By Rob Lester ~
Our second spotlight in our new weekly feature (Look for it every Monday!) “NiteLife Person of the Week” is the one-of-a-kind Deb Berman. Long steeped in music, for years she was in the record company side of things as part of Sony Music. After that chapter ended, she appeared fully formed in Manhattan cabaret venues as a performer around the same time her longtime friend Susan Winter did. Both appeared memorably at the Metropolitan Room (a.k.a. “The Met”), Don’t Tell Mama, and elsewhere, and quickly became award winners, all the while garnering strong positive reviews. Both will have past shows encored this fall as part of Stephen Hanks’ series called Cabaret’s Greatest Hits. For some time now, they’ve been running an open mic at the Met, cleverly titled Open Mic at the Met.
While Ms. Winter has been spending time in Florida and performed in London, taking some time off from the open mic duties and from the Big Apple, bubbly Berman is kept busy in town with her hosting and wearing her other various hats, too: as real estate wiz finding home-sweet-homes and as coordinator of Marilyn Maye’s blossoming business of master classes, one-on-one coachings, and cabaret directing. (The Metropolitan Room’s 2015 MetroStar winner, Minda Larsen, who reprises her prize show on Tuesday, June 28 at the club, one of the talents benefiting from her a-Maye-zing!! grace.) Additionally, Deb’s dabbling in matchmaking —that is, matching singer colleagues with ideal material for their acts is turning into yet another side business, likely leading her directly in the direction of directing new acts for a few people she especially admires and who have sought out her strong instincts and refreshingly unfiltered frank, helpful advice.
As a cabaret reviewer in the trenches, I’ve attended the good, the bad, and the ugly in open mics around town myself, where you never quite know if the next person trotting up to the stage will be a true gem, a diamond in the rough, or more than rough around the edges or someone that makes you feel “Bewitched,” make you think you can’t be “Bothered” or just feel “Bewildered” because of beginners beginning and ending off the beat, off pitch, or belonging off-stage. From the discoveries to the disasters, from the rich voices to “the poor dears,” from the ones dipping their toes in the cabaret waters to the ones already making a splash, you get it all and some days are better than others because, after all, we are talking about an OPEN mic—open to all. It all comes with the territory. But the Berman/Winter formula has a lot going for it, when I’ve dropped in, starting with the playful personalities and top-notch singing talents of the co-hosts, their adorable theme song, and the welcome stacking of the deck with the featured artists and established talents who might drop in, like the remarkable Miss Maye herself. And, unlike most events of this kind, there isn’t a house band or house pianist bringing the same familiar face and style each time. Like a good restaurant’s Soup of the Day, it’s a different flavor each time. I decided to let Deb Berman herself explain the hows and whys of all this in her own words with her own byline. She’s rarely at a loss for words or opinions. So, here’s our NiteLife Person of the Week with a first-hand account of how an open mic can work. (And see the dates at the end for which Sundays you can go; why not check it out before their August hiatus?)
OPEN MIC @ THE MET
“Open Mind, Open Heart, Open Mic”
By Deb Berman
Among other things, I am a singer. And throughout the years, I’ve had the good fortune of establishing friendships with many other singers. As it is with sports and other hobbies, people connect with others who share their interests. So it is with a love of singing. One of my closest friends is the talented vocalist Susan Winter.
O.K., fellow singers, let’s tell it like it is: Getting singing engagements is not easy – and, most of the time, one needs to invest time, energy and money into putting a show together. After you do your show a number of times, and the final performance ends, you are left feeling a real void (like the ending of a good relationship). And then you ask, “Now what?”
So, Susan and I brainstormed on how we could continue honing our craft by singing on a regular basis — as well as connecting with other singers who would also like the opportunity to have a steady place to perform.
We decided to co-host an Open Mic Brunch on the second and fourth Sunday of each month from 12 noon until 2:30 pm. Because of its intimate ambiance and rich lighting and sound, we felt the perfect home would be The Metropolitan Room. Hence the birth of “OPEN MIC @ THE MET” which started in January of 2014.
We also wanted to make sure we set up a safe, supportive and non-competitive environment. Referring to the TV sit-com Cheers’ theme song, we wanted everyone who’d attend to feel “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.”
We also felt it would be beneficial to the singers to work with various pianists. And since we have so many talented pianists in NYC, we hire a different accompanist at each Open Mic. This has proven to be beneficial for the singers and the musicians alike.
And we are lucky to have the award-winning sound and lighting technician on hand: J-P Perreaux. He ensures that everyone sounds great and that the lighting effects match each song’s mood.
And as difficult as it can be to watch oneself, there is no greater tool for a singer than a videotaped performance to analyze — filmed with skill and in an actual professional setting similar to where one would have an engagement . So, we have a videographer, Magda Katz, for those who choose to have their songs taped. The cost is just $20.
Now, who comes to our Open Mic? Those with varying degrees of experience: hobbyists to established performers. And singers of many genres– folk, musical theatre, cabaret, jazz. They have ranged in age from 6 (an adorable girl with “Animal Crackers in My Soup” to a 90-year-old man (singing “You Make Me Feel Feel So Young”).
Once a man in his early 20s showed up with his mother and six other family members to celebrate his mom’s birthday. He told us he’d never sung before, but that he wanted to surprise his mother. When he took to the stage and started singing “The Way You Look Tonight” to his mom, the poor dear couldn’t really sing a note OR stay on key, but watching his mother’s proud reaction was priceless.
Then one Sunday, a group of gals and guys in their 20s appeared and informed us that they only sang karaoke and wanted to try singing with a pianist. They actually named themselves “Too Good for Karaoke” and, surprisingly, all of them were really good singers. Of course, they didn’t bring any sheet music, didn’t know what keys they sang in AND wanted to know why there weren’t any lyrics on the monitors?!? It was really funny, entertaining AND impressive to watch them sing for the first time with an actual musician. And they came back a few times…. with sheet music…in their key!!
We especially appreciate our “regulars” and watching them grow from nervous, to comfortable to confident is one of the most satisfying aspects, and it’s no surprise that the more comfortable they become, the more their storytelling improves.
Speaking of our regulars, how interesting it is to find out how they actually made or make our living and . . . we also reap some extra benefits from this knowledge — we have two attorneys (who give us legal advice), a few real estate agents (including myself – so contact me if you are in the market to buy or sell a home), a school principal, a New York City tour guide (who shares fascinating stories with us about our city), a psychiatrist (who wrote me a prescription for Xanax), a rug wholesaler (who makes and wears jackets with the remnants) and a bow tie designer (who always wears one of his creations) ….just to name a few.
Everyone gets to sing one song and when someone has a performance booked in the near future, we assist them in promoting it. We select two singers as Featured Artists and they sing two songs each and tell us about their upcoming events. There are also always audience members who just come to have a good time, feel the strong sense of community and enjoy the entertainment.
And for a little bit of fun competition, we play a game called Standard Showdown where we sing a piece of a song and if audience members know the rest of the lyrics and can sing them (and get most of the words correct), valuable prizes are awarded!! Oh boy!!
To be completely honest, there are times when the Open Mic can be #@!#?! For example, a singer was told she could sing one song. When she walked to the piano, her chart was 37 pages long and 11 minutes later, she was still not finished! Another time, a loud singer/songwriter really couldn’t sing and the original song only had 10 words —which were repeated over and over again. (Please make it stop!) On these infrequent occasions, we take a deep breath and silently chant our specially-created mantra: “Open Mind, Open Heart, Open Mic”!
Open Mic@ The Met has been and continues to be a fun and fulfilling experience for both Susan and me and, since we usually have a nice turnout, we think others may feel the same way. Incidentally, so much for the original goal of Susan and me having a regular place for us to sing: #?!*&@! We do not get to do so too often because so many other singers show up …. (Take a deep breath and repeat… “Open Mind, Open Heart, Open Mic”!)
So come join us the on the second and fourth Sunday of each month (except August) at 12 Noon for “A BAGEL & A SONG” —whether to sing or just to enjoy the festivities. It’s the best deal in town at $15 cash cover and a $10 minimum. To be guaranteed a number to sing, simply call for reservations any day after 1 pm — the number is 212 206 0440 … and be sure to arrive at the club on the day of the Open Mic by 11:50 am.
OPEN MIC @ THE MET
Sun, July 11
Sun, July 24
August – OFF
Sun, Sept 11
Sun, Sept 25
Sun, Oct 9
Sun, Oct 23
Sun, Nov 13
Sun, Nov 27
Sun, Dec 11
Sun, Dec 25 – OFF