Kevin On Kabaret :: Top 13 Of 2013
Those who decry the state of live entertainment these days are probably not taking a close look at the endlessly inventive state of cabaret. On a relatively miniscule budget (compared to theater), performers are putting out thought-provoking and sometimes dazzling entertainment that, dollar for dollar, is often more worthy of your hard-earned dollars.
This year, after seeing about eighty shows (and, sadly, missing too many more), I've had the difficult task of narrowing down my favorites to a baker's dozen. Here are my picks for the Top 13 cabaret acts of 2013 (list is alphabetical):
Carole J. Bufford
It’s hard to say how high this big-voiced pixie’s star will rise. She wows and wows and wows every time she takes the stage. She riveted audiences at the beginning of the year with her show "Body and Soul" and then commandeered the Cabaret Convention when she closed explosively on opening night. Not to be missed.
Like the finest Veuve Clicquot, Champagne Pam is high quality in every way: she has poise and grace, and her astounding vocals navigate with ease from jazz to pop to theater songs. With "Daddy’s Little Girl," she added a measure of warmth and assured storytelling. Personal and poignant.
Although only twenty-three years old, I have never seen a more confident debut than Chang’s "Steppin’ Off the Sidewalk." Fearlessly edgy, Chang wrote most of the songs, and showed himself to be a fine singer, comic, dancer, and even clarinet player. In his spare time, he writes musicals based on Henry James’ novellas, blogs, and hosts a web series. Seriously, where do we go from here?
Dozier is the class act among cabaret’s male vocalists. He emanates joy when he steps onto the stage, and delivers songbook favorites with glorious, sunny abandon. Hearing Dozier, you really do believe "Love’s Never Lost" (the name of his second, Grammy-considered CD, released earlier this year).
Eric Yves Garcia
Garcia, who has been entertaining at the piano at Chez Josephine’s for some time, stepped out as a headliner this year with his first solo show and a memorable turn at the Cabaret Convention. Pianist? Remarkable. Singer? Aces. But who knew he could be so damned funny? Garcia is the complete package, and if America doesn’t embrace him, I’ll be mighty baffled.
Gay Camp The Musical
The popular Fringe Festival show of 2012 revamped for the cabaret stage at the Duplex in 2013, with amazing results. Written by Philip Mutz and Susan-Kate Heaney, and directed by Phillip Fazio, the laughs never stopped. How Fazio used that tiny stage to direct three brilliant actors (Mutz, Ken Urso, Christian Mansfield) playing about a dozen roles was like a magic show come to life. "Gay Camp" deserves a long run.
Believe it or not, this dynamic veteran of stage and screen tried her hand at cabaret this year for the first time in her illustrious career. Energetic, engaging, occasionally snarky, and always inspiring, Gillette took us through the songs and stories of her life. I dare say, this septuagenarian has a bright future in the clubs.
This opera-trained singer has stratospheric vocals, and yet she possesses the common touch. Laurain lifts you up to the clouds and also embraces you in familial warmth. In a show that leap-frogged through a century of Broadway favorites, Laurain mastered old and new with equal flair.
This young lady was everywhere this year: the Cabaret Convention, trying out new material with Bill Zeffiro at Don’t Tell Mama, debuting at The Carlyle, and, most memorably, presenting her take on the music of Tom Waits (and recording an album of it too) at the Metropolitan Room. The material would not immediately seem a match for the often-sugary Mulder, but she transformed herself into a serious interpreter, letting the words of the songsmith speak for themselves. Atmospheric and haunting, the show showed there is much more to Mulder than meets the eye.
A veteran of the clubs for a few decades, Phillips has become a master of the form and a blueprint for how to do it right: pick great material, act and sing it with conviction, love what you are doing, and love your audience. That’s all it is, kids, but don’t be fooled: What Vickie Phillips does is hard work; she just makes it look easy. I have never left one of her shows with dry eyes.
Roe is another veteran who came up in the days of Reno Sweeney and other classic clubs. In recent years, she has made a dazzling comeback. This year, the diva’s tribute to Tom Waits was as different from Mulder’s as it could be, and yet a blockbuster in its own way: Roe took us back to 1978 in New York and delivered a personal, gritty, take-no-prisoners approach to the material. Roe’s show sticks to the ribs long after it’s over.
Dwight Thomas Vaughn
In 2013, Vaughn completely reinvented himself in an astounding turn. He went country in a big way, releasing his Nashville-recorded CD "In These Genes," with a buoyant CD-release pair of shows at the Iridium. He penned every tune on the recording, and they can stand alongside the best of country music. Vaughn’s transformation was so spot-on, he packed his bags and relocated to Nashville later in the year to give his newfound self the push it deserves in country’s capital.
Technically, Wolk’s "A Wolk On the Wild Side" was a 2012 creation, but I saw it this year, and it was too good not to make my list. The versatile Wolk is a fine singer who can be outrageously funny, razor sharp, imaginatively theatrical, and unexpectedly moving at times. I want to see a whole lot more of Wolk in years to come.
There are just too many acts that came close to making my list, and musicians that deserve a nod, but for Honorable Mention this year, I am going with the city of Boston. Indeed, the city to our north may be our sports rival, but we are sister cities in song, and their vocalists are indeed Boston Strong. This year, several came down to New York to give triumphant performances on our stages: Lynda D’Amour, Brian de Lorenzo, John Minnock, and folk-rock singer/songwriter extraordinaire Amy Correia. May they and other Bostonians continue to visit us and inspire us.