Cabaret is a dirty word for these hip crooners and entertainers
“Why wouldn’t a younger musician hate being slapped with the term cabaret?” Jim Caruso asked. “It’s nothing but old ladies and sequins.” This from the impresario responsible for “Cast Party,” the Supper Club’s weekly watering hole that swaps out Kristen Chenoweth for Cliff and Linda Lavin for Norm, but for all intents and purposes is “Cheers” with a piano.
And okay, maybe everyone doesn’t know your name at this Monday night cabaret, but just try out some lyrics from “Mame” on them.
Caruso was even dubbed “a Liza stalwart” by Newsday.
“Cast Party” has been on hiatus since around about the time the city’s smoking ban went into effect. Somehow those tiny red candle shades just don’t look the same without the pall of cigarette smoke.
Still, if Caruso is this down on the genre, imagine what a hyper-image conscious major label would have to say.
Actually, it didn’t take much imagination. When a music critic began to compile a roundup of four emerging gay singers and songwriters under 30––yes, all of them hotties (it’s just one of the critical facets of working a small room)––who, if not outright cabaret artists, are at least trying to break in on that circuit, the number quickly dwindled by one. A major label yanked one of their acts not because their artist—already been profiled in this newspaper––wasn’t out, but because the label objected to the use of the term cabaret.
That’s not to say that being out isn’t a problem for other performers.
“There’s this hesitation now,” said Scott Nevins, the 23-year-old entertainment manager of the midtown lounge Therapy, summing up the vibe. “They all want to be metrosexuals, but they forget why they’re called that.”
Still, he maintained, “I would no sooner say somebody has to be out than I would say they need to be closeted.”
Nevins is only too happy to finesse the potential for reverse discrimination on the booking end with a good, old-fashioned Broadway show-how.
“We’re here to put on a show,” is the Mickey-and-Judyism he employed. “Gay or straight, purple or whatever, if you can sing a song and you’re good, we will have you here. But if you’re the one bringing up the issue, then you’re the one that needs to deal with it. It’s your problem.”
That’s not to say some acts haven’t raised concerns for him. Case in point: Melba Moore. Though Nevins has come to understand that she is gay-friendly, he was originally skeptical when booking her to perform at Therapy because of the gospel album she was promoting.
“Do you think I’m dumb?” Nevins recalled Moore asking him, before she added, “I love my gay audience.”
Nevins said, “And they’re a tough audience. They can either love you or hate you.”
And so far Nevins has experienced the love, but also been served a glass of the Haterade, but that has not slowed his ambitious producing ideas. Sprung early from SUNY Purchase, the Flushing native moved to Manhattan and was snatched up by the drag talent Cashetta the same day.
“My idea was to take these high-end drag queens and make them do a real cabaret, not drag shows,” he said. “The big break for me was my first Off Broadway show called ‘Popera’ with Shequida. It did really well and Therapy found me and asked if I’d like to do this on a regular basis.”
Nevins agreed and soon found himself creating, casting, and producing everything that happened at the showcase-heavy venue. And then he opened his big mouth. Quoted in the gay press as wanting “all male or real girl hosts” for the venue smacked of the same transphobia that landed Twilo in New York State Supreme Court. So, even though Therapy boasts a skylight worthy of Welles’ showgirl Susan Alexander Kane and the upstairs performance space, with its professional lighting rig, must look like La Scala to most drag queens, they stayed away.
Having a famous uncle in the biz did nothing to quell the backbiting. Nevins claimed he was merely trying something new.
“People didn’t understand why there was a guy up there who wasn’t singing, stripping, or in drag,” he explained. “Now that people get it, they like it.”
His Monday night “mix between a modern day talk show and an old 60s variety show” called “Scott Nevins Presents” has packed the house guest chair with Broadway lights from Daphne Rubin Vega to Charles Busch.
Elsewhere on the nightlife scene, the intriguingly dubbed SIRPAUL—relax, it’s just a name his father gave him as a kid, more a reflection of his imperious nature than an outré daddy/boy SM household—knows all about Broadway lights. Be they highlights, lowlights, even frosted tips, SIRPAUL earns his keep by day as one of New York’s leading colorists at the Christopher Stanley Salon. At night, he unleashes his inner-Joni Mitchell in any one of the increasingly disappearing cabarets working his latest disc “Switch.”
Still, even though the out singer/songwriter uses a Broadway publicist, he would no sooner call himself a cabaret artist than he would lay chunky highlights on top of a Long Islandish Rachel.
The self-confessed “control freak” does it all Prince style, tackling everything from writing, producing, and engineering to remixing himself. SIRPAUL described his sound as “Somewhere between MTV’s ‘Unplugged’ and performance art,” but that’s as pop as he gets, even going so far as to call himself “the anti-Justin.” Acoustic hip-hop is a term we can both live with.
The Port Jefferson native has already gotten his dancing feet wet on both the fashion and party circuits. Even though he has Alex Lauterstein and Dolce & Gabanna collaborations under his low-slung belt, he complained, “I got bored with that four on four beat and everyone on crystal dancing around. It’s fine if that’s what they want to do, but I wanted to experiment.”
Like any colorist worth his salt, SIRPAUL’s experiments took him back to his roots.Anytime we’re in a recession, we go back to our rock and acoustic folk origins,” the 28-year-old who also answers to Paul Cucinello said. “Then there’s that huge influence of hip-hop so it’s a logical progression of music for me to marry the two. They work really, really well together.”
If rock and roll is the soundtrack to a recession, then 2002 Out Music Songwriter of the Year Award-winner Josh Zuckerman stands ready to weather another Great Depression. Born and raised in St. Louis, Zuckerman picked up a violin at age eight and a circuitous path to the stage took him through the study of classical music, a two-year tour of duty with international musical group Up With People, and the opening slot for 80s hair band staples Joan Jett and Warrant. He recently relocated to the Jersey shore to release his latest disc “Totally New Sensation.”
Even though he just packed the intimate showcase, Fez, with an audience that stopped just short of tossing panties, the closest he comes to cabaret is a rousing cover of Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.” He described Up With People as “a poppy, happy-go-lucky group that you’d almost see at Disneyland,” but has managed to side step the career path of most pop-producing former Mouseketeers.
“I have my own style,” Zuckerman explained. “But it is influenced by what’s out there. Still, I don’t try and be something I’m not. I use it in my own way, but I’m still true to who I am.”
Conversion from a classical student to balls out rocker came early. He was 13 and remembers “a boom box blasting Joan Jett’s ‘I Love Rock and Roll’ on the back of the school bus. I remember thinking this is a cool song and I switched to rock music after that.”
That switch has already taken him to sharing the bill with his idol at Asbury Park’s legendary Stone Pony.
“She was really tired,” he recalled of meeting Jett. “And I’m sure she gets a lot of people telling her a lot of things, but she was cool.”
Cool has nothing on singer/songwriter Ari Gold. The Bronx native also has an Out Music Award, 2001’s nod for Outstanding Debut Recording. Despite its 13 tracks, Gold’s follow-up disc, “Space Under Sun,” proves this award doesn’t hold the same curse that’s plagued Best New Artist Grammy winners from bankrupt Toni Braxton to lip-synching Milli Vanilli.
Gold described his CD’s sound as “an intergalactic hybrid of 80s and contemporary R&B, spacey pop and funky smooth soul.”
When I can’t pinpoint whose Fez showcase I’d seen him perform in, Gold offered, “Kevin Aviance’s show? That David Bowie tribute?” and several others before sheepishly admitting, “I’ve done too many things at Fez.”
Still, both his familiarity with cabaret venues and the George Michael parallels illustrated in his recent paean to being nabbed by the cops for having sex in public makes him a natural to bring the cabaret chickens home to roost. Gold said he’s “trying to secure a larger distribution deal that will get my CD into Barnes & Noble and Borders and stuff.”
Still, he’s up for a swipe.
“I have issues with the majors and I don’t have 100 percent confidence that I’ll be in good hands if I sign with them,” Gold said, but admitted he’s open to a deal predicated on “them getting it.”
As for “cabaret” being just a new cavity in which a rotten-toothed industry can squirrel away its homophobia behind a smile, Gold said, “It seems like a really conservative genre. And sure, it can go unspoken, but I’ve gotten plenty of direct homophobia. Of course, they don’t think they’re being homophobic, and, pathetically enough, it comes from both straight and gay people. In fact, it’s probably more gay people than straight people. I was always told, ‘Come out later. You have to establish yourself first.’ But let’s face it, that’s been done.”
SCOTT NEVINS PRESENTS
348 W. 52 St.
The C Note
157 Ave. C at 10th St.
May 3, 7 p.m.
$5 with a one-drink minimum,
212 677 8142
511 W. 54 St.
May 1, 8 p.m.
$15 212 489 9800
380 Lafayette St. at Great Jones
Apr. 25, 10 p.m.
$15, 212 533 7000
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