Chicago Cabaret Professionals Gala “Singing Our Own Song” A Grand Night for Singing, Listening, and Enjoying!

Photo Credit: Rob Smith

Bob Moreen & Suzanne Petri Photo Credit: Rob Smith

Even though, it has been said that the art of cabaret is no longer a viable form of entertainment, Sunday’s CCP Gala at Chicago’s Park West proved these nay-say are very wrong. Chicago Cabaret Professionals “Singing Our Own Song” Gala celebrated their 15th anniversary with hosting a fabulous show which included a cavalcade of talented singers. CCP did not disappoint in presenting a show that pulled out all stops, by presenting some of the best entertainment Chicago has to offer which offers stiff competition to the cabaret community in New York.  The CCP community honored popular Chicago cabaret artist Daryl Nitz and Davenport’s Piano Bar and Cabaret, all of whom have kept cabaret alive and thriving in our fair city. As everyone is well aware, there are a limited amount of venues in Chicago to experience cabaret or live music. However the Chicago Cabaret Professional artists, which include Daryl Nitz many other notable local talents have made certain that cabaret is kept alive and thriving.  The entire Chicago cabaret community and their faithful audience turned out in full force to provide an enjoyable evening of wonderful music and prove that cabaret is still hot and very much alive. The many talented singers who performed on Sunday proved this to be true through their talent and extreme dedication to their craft.

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photo credit: Rob Smith

As I have said many times, cabaret is my passion.  I very much look forward to this event every year to witness the extreme talent of these talented artists. When I said last year’s show was the best, this event and this show was the best by far. It just gets better and better. Chicago’s local talent is outstanding, and the evening moved at an enjoyable pace having the audience cheering for more at the end of the evening.

The evening began with a post “Cocktail Show” which was under the masterful musical direction of George Howe. George, provided a perfect opening to the rest of the evening’s festivities with local singers Larry Dooley, Carla Gordon, Anita Kallen, Paul Montondo, Judy Rossignuolo-Rice, Pam Peterson and, Cheryl Szucsits. Even though some of these performers do not appear as often as some of the more recognized performers, they certainly all held their own at providing an enjoyable opening set. Whether it was Pam Peterson opening the evening with “Life is a Cabaret” moving into a 1960’s parody, or Cheryl Szucsits transforming herself from a classical singer singing “Think Of Me” from Phantom of the Opera by whipping off her cape transforming herself to a sultry vixen singing “I’ll be so Raunchy”, to Judy Rossignuolo-Rice belting out a rousing rendition of “Broadway Baby” definitely created the variety and set the tone for the evening’s festivities. Singers Larry Dooley continued by singing a wonderful song “I’m Glad I’m Not Young”, Anita Kallen singing and pleading “Give Me a Thing Called Love”, from musical Thoroughly Modern Millie,  and Paul Montondo sang a jazzy goodfellas rendition  of “I wish I were in Brazil, in New Jersey”. All of these artists sang with great feeling and really had an enjoyable time doing so. The moving part of the cocktail show was singer, songwriter Carla Gordon paying tribute to her Borscht Belt Buddy, Jimmy Damon who passed away earlier this year by singing a song that Jimmy asked her to write so he would be remembered. Carla’s song, “The Business of a Singer” told the story that even though being a singer provides enjoyment; it is not an easy business. I believe many in the room could attest to the truth of this song. Carla provided a wonderful tribute to her good friend, along with words of wisdom to the singers in the room by singing that even though this career is enjoyable, it isn’t always easy.

The first act began with Ann and Mark Burnell who masterfully sang “This Could be the Start of Something Big” with all of the enthusiasm of Steve Lawrence and the late Edie Gorme who made the song famous. However, Ann and Mark made the song their own with their style and arrangement.

The evening’s host was CCP President, singer Joan Curto who came to the stage to continue with the evening’s festivities. Joan was wonderful. She managed to keep the show moving at a steady pace leaving no time for idleness or boredom. Joan also mentioned that aside from appreciating the many singers who are members of CCP, the audiences are very much appreciated as well. Without the great audiences the shows could not be a success. Joan then introduced the lovely Elizabeth Doyle who beautifully sang “You Taught my Heart to Sing’ that was salted with a little jazz scat. Marianne Murphy-Orland paired up with Jeff Dean to sing Satin Doll moving into the popular Sammy Davis Jr song “Something’s Got to Give”. I have to say I loved this arrangement and their on stage chemistry.   K.T. McCammond sang a hilarious song written by Peter Opielka, called, “He Went LaLa LaLa”, which was about a woman who was so annoyed with her husband’s song  that she not only killed him but she was pardoned for the crime. KT’s accent and body language really made the song work. “Foiled Again” who is a trio of singers consisting of singers Allison Bazurko, Sheridan Smith, and Rob Lindley brought the sound reminiscent of the popular “Manhattan Transfer” to the song “I Feel the Earth Move”. The harmonies were right on the money and very pleasing to listen to. The diva portion of the evening began with Laura Freeman singing a moving “Better Luck Next Time”. Laura’s style was moving and heart-felt with emotion. Laura was followed by Melissa Young who spoke of Illinois upcoming vote on Marriage Equality and gay marriage which followed by singing a moving “What About Today”. This was a wonderful song which hopefully provided inspiration for the upcoming vote to pass gay marriage that so many of the cabaret community support.  The show continued with the fabulous effervescent and lively Scott Gryder accompanied by music director and life partner, Nick Sula singing, Funny Girl’s“The Greatest Star” Scott sang with all of the enthusiasm and animation that only Scotty can do. Scott did not only provide energy to the song but built the momentum for the 1st act. Duo talented singers Hillary Ann Feldman and David Edelfelt sang a campy “Where is the Song that Goes like This” which was comically delivered complete with upstaging, and grandstanding where each singer was trying to outperform the other. It was a very clever song that was very well received by the audience. Hillary and David’s vocal talent were amazing, and extremely pleasing to the ear.  Tom Michael then followed by singing one of my Neil Sadaka favorites; “Give me One More Chance at the Midway” Tom sang this song with emotion and showcased his vocal range and talent. Tom and musical partner Beckie Menzie both performed solos for the gala. I must say it was a special treat to hear their individual vocal talents. They are both very talented artists whether they are singing together or separately. During the 2nd act, Beckie sang a beautiful arrangement of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Some Enchanted Evening that brought chills to the audience’s spine. I have to say it was one of the most beautiful arrangements of the evening. Beckie and the rest of the singers were joined by Scott Mason on Bass, and drummer Phil Gratteau, who added the perfect blend to the accompaniment.  Before Joan Curto ended the 1st act, she honored the special friends that CCP said farewell to this past year, two of which who were previously honored by CCP in past years. The list included singers Tony Andriacchi, Jimmy Damon, Frank D’Rone; who passed away two weeks ago, six weeks after his concert with Judy Roberts and singer Denise Tomasello at the Roosevelt University Auditorium Theater. All three of these singers were fabulous performers and provided so much entertainment to the Chicago cabaret community. Additionally Joan paid tribute to famous photographer, Steve Starr, who died suddenly last year. Steve was very generous with CCP by providing his photography services free of charge. Joan noted CCP’s love for these gentlemen and that they are missed. Joan followed her tribute by singing “I Am What I Am” from the musical, LaCage au Faux. Joan sang the song with energy and gusto and ended the 1st act.

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Photo Credit: Rob Smith

All of the founding members of CCP which include Bob Moreen, Ester Hana, John Eskola, Elizabeth Doyle, Beckie Menzie, Tom Michael, Mark Burnell, Suzy Petri, and Claudia Hummel introduced the second act by singing “The Song is You” and “I Hear Music”.  Bob Moreen sat at the piano and said that since Madonna is now a member of AARP, he felt it is appropriate to sing her music. He followed by singing “I Want More” from Madonna’s movie, Dick Tracy.  Suzanne Petri then came out to sing Madonna’s “Sooner Or Later” also from Dick Tracy Bob and Suzi have a wonderful chemistry that bring style to every song they are singing.

The main event of the gala belonged to Chicago cabaret performer Daryl Nitz who came out and brought his Nitz-Howe Experience to the big stage. Daryl proceeded to sing  building momentum singing “Don’t Stop Me Now,  “There’s a New World Comin”, “Show me Some Bright Lights, “Big City for Me” Daryl, who is the consummate performer pulled out all stops  by singing non-stop complete with impersonations of Billie Holiday, Katherine Hepburn, Carol Channing, Edith Bunker, and Mandy Patikin just to name a few. Along with long time musical director George Howe, Daryl asked the audience to name some musicals where George and Daryl worked their magic and put together a well mastered medley of songs on the spot from the suggested musicals. Daryl ended his musical set with a beautiful ballad’, “As Long As I Can Sing” which he sang with sincerity, feeling and no kidding around. Daryl’s friend  Melissa Young then presented Daryl Nitz with the CCP Gold Coast Award for Excellence citing that Daryl has not only appeared in the front room of Davenport’s cabaret for 14 of their 15 year history, but has been responsible for producing a multitude of cabaret showcases at various theaters in Chicago. He has continued to groom and support every young cabaret performer, supporting them in mentoring their projects. Daryl, who is one of Chicago’s most-sought after nightclub performers,  has performed at Park West,  the Royal George, and Steppenwolf Theater, Naperville’s Crossroads Theater, The Big House, Set ‘Em Up Joe’s, Lakeshore Theater, Mercury Theater, Mayne Stage, Metropolis Performing Arts Center, and more. He was also a featured performer at the first Mabel Mercer Cabaret Convention in Chicago. Daryl has been a staple of Chicago’s premiere cabaret club, Davenport’s Piano Bar, for the past fourteen years in the Nitz-Howe Experience and is making plans for the celebration of its one thousandth performance!  Cabaret Scenes magazine calls it “the best party in town.” His homage to the glamour days of 1950’s Vegas nightclubs, and the musical series “Celebrity Supper Club” at The Big House, earned Daryl the title “Mr. Entertainment” of Chicago.  Nitz is a must-see performer who creates an unforgettable entertainment experience, prompting the Daily Herald Newspaper to exclaim that “Watching Daryl Nitz perform is like watching a dozen different shows at once.”  Daryl, who is also a school teacher by day, gave a sincere gracious and an emotional thank you to all. He thanked Davenport’s for his 14 year engagement that is still going strong, his friend and musical director, George Howe, and a number of notable cabaret artists who are his inspiration. Daryl’s CCP Gold Coast award from the CCP community is earned and very well deserved. He is truly a class act.

Singer, pianist Beckie Menzie presented the CCP Special Recognition Award to Davenport’s Piano Bar and Cabaret owners Donna Kershman and Sue Berry, and manager Deb Stewart.  Beckie mentioned that Davenport’s support of the many singers and performers make them feel the warmth of having a home. Beckie also said that owners, Donna and Sue “defied the odds in creating a cabaret club that works”.

Davenport’s, Chicago’s premier cabaret venue has been thriving since November of 1998. Davenport’s Cabaret and Piano Bar has attracted crowds and critical acclaim, thanks to its quality lineup of talent presented in its uniquely intimate setting. It is part piano bar, part cabaret with an atmosphere that is decidedly warm, featuring soft wood panels and delicate lighting.  Davenport’s talented singing wait staff regularly adds to the nightly fun.  Davenport’s devotees represent both young and old—as long as they appreciate good music, good drinks, and good conversation.  Through weekly open mics hosted by George Howe and Beckie Menzie, Davenport’s enables singers of all genres to hone their craft as entertainers. Its cabaret performance space is as welcoming to debut singers as it is to iconic national performers such as Jane Olivor, Karen Mason, Andrea Marcovicci, and others.

Davenport’s owners Donna and Sue were sincere with their gratitude, mentioning that the success of Davenports is attributed to the overwhelming support from the community and their patrons, along with the excellent 10 year management of manager, Deb Stewart. All of these qualities have made Davenports a success. Donna announced that there will be a special celebration on November 11 celebrating their 15th Anniversary. The evening will include a special show with no cover, and a champagne toast. Reservations are strongly advised.

Donna, Sue and Deb then invited the entire Davenport’s staff up to sing Abba’s “Thank you for the Music”. Each staff member was highlighted in the song then joined by the entire cabaret cast singing the Dooby Brothers favorite, “Listen to the Music”. It was truly a moving tribute to a wonderful venue and brought the CCP Gala to a wonderful finale.

As I have often mentioned, there are very few cabaret venues in Chicago where audiences are able to listen and enjoy live music. We are so grateful to have venues such as Davenports, Petterinos, the Metropolis, Chambers, the Auditorium Theater, The Underground Wonder Bar, and 3160 who support this art. It is up to every Cabaret lover to support these venues and the many talented performers to keep cabaret alive in Chicago. I especially urge the support of Davenport’s Piano Bar and Cabaret located at 1383 N.Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago. It is a one of a kind. Congratulations Donna and Sue for creating a wonderful venue for all to enjoy. For reservations, and performances; http://www.davenportspianobar.com/ or call 312-278-1830.

To say that the 15th Annual CCP Gala was a great success would be an understatement. I am looking forward to next year for even more great live entertainment and surprises. Congratulations  Daryl Nitz, and Davenports Piano Bar and Cabaret. Your honors are well deserved. Best wishes for many more years of continued success. Cheers!