Kevin On Kabaret :: Enlightened Journeys
"I believe that the entertainment element of the performing arts is first and foremost. But I don’t like to pander or condescend. So what’s wrong with a little enlightenment with the entertainment, to give the audience something to chew on and think about when they go home, that isn’t a part of the 90-minute show?" --Andre DeShields
At a meeting of the American Theatre Wing last year, Emmy winner and two-time Tony nominee Andre DeShields told his audience, "I’ve never had a day job in my forty-two years in the profession."
That trend continues for the actor/singer/dancer/ choreographer/director/writer/educator: he is now rehearsing four separate shows.
I recently spoke with DeShields about his upcoming two-night-only stint of his second cabaret show this year, "I Put a Spell on You," at the Laurie Beechman Theatre on Oct. 5 and 12 at 11:00 p.m. This follows a three-night run of "Black By Popular Demand," which ran at the same venue in May and played to sold-out crowds and standing ovations.
"By putting it at 11:00, we’re sure that the people who are there want to be there," DeShields told me.
One of the most moving moments in the spring show was a segment devoted to "Confessions of P.I.M.P. [Positive Individual Making Progress]," a piece DeShields is writing. I asked him if more of that was in store for the new show.
"I don’t have the wherewithal to do it in a traditional workshop setting, so we’re doing it in cabaret repertory in four parts," he said. "’I Put a Spell on You’ is the second part; the fourth will be ’Confessions of a P.I.M.P.’ The cabaret format allows me to entertain and also experiment with new material I’m creating." DeShields then added, "I think the reaction to ’Black By Popular Demand’ was a vote of confidence."
As I noted in my review of the show in May, DeShields not only entertains, but uplifts and challenges the audience as well. "Art and craft is my ministry," he stated. "My ministry doesn’t have an overt political patina, but it gets in there. Everything we do is political-the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the people we love-so we’d better make that an important part of our daily lives. Life is not a passive activity, you have to be fully involved."
Indeed, DeShields involves mind, soul and body-in the spring show, the 66-year-old made the audience gasp when he did a backwards somersault across the small stage. "You want to make the audience gasp and then keep moving on like a locomotive," DeShields said.
In addition to "I Put a Spell On You," DeShields will be part of Mark Nadler’s "Defying Gravity" benefit for Art Start at Carnegie Hall on Oct. 14, starring in "Knock Me a Kiss" at the Crossroads Theater in November, is working on a charitable project for children at the National Dance Institute, and is rehearsing the new musical "Bonfire Night" (National Alliance for Musical Theatre) for Oct. 12 and 13.
"How do you do it all?" was my obvious question to him.
"I’m doing what I love to do, so I can do it 24/7, 365 days a year," he answered.
In a career that has taken him from his Tony-nominated roles in "Play On" and "The Full Monty" and his Emmy-winning turn in "Ain’t Misbehavin’" as well as dramatic turns in "King Lear," "Death of a Salesman," "Inherit the Wind," and so many more, I asked him what was left that he wanted to do.
"From the commercial canons, I’d like to do ’The King and I,’" he said without hesitation. "Beyond that, I’d like to correct what I’ve done incorrectly and help others to live their authentic lives as best they can."
I can’t say it fervently enough: to see the legendary DeShields up close and personal, get your tickets to "I Put a Spell On You" now. It is likely to be an experience you’ll never forget . . .
Amy’s long journey
It’s been a long seven-year journey to Amy Oestreicher’s cabaret debut but she finally arrives with a story unlike any other. In 2005, the starry-eyed high school senior was all set to embark on her dream of studying musical theater in college and then conquering Broadway, but fate intervened. Amy had a sudden blood clot and while on the operating table, her stomach exploded.
Now, after near death, a couple months in a coma, two dozen surgeries, three years of living on a feeding tube, and ongoing healing, Amy arrives at The Triad Theatre with her show "Gutless And Grateful"-Oct. 19, 21 and 26.
"We just did it for a bunch of friends and supporters last night, and they came away from it so uplifted and happy and grateful, which is exactly what I wanted," Amy, now 25, told me from her home in Connecticut. "I don’t think I could have made the act if it were going to be all about poor me. And I couldn’t have survived if my family didn’t make a joke out of the whole thing." She told me how the family once sneaked her out of ICU to take her shopping and of her father microwaving his favorite foods in the garage because they didn’t want Amy smelling the food that she could not eat.
Amy admitted there were dark days as well. "People told me I’d never dance or sing again," she said. "But they never told me I’d never eat for three years, we just took that day by day. So every day I had to find that one thing to get me through."
Making things happen
She picked up a paintbrush for the first time. "Theater was taken away from me so I had to think out of the box; I had to examine who I was without that plan of who I thought I was," she went on. "Art allowed me to express what was complicated and painful."
In 2011, her paintings were exhibited at a show in Westport. That same year, she appeared with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb on "The Today Show." While there, she met Gifford’s friend and collaborator David Friedman. "Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to do a cabaret show and I was a geek who always was finding out about new composers," she related. "So when I saw him, I asked him, ’Do you want to work on a cabaret act with me?’" Sometimes all it takes is asking. Friedman has mentored her through the process of putting her show together.
The show will premiere Friedman and Gifford’s song, "Still Alive," as well as a new song by Oestreicher herself, and will also include mostly theater songs.
"When you have to cut off a primal instinct like eating, it can make you very numb," Amy told me. "Getting back to performing has allowed me to open up that part of me, that performing soul that you can never lose."
As it is, Amy has accomplished more in sickness than most do in a lifetime of good health. In addition to her painting and new cabaret show, she has started a chocolate business and written a book she hopes to have published. And she has applied to college for next year. "I don’t believe things happen for a reason," she said. "I believe you have to make things happen for a reason."
Whew. Welcome back, Amy Oestreicher. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for you . . .
Jane Scheckter has just released her fourth CD, "Easy to Remember," an ambitious collection of lesser known songbook standards, and featuring some of the very best musicians in the biz: Tedd Firth (piano), Jay Leonhart (bass), and Peter Grant (drums), plus Bucky Pizzarelli (guitar), Warren Vache (cornet), Harry Allen (tenor sax), Aaron Weinstein (violin). Scheckter’s rich, creamy alto sensually caresses the ballads and on the uptempos, she expresses Ella-like jubilation. Perfect for a romantic fall evening.
Sensation Tony DeSare opens for two weeks at 54 Below, also on Oct. 2... Jessica Sherr returns with her terrific one-woman show "Bette Davis Ain’t for Sissies"-channeling the younger movie icon-at The Triad on Oct. 10 and 11 . . .
Longtime cabaret treasure Vickie Phillips returns to Don’t Tell Mama on Oct. 11, offering a program of mostly contemporary composers . . . stunning vocalist Jennifer Sheehan reprises her ’60s show "I Know a Place," at the Metropolitan Room, Oct. 25-27 . . .
The busy and super-talented Tituss Burgess releases his new CD "Comfortable" with a show at New World Stages on Oct. 14 . . . the award-winning duo Barnaby Bright release their new CD "The Longest Day" at Joe’s Pub on Oct. 23 . . . Miss Coco Peru returns to the Laurie Beechman Theatre, Oct. 18-21 . . . Andrea Marcovicci opens a month-long engagement at Café Carlyle beginning Oct. 2 . . . and on the same night, Betty Buckley opens her month-long gig at Feinstein’s . . .
And that’s just a sampling of a very busy October! I will surely be out a lot. I’ll be back here next month. Until then . . . I’ll see you over cocktails.