, Christopher Street, the New York Native weekly newspaper and the then-soon-to-be-revived Night & Day Magazine), I got THE phone call at the office where I was serving as staff support for my day job in the music industry at Warner-Levinson on 68th Street and Broadway. Mr. Hammond informed me that I was officially hired by Night & Day. I was to have a weekly deadline of no less than three cabaret reviews per week, but I was also being given carte blanche to submit any feature articles and interviews I so chose if they passed muster with the editorial staff for acceptability, and also to consider any features or interviews they might wish me to write. They explained the financial arrangements, which were hardly in the millions, but I was twenty-one years old and I didn’t think I should argue with such a thing, especially after having toiled in cabaret since I was a teenager and finally being given the blessed chance to move up somewhat in the community ranks. So I took my first gig, which was writing a small feature about that year’s MAC Awards at Symphony Space. It was published on March 5th and, I’m happy to say, caused a small stir among the cabaretfolk, who were pleasantly surprised to learn that I actually had any talent for anything that could be of use to them besides merely being “that little crazy boy from Queens who used to do bad drag and sang like a histrionic.” For the next two weeks, I reviewed my first cabaret show ever (Peggy Lee at The Ballroom), followed quickly by writing my first feature article (about the show Heart Strings at the Beacon Theater and the big party that followed at the Citicorp Center), my first interview (with Rupert Holmes, just prior to the Broadway opening of his murder mystery Accomplice on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers), and reviewing Judy Carne at the Duplex, Mollie Taylor Martin at Don’t Tell Mama, and various and sundry others. Not to mention being welcomed at a MAC meeting at the Trocadero as though I was the latest Bright Young Thing in town, and soon finding myself on every possible A-list that cabaret had to offer. I also just happened to be dating a certain lyricist at the time who was already extremely well-known on the cabaret beat, so of course he was joining me for every show I had to review and I guess we made a decent-looking couple. And then all of a sudden, I got a phone call from Terrence Womble at David Rothenberg’s office, asking me if I could possibly see it in my heart to review Steve Ross’s new show at the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel.

OK, now, wait a minute. The ALGONQUIN? THE Algonquin? Like, home of the Round Table? Like, one of the most legendary showrooms in New York? Like, a place where even my parents, who had been major cabaretgoers since I was a child, had never been? Really? ME? Little Andrew from Queens? But what came out of my mouth was, “Sure, Terrence, I’d love to. Please put me on the list for a party of two. Jay and I will be there on time and looking forward to it. And please thank David for us.”

So…after a few days spent with trying to figure out what the hell I was gonna wear, how to wear my hair, etc., we went. We got there early enough to have a drink in the lobby first (because apparently, that’s what one DID at the Algonquin), and then the spectacular Arthur Pomposello (who was the best thing to ever happen to the Algonquin when he managed the room in the 1990s) graciously ushered us in. The staff couldn’t have been more fantastic, Steve couldn’t have been more fantastic, and it was the first night I got to meet people like Jeff Harnar and David Staller and KT Sullivan and the very late lamented Buck Buchholz. And there wasn’t one person in that room who could have made me feel more welcome. I was HOME. Jay and I broke up shortly thereafter over a silly misunderstanding, but my invitations to the Oak Room continued quite unabated for several years. Among other things, I was present when Tovah Feldshuh made her cabaret debut there, entitled Tovah…Cross Ovah! I was there to watch KT Sullivan (looking like a diamond in an elegant jewel box) make her debut in the club. I was there to watch Jeff Harnar do one of his first-ever performances of The 1959 Broadway Songbook. I was there when Mel Roy presented a benefit concert featuring Lainie Kazan, Julie Budd, Terri White, Mike Burstyn and a plethora of others. I was there to watch such cherished friends as Tennie Leonard and Angela LaGreca make their first Oak Room appearances. Needless to say, I was there to watch Karen Akers, Andrea Marcovicci and Julie Wilson appear many, many times. I was there for numerous occasions when the radio show New York Cabaret Nights would broadcast from there on WNYE radio, hosted by Steve Ross and featuring such guests as Phyllis Pastore, the Manhattan Rhythm Kings, Angelina Reaux, and the late Anne Francine. And unfortunately, I was NOT there to see such friends of late as Maude Maggart, Emily Bergl and Kat Gang, but I was fully aware and thrilled beyond words.

Several hours ago, we all received the news that the Oak Room is no more. The Algonquin is being renovated and the room will not re-open. And I am desperately saddened. There are entire aspects of my last two decades that are embedded into the glorious oak paneling of that room as though crocheted there personally by God’s almighty hand. These are the moments where I have no choice but to simply (I hate saying this) be a “big boy” and accept that things change.

But it’s unfair. It’s really unfair. And I’m not gonna like this.

God bless you, my darling Oak Room. I loved you well, and I’ll miss you always.

  1. steven lowenthal says:

    Once upon a time the Oak Room was closed for a long while. Then it opened again. The room will be there, and should times get better for the economy and for cabaret, then I’d like to think of the Oak Room as merely becoming dormant. Carry on!

    • Janice Hall says:

      Well, Steven, apparently they are going to DO AWAY with the room entirely, and make it part of the bar, thus assuring that it will never re-open. In all of this, that saddens me the most.

  2. Stephan says:

    I was utterly bereft when I had heard of the closing of The Plush Room in San Francisco. These venues are more often than not, the last vestiges of a type of entertainment that is often the training ground for new stars or a kinder, gentler stage for the old pros. These nightclubs and cabarets are sometimes seen as a poor man’s Broadway but they are so much more than that. They are easily accessible and intimate and fun and they should continue to be given the opportunity to shine.

    • Jimmy Donahue says:

      This made me weepy for many reasons. First, it brought back memories of my years at That New Magazine, where I met so many incredible people. I haven’t thought of John Hammond in years. I was told of his passing, years ago. Ruby Rims helped get me my job there.
      Then there’s the NY Cabaret scene in general. I lived in NY during the most exciting Cabaret years. 88’s was my second home, like it was for many. That’s where I first met Andrew. And Ruby, and how many others? Then there’s the Oak Room…
      Stephan: I agree… when I moved back to SF, the Plush Room was THE ROOM. Josie’s Cabaret was fantastic, but it was more bohemian. The Plush Room was class. Now, we only have The Rrazz Room, at the Hotel Nikko (with sounds and lights designed by some guy named Matt Berman. Anyone?? wink wink). It’s a gorgeous room, and I’ve seen some amazing shows there, but something is lacking. (I’ve heard horror stories regarding the management…) We need another room in SF. Any millionaires reading this?

  3. Julie Reyburn says:

    Actually Steven, they are expanding the bar that is on the other side of the Oak Room and making it bigger…if there is anything left of the Oak Room to lie dormant in our dreams, I’ll be surprised….destroying an icon to make way for an overpriced Marriott Hotel bar. Sad……

  4. Thank you, Andrew, for taking the time to write this.
    The news of the possible demise of the Oak Room is not new news. I said five months ago that I wished MAC had worked to bring major attention to this and start a letter writing campaign along with petitions to save one of the last vestiges of a truly classy high end room just as Erv Raible did at MAC’s inception to thwart the passage of a “cabaret law” that would prohibit more than two people appearing on any cabaret stage at any given time. I hope, as I have done, that every person who is compassionate about cabaret and/or every member of MAC will act as well.
    Richard Skipper

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