Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Remembering Donald Smith...and the changing face of cabaret

Add caption
" Is it worse to be scared than to be bored,that is the question."
-Gertrude Stein

Happy Wednesday!

Last night, I was at The Iridium to bask in the experience of Terese Genecco. I wrote about her on Sunday. Terese did two shows last night as she has once a month for the last three years.
Produced by Scott Barbarino (Scobar Productions), Terese, Scott and her little Big band have hit pay dirt. Terese first became known for her tribute to Francis Faye. Francis Fay called herself the entertainer's entertainer. She was right. Celebrities flocked to see Francis. Terese continues that tradition. There were six in our party last night (including the Kurtzman's, Peggy Herman, and Randi Levine-Miller). We were among the first to be seated.
Because of where I was seated, I had the vantage point of seeing everyone as they arrived. One by one, as people entered the room, I was reminded of Fantasy Island. At the beginning of each episode, Tattoo would exclaim, "The plane! The plane!" . Then that week's celebrity guests would emerge. John DeMarco, Rex Benincasa, Joey Infante, Dana Lorge, Sue Matsuki, Quinn Lemley...the list goes on and on
Last night, novices and established entertainers and performers arrived to celebrate Terese. She did not disappoint. Buy her latest CD recorded live at The Iridium to see what I'm talking about.
As we left, there was a just as an impressive line for the 10PM show including Rex Reed. 

Terese Genecco
As I looked around the room, I at once thought about how lucky Terese is AND, at the same time, how hard she has worked at this. I also can count on one hand the number of people in that room who are serious about their craft and the rest that are just play-acting. Those reading this KNOW, or at least I hope know realistically, which category they fit in to.

It is apparent to anyone at Terese's show last night, that her goal and mission in life is to entertain. I don't think she is thinking about whether or not she will receive awards for her efforts...although they come her way.

When people book a certain number of shows in order to be eligible for an award rather than realistically assessing whether or not they are going to fill a room for all of those required shows, they are not doing anyone any favors. The rooms suffer and sometimes we, as an audience, do as well when a performer gives less than their all because they are down because of the "small" size of the house (Hey, I've seen it happen!)

Over and over, I've seen people put up a house before building their foundation. They shoot for the moon with six shows scheduled when they don't have a following beyond friends and family, they don't have an advertising budget, they don't have a marketing plan.

Then they get upset when those of us who know them don't attend their shows. Just for the record, if I don't attend your shows, 95% of the time, it has everything to do with my schedule and nothing to do with YOU.

I am thrilled when I see someone like Terese Genecco raising the bar to such a high standard. I am dismayed by some of the choices being made today in cabaret and entertainment in general from all media.

Michael Walters and Wanda Richert
This morning, I turned on the Today Show because I was excited about a segment on Costume World in Florida in which I was led to believe Tony Winner Wanda Richert, Peggy Sawyer in the original 42nd Street was to be featured in Broadway least, that is what we were led to believe. Wanda had stopped by Costume World and even put on her ORIGINAL Peggy Sawyer dress from 32 years ago! Michael Walters, who works there as an entertainer, shared with me after the segment aired that he was disappointed that the moment that Wanda was reunited with her original costume was very moving and sadly left on the cutting room floor. Marilynn Wick, who is the founder, president, CEO has poured her blood, sweat, and tears into this collection of Broadway costumes. Without her love for this history, these costumes would be destroyed. Our Broadway heritage is not respected as much as it should be.
I'll tell you ALL what was wrong with that segment. It was more about Jenna BUSH then it was about Costume World and the legacy of Broadway! Clips were shown from the MOVIE versions instead of the Broadway versions (They do exist). At no point was the location, hours, or website mentioned. Was Wanda interviewed? WHY WASN'T THAT THERE? Who was in charge of that segment? The Today Show needs me!

I will be interviewing Wanda Richert next week. 

Donald Smith and Mabel Mercer
I grew up in just outside of Myrtle Beach. I spent a lot of time on the beach. I loved to watch the tide ebbing and flowing especially at high tide, a perfect analogy for the cabaret and entertainment worlds. I realize that many outside of the cabaret community may not know about some of the artists I write about. However, I feel that they are a microcosm of the bigger picture. Since the beginning of this year, we have already seen the demise of the Oak Room at The Algonquin Hotel, we lost Bradshaw who was THE most important chronicler and videography of the cabaret community, this week alone we lost Teri Lynn Paul and Alice of The Five Oaks, and earlier this month, Donald Smith on March 13th. My friend Bob Kellman referred to Donald as the David Merrick of cabaret. Donald was always trying to raise the bar, even if it was by his own gauge, and give cabaret a higher visibility. As KT Sullivan relayed to me, Donald Smith was from Boston and had that buttoned down conservative side which never wavered. He also kept the memory of Mabel Mercer alive. Frank Sinatra referred to Mabel Mercer as his favorite singer. She was a great interpreter and was really about being experienced in a LIVE setting. She didn't translate as well to recordings. Donald took chances with Sidney Myer who he loved as we all do. KT Sullivan said Donald always insisted that men wear a jacket and tie. Sidney was the only one who got away without a tie!

Stephen Holden did a great write-up in the New York Times on Donald Smith. 
Mabel Mercer in the Versailles Room at the St. Regis Hotel

Donald ran The Mabel Mercer Foundation which produced and created the Cabaret Convention for 30 plus years. Interestingly enough that Mr. Smith and the Oak Room came along at about the same time...and both left us about the time. It took me years to appreciate Mr. Smith and his contributions to cabaret. We were not friends.He was cordial to me whenever our paths crossed. I always desired to be on his radar. I regret that I never got the chance to be a part of the cabaret convention under his direction. For many in the cabaret community, if you were chosen to be a part of the convention, you felt that you had arrived. I never was part of the illustrious few who were chosen. People often ask why. Here is the answer.

Mabel Mercer
I used to be one of those performers who put the weight of my career on awards. It truly is about acceptance, always. Carol Channing once said to me, "For every person who likes you, there are an equal number who don't. The sooner you accept that, the easier it is to navigate through life." But we still want that award, that part, that CHANCE! 

I received my first MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs) nomination AND win in 2000. Where did the past 12 years go? It took me 5 years to get my first nomination. In those days there was a screening committee. I wish that would come back! Shortly before I got my first nomination, I was booked at The Plush Room (also gone) in San Francisco. Bruce Phillips had seen my show when I was appearing at Don't Tell Mama. 
Mabel Mercer
He wanted to book me. I had a "manager" at the time who screwed everything up. I didn't find this out till three years later! In September of 1999, I was on the committee for The Actor's Fund Booth for the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids Flea Market. I was collecting items for the flea market when I heard of an incredible singer in San Francisco named Shane Kelly. 
Shane, with her wonderful drawl said, "Honey, there is a guy here in San Francisco that wants to produce you!" After finding out that it was Bruce Phillips, and getting his number from Shane, I gave him a call. After he got over the shock of my calling him, and him finding out that I was no longer with the "manager" in question, he went on to say that he was a fan and that he had a dream of producing me in San Francisco, Carol Channing's home town and a place I had never played but always dreamed of! I asked what he needed for me and he said he would make it happen. He called me three days later to tell me he had booked me for six nights, April 2nd-April 9th 2000! I arrived in San Francisco on March 31st! On April 1st, I appeared on Good Morning, San Francisco as Carol Channing! Happy April Fool's Day! 
Well, that appearance was so successful that reservations were flooding in before I even made it back to the York Hotel where I was staying and which hosted The Plush Room. The next night was a preview performance with press opening. Then we were dark the night after that. Bruce was banking on my reviews. THAT'S how much Bruce believed in me. It paid off and the reviews were raves. And I had a sold out run! On my closing night, I found out that I had won my first MAC Award!

This ALL brings me to Donald Smith AND The Cabaret Convention. The cabaret convention had been so successful in New York that Donald was taking it to select theatres. It was going to be having it's third run in San Francisco in June. Enter Mychelle Colleary who became a fast friend. She came to see my show AT LEAST three times while I was at The Plush Room. 
One night after the show, the subject of the cabaret convention came up. She wanted to know why I wasn't in the line up for the June San Francisco edition. I said, "Call Donald and ask him" AND she did! According to Mychelle, she asked Donald if I was not available or if this was an oversight AFTER telling him about the success of my San Francisco run! Where else but San Francisco should I be appearing in the Convention? His response, "My deah, if we have people like Richard Skipper in the convention, why not plate spinners and jugglers?" Mychelle tried to explain all the reasons why she felt I should be included. He was adamant in his decision. He could never get past "Carol" to know Richard. I chose to boycott him for years. I felt that I didn't want to go to a party that didn't want me. 

In October, Shane Kelly, who I had fallen in love with (as a fan!) was going to be making her New York debut in the NY Cabaret Convention. I chose to break my boycott to support her! Boy, am I glad I went! I saw for the first time Baby Jane Dexter and Ray Jessell. I became fans of both. I also had an epiphany! This was Donald Smith's Cabaret Convention. I accepted that it was HIS vision and his ballgame and he deserved to do it his way. He earned my respect and I continued to go to the convention over the years. I'm sorry we never got to really know each other. I wrote to him about five weeks ago, not knowing that he was ill, requesting to do a blog interview with him. That's when I found out he was ill. 

KT Sullivan
Again, I'm sorry that we were never on the same page but I do tip my hat for the MAJOR contributions he made to the cabaret world and the artists and audiences who HAVE benefited. Alyce Finell and KT Sullivan told me that there will be a public memorial on May 22nd at Town Hall at 6PM. It is very appropriate that it will be held at Town Hall; Donald was instrumental in perser this New York Landmark.
The Cabaret Convention WILL also continue under the guidance of KT Sullivan. The dates are October 17th-19th at Rose Hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center. For more information, please visit The Mabel Mercer Foundation website. 

Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!

                                 Tomorrow's blog will be..Sondra Lee's Memories of Hello, Dolly!

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

  Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

Richard Skipper,
This Blog is dedicated to ALL ARTISTS: Past, present and future and the gifts they give to the world! I WANT YOU TO SUCCEED!

No comments:

Post a Comment