Ivan Danylets and Arjana Vizulis

With Dates in Boston & NYC, Arjana and Ivan Give Cabaret a New Spin

John Amodeo READ TIME: 7 MIN.

There is a new cabaret series that emerged out of the pandemic that could best be described as "A Tale of Two Cities...Cabaret-style." John O'Neil, who books the Josephine's Cabaret Series at Club Café's Napoleon Room in Boston has collaborated with longtime New York booking manager Scott Barbarino, of Manhattan's Iridium, to create a once-a-month exchange of performers from each city. Each month, Scott will present at the Iridium a performer John has just booked in Boston, and vice versa.

Call it silver linings, but audiences of both cities will benefit from the pandemic-enforced live performance hiatus of the past 18-months by having these two creative minds come together to produce this series, enabling Boston audiences to regularly enjoy New York performers and New York audiences to enjoy some of Boston's many talented performers. In Boston, the New York performers will appear on the first Tuesday of each month. The Boston series begins in October, with a young Brooklyn-based couple Arjana and Ivan, who just performed in New York, will appear at the Club Café's Napoleon Room this Tuesday, Oct 5.

Eschewing labels, as millennials often prefer to do, Arjana and Ivan are not simply cabaret, jazz, pop, or rock performers, but seem to blend and fuse many genres together, sometimes taking a song from one genre, but performing it in the style of another. Arjana Vizulis, who has a musical theater background (she was in the National Tour of "Hairspray"), is originally from the Boston area, and Ivan Danylets, a jazz pianist, is from Ukraine, but playing rock music in cover bands brought them together, to give you an idea of their eclectic musical tastes. In between a pair of gigs in Brooklyn and Manhattan, Edge spoke with them while they were on a long-distance drive to Virginia, where they spoke about how they met (cute), found their authentic voices and used Boston as their pandemic hideaway.

Arjana Vizulis

EDGE:: Your repertoire runs the gamut from old jazz standards and Great American Songbook to heavy metal. How would you best describe your musical style?

Ivan: Our musical style is more like a fusion of genres. We blend old retro with modern tunes. Anything from the last one hundred years in our own acoustic jazz-inspired piano vocal style.

EDGE:: How do you present heavy metal or hard rock in an acoustic style?

Arjana: Like for a Led Zeppelin song, any of these hard rock songs still have a melody, and the lyrics still tell a story. The removal of a barrier of restrictions is very freeing. We take what we like and find a new way to interpret the songs in our way. I hear something new out of these songs when we do it in this fresh and exciting way.

Ivan: I like to add something musically that is of my own. I hadn't paid as much attention to lyrics before, but now when I make musical choices, I like to make sure they are in line with the story we are trying to tell. I like to add chords or a groove in a way to make the song sort of my own. How the song speaks to me, so I might change the chords a little, or a riff that really supports the song. It feels as if the song is our own; it might as well have been original.

Arjana: It feels like the most authentic thing I've done in my career. The songs feel like old friends, and we are adding in new ones, but our repertoire takes its own shape and it's very personal.

We do Heart's "Barracuda" with a jazz arrangement that's very fun. Then there's "All of My Love" by Led Zeppelin. We have Bon Jovi tunes, like "Living on a Prayer."

EDGE:: And yet you also perform the old standards.

Arjana: Yes, we bring in the old standards from the great American songbook. "Dream a Little Dream of Me," and "Cheek to Cheek" to name a few.

Ivan Danylets

EDGE:: How did you two first meet?

Ivan: We met working on cruise ships for Carnival Cruise Lines. "Cheek to Cheek" is my personal favorite. It's the tune Arjana and I first jammed on, and I asked her, "Can you sing 'Cheek to Cheek'?" and she was shocked that I asked, but it was fun. I was looking for more ways to perform this song. We often open our gigs with that song. For romantic reasons, we put that song on our first CD, "Us, Now.'"

EDGE:: Though you are based in New York, you spent most of the early pandemic in Boston. How did that come about?

Arjana: I was born and raised in Newton. I went to NYU for college and then moved to NY. I've been in NY for more than half my life. But I love Boston. It's a great city. At the beginning of the pandemic, we were in Boston for over a year. We were staying with my parents. We had been in Japan for an artistic residency in Osaka right before the pandemic. We were supposed to start a cruise ship contract in March 2020. We were in the air on the way to San Francisco to get on the ship, but that was when they locked everything down. When everything shut down, we were lucky enough to live with my parents. At the beginning of the summer we returned to Brooklyn where we live now.

EDGE:: You mentioned your "first" CD, which means there are more. Tell me about your recordings.

Ivan: we have many recordings of our own. The second recording we produced ourselves, right when we were in Japan, and we released it in February 2020 and we were planning a release party for March of 2020 but it was canceled.

In 2017 we released "Us, Now." The second CD is "Caribbean Manhattan," released in 2020, which is a reference to how we met working on cruise ships, many of which are in the Caribbean. The cover is a martini glass with the ocean inside it all in mid-century graphics. I love the colors and geometric style of that period. Arjana, who is also an artist (she sells her own hand-painted stemware) did a sketch for the artwork on a piece of paper, then we sent it to a graphic designer. The CD is a mix of all live tracks from our cruise ship performances. It was the last ship contract we had done. The contract was only for two weeks. But I recorded all the performances from the two weeks. In Japan, we went through all of the recordings and chose the ones we felt would best convey the experience. That album is very personal for us. We call it our musical scrap book. Our memory record from the good times we've spent working on ships together. I've also gotten deeply into production, for "Caribbean Manhattan" I did the mixing and engineering for the whole recording.

EDGE:: Have you performed on any LGBTQ cruises?

Arjana: Not yet, but it would be fun!

Arjana and Ivan will perform on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, 7 PM at the Napoleon Room, Club Café, 209 Columbus Avenue, Boston, MA 02116. No cover. For reservations, visit: https://www.clubcafe.com/club-events/arjana-and-ivan

Watch Arjana and Ivan perform Lady Gaga's "Poker Face":

by John Amodeo

John Amodeo is a free lance writer living in the Boston streetcar suburb of Dorchester with his husband of 23 years. He has covered cabaret for Bay Windows and Theatermania.com, and is the Boston correspondent for Cabaret Scenes Magazine.

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