Six Questions for singer Robin Westle (The Adventures of Taffy Longvue, set for Thursday, March 9 at the Beechman)

NiteLife Exchange published a tongue-in-cheek feature on Ms. Westle’s “alter ego” of sorts, but has some more serious questions for this cabaret lady known to most as the gracious hostess interviewing other singers in her Robin’s Nest variety show series benefiting the Help Us Adopt non-profit, where she sings a couple of heartfelt numbers herself, but keeps the spotlight on adoption concerns.  Now, she’s thinking outside the box and leaving the Nest to try her wings for an unusually brave solo flight.
 
NITELIFE EXCHANGE:  Your new show is billed as a show about finding your own FABULOUSNESS … Without revealing too much, have you found yours —and, if so, how did cabaret help you get there?

ROBIN WESTLE:  I was in a burger joint one night about four years ago and, due to a chance conversation, was told what my drag name would be if I had a drag name. As soon as I heard it, I knew that the name of my next solo show had to be The Adventures of Taffy Longvue. At the time, Robin’s Nest was just getting started and I had no idea what it could become, but I knew that it had the potential to be something special and it truly has been. Robin’s Nest has been blessed with the most amazingly talented people, many of whom have a direct connection to adoption, as I do. As for me, getting back on the stage has been a gift and a joy. What I like about performing in a cabaret venue is the intimacy and connection I can establish with the audience. The audience needs to trust you. What made me successful as a speech therapist was the intimacy and connection I established with my clients and their families. They needed to trust me. What I love about creating a cabaret show is the journey that each show allows you to take. As is the case with each of my solo cabaret shows, every edition of Robin’s Nest is a true creative labor of love. The Adventures of Taffy Longvue has taken me on a journey that I hadn’t ever imagined I would take, and I will always be grateful that I was able to take it. In answer to the question, I think the past few years and the journey of this show have definitely allowed me to find my personal fabulousness, but I also think there is always more fabulousness to find. Finding your fabulous takes a certain amount of courage. The more fabulous I feel, the more confidence it gives me to be who I am and do the things that continue to make me feel fabulous. I think that doing a cabaret show requires a tremendous amount of courage because, if done right, it can expose the most vulnerable pieces of a person. The Adventures of Taffy Longvue is about my journey, but it also speaks to everyone’s journey. Because everyone has a closet.

NLE: When did you realize you had the gift of singing and what were your early influences?

RW:  I inherited theatrical genes. My uncle was featured on Broadway in Catherine Was Great, starring Mae West, and appeared in a number of iconic movies and television shows. He was both a gifted actor and teacher of acting. I honestly can’t remember ever not singing. I grew up surrounded by music in my home. I am the youngest of three girls and we all played the piano and some guitar, as did my mother. My sister was a fairly accomplished cellist. My family spent a good deal of time in the kitchen sharing songs we had learned in school, scouts, camp, etc. My parents loved music and Broadway and I grew up listening to music from iconic musicals such as The Music Man, Gypsy, Oklahoma!, Hello, Dolly!, Camelot, Fiddler on the Roof, etc. I have a vivid childhood memory of standing on the couch in the living room belting out “If Mama Was Married”. My first Broadway musical was Destry Rides Again. After that I saw The Music Man with Robert Preston. My parents found me at the piano the next morning plunking out all of the tunes on the piano so that I could sing them. I was six years old at the time. My first big solo was in Hebrew School when I was selected to sing the prayer at the Hebrew School Passover seder that welcomes the prophet Elijah. I remember I had to get up from the table and walk the door and open it while singing. After that, I was given solos in choir and singing roles in various musicals in summer camp and in school and in college. I remember singing “Someday My Prince will Come’ in the choir recital in junior high school, although in retrospect, I am not quite sure that, at the ripe old age of 13, I had any idea what that really meant. I used to write songs and parodies in summer camp and teach them to everyone in my bunk. Although I didn’t attend a theatre camp per se, my sleepaway camp was filled with music and musicians and there was always a spot where you could find someone sitting with a guitar and sit down and sing with that person. That was where my love of folk music was nurtured. In fact, years later, when my husband proposed to me at a Pete Seeger concert in Carnegie Hall, how could I refuse? We used to take camp trips to various concert venues during the summer and, in the summer of 1969, they put us all on a bus and took us to a little concert at Yasgur’s Farm, otherwise known as Woodstock. Our parents weren’t too happy, but we had a blast.  

NLE: How did you get involved with cabaret and eventually put together the fundraising shows you’ve been presenting for the last few years? 

RW: When my husband and I became empty nesters, we got an apartment in Tudor City and I attended a free concert in Tudor City Park. I sat down next to Tanya Moberly and introduced myself. The next day I practically accosted Raissa Katona Bennett in the street to tell her how much I liked the concert and I told her that I used to sing and perform and suddenly realized how much I missed it. She told me to go and see Eric Michael Gillett. That was seven years ago. Since then, I have done two other solo shows and at the suggestion of a friend, have created, produced and hosted nine editions of Robin’s Nest, the benefit series to support helpusadopt.org.

NLE: Tell us about the organization/charity you’ve been supporting and how it connects to you personally.

RW:  I attended one of the MetroStar competitions a few years ago and heard one of the finalists, Stephen Mitchell Brown, talk about the difficulties that he and his wife were having in trying to conceive a baby. As the mother of two adopted children and a survivor of infertility, I understood all too well the horrendous roller coaster ride they were on and asked Leah Jennings (Stephen’s wife) to have dinner with me. She told me about an organization, called helpusadopt.org that awards grant money to help offset the high costs of adoption and is completely non-discriminatory. I had already decided to create a series called Robin’s Nest for a charity but didn’t know which one yet. When I heard about helpusadopt, I immediately knew that it was the one.

NLE: Why did you decide to pursue a career as a speech therapist? 

RW: Initially I thought I though I might go to law school. But then I saw an episode of Dr. Kildare about a little girl who needed speech therapy and, for some reason, that resonated with me. I had a neighbor who was a speech therapist and I spoke with her about it. At first, I thought that I would build a career working with singers and actors, but when I finished graduate school and started to look for a job, it was exactly the same time that Geraldo Rivera had exposed the horrific conditions at the Willowbrook State School in Staten Island and got it closed down. The result was that all of the children who had been living there were brought back to be educated in their home districts and I was hired to work with a group of them. Most of them were Down Syndrome and had never received any type of stimulation or education. I loved that job. Since then, I have worked in hospitals, schools, have done home care and recently retired from my job as an adjunct at a Hunter College. 

NLE:  How were you able to incorporate music into that career? 

RW:  I have always used music in therapy and have time and again witnessed the incredibly positive effects it has on anyone with communication challenges. Many of the babies and toddlers I worked were diagnosed with autism and said their first words when I would purposely omit words from their favorite songs and they would fill them in, at first not even realizing what they were doing. I have used music for feeding therapy with both babies and adults suffering from various neurological trauma and diseases or syndromes. “Abba Dabba Honeymoon” was always one of my favorite songs to sing with the babies and toddlers during mealtime and I actually sang it in my first solo cabaret show. 

SEE ROBIN WESTLE’S THE ADVENTURES OF TAFFY LONGVUE at 7 pm this Thursday, March 9 at The Laurie Beechman Theatre, 407 West 42 Street, NYC, under the West Bank Cafe.