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Not the show closing next week with Alan Cumming, but the institution celebrated in that show....


I have spent a number of evenings the last two months in cabaret venues around the city and don't think they've been touted here much.


Last night I saw Ben Vereen do his show at 54 Below. I don't think I ever saw him live...but loved the recorded version of Pippin with William Katt, loved him in Hair, Sweet Charity, Jesus Christ Superstar films...Roots etc. He really was/is an entertainment icon and the opportunity to see him in this intimate venue was irresistible.


He did not disappoint. After a rather amateur "intro" video he appeared all smiles to sing Magic To Do. And then spent forty minutes recounting some of the great points of his early career. Auditioning for the High School of Performing Arts. Auditioning for Fosse. Fun tales and good arrangements that suited his voice. Just as I feared he was winding down, he launched into a salute to his great pal Sinatra (who knew?) and the tone of the whole evening changed and it became a very Vegas event. He sang tributes to Charles Aznavour, Sammy Davis Jr. and the Rat Pack...and did proud by all of them.


He wound down by speaking about the accidents that almost killed him in the early 90s, and his affirmation and gratitude for life was extraordinary. And he did a lovely rendition of Stand By Me, reinterpreted as Stand Up for the Performing Arts, which was wonderful.


It was a great night that fulfilled my expectations.


Particulars: He's there this week, I think thru Sat. (Website being updated as I type this, not letting me check.) Cover was $45 with a $25 minimum. The room is small and classy, and his 85 minute show definitely was worth the money. His three piece band (piano bass drums) is great and works very well with him. This is a fun evening for fans of Stephen Schwartz, Fosse, and the Five Guys of the Vegas strip.


Monday I went to Don't Tell Mama to see Karen Mason, who is a reigning cabaret and Broadway regular. She opened her show with Something's Coming, the same arrangement with which she opened that room at DTM in the 80s. I saw her as the standby for Glenn Close in Sunset, and it was GREAT to hear someone who could really SING that score.


She sang cabaret room standards, and songs I have never heard before, but she really is the epitome of what is great about cabaret. Great voice, great arrangements, strong patter, (but not too much) and a presence that is both personal and professional in a small room. (Packed with about 70 people.) $20 plus 2 drinks. She's there Sunday and Monday thru March 30. Highly recommended if like the American Songbook, intimate performances, or especially if you've ever thought "Some day I going to check out one of those places."

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Somewhat along these same lines...


I really enjoyed Cush Jumbo's 'Josephine & I' at Joe'sPub this week.


It's not cabaret exactly. More like a 1-person show with a narrative and some tech presented in a cabaret space. The ticket's a bit higher ($50) but there's no drink/food minimum (unlike most Joe'sPub shows), so it might balance out. The piece is entertaining enough but Jumbo is truly extraordinary, almost certainly on her way to being a major star. It's great to encounter such a formidable talent in such an intimate space.

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I've been to 54 Below twice. I loved it. First time I saw the quartet Well Strung and the next time I saw a foursome singing the Mamas and the Papas. They were both great. One of the women in the Mamas and Papas group had actually sung in a later incarnation of the group with John Phillips and Denny Doherty.


As I'm not usually in NYC and don't know much about venues there, it was really neat when I posted a video in the Gallery the other day that featured Broadway actor Wesley Taylor singing in his skivvies (along with the group The Skivvies), and I recognized the show was at 54 Below.



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