By Jaz Dorsey
No doubt about it, the highlight of my artistic life would be the 10 years I spent playing piano in the cabarets of NYC, especially as accompanist for the chanteuse known as Topaz. I hoped to keep playing after moving to Nashville, but soon realized two things:
1.) While the clubs and restaurants of NYC and Atlanta and other metropolitan meccas tend to have pianos, clubs and restaurants in Nashville do not. And when they do, one is not welcome to play them. This is strictly a guitar town.
2.) "Cabaret" is not an art form that aligns comfortably with Music City's "Honky Tonk" gestalt, although I must say that playing a breakfast show at Tootsie's is, in it's own way, about as Weimar as you can get. Beer, bagels and the Blues for tourists.
Not to mention Thursday evenings at Bobby's Idle Hour over on Music Row.
But nobody down here calls this 'cabaret" and, with the exception of Ginger Newman and her occasional cabaret shows, up until now, cabaret hasn't had much of a life in Nashville.
The driving force is the highly successful Doyle and Debbie Show
, which, in addition to an open-ended run here at Station Inn in The Gulch (Nashville's "urban" playground), has just opened in Chicago. www.doyleanddebbie.com
I don't know if Doyle and Debbie Show
creator Bruce Arntson would claim "cabaret" as the genre for his piece, but having seen the show a number of times, I can promise you that as an audience experience, this is as "cabaret" as it gets, but with it's own Nashville twist. Instead of sitting at chic cocktail tables and sipping Manhattans, everybody loads in family style to picnic tables, beer and popcorn. And the bizarre story that unfolds on the tiny stage, with Arntson as Doyle and the astounding Jenny Littleton as Debbie (#3) - well, it's about as far away from Hello, Dolly
as you're gonna get. But what makes it '"cabaret" is it's intimacy combined with it's satirical timbre, so rooted in the trials and traumas of the Nashville Music/Grand Ol' Opry scene which has become the city's legend and legacy.
Can you say "debunk"?
The genius of what has happened here lies in the partnership between the show and the venue. Station Inn is one of Nashville's classic music venues and they are very smart to be generating revenue and reputation for the club by hosting Doyle and Debbie every Tuesday night. Be prepared to stand in a long line and reservations are a sine qua non.
Another "cabaret" experience is on the horizon, as the Steve Leslie/Len Cohen musical Umbrella prepares for a couple of preview performances Upstairs at Bongo Java . Again this qualifies as cabaret because of the small cast and the intimate venue, in this case, the newly renovated room at Bongo which is the handiwork of Ken Bernstein and, if I'm not mistaken, where Doyle and Debbie got it's start. www.steveleslie.com www.bongoafterhourstheatre.com
This past Tuesday, I met with two more Nashville artists who are on the cabaret path, Jon Roniger of New Orleans and Chris Gantry of NYC. Neither of these dudes look like the type to be talking about cabaret, but the title of the script they handed me is Zak Lee Rite - The Cabaret. Roniger & Gantry are looking to premiere their cabaret in Nashville before heading to New Orleans.
So cabaret may be the wave of the future here in Music City, USA. I can only hope!
Come Cabaret In Nashville!