Chicago Cabaret Professionals 2016 Gala Proves The Art Form Is Alive and Well

By: Russell Goeltenbodt

At the 18th Annual Chicago Cabaret Professionals Gala held on October 16 we once again got an opportunity to see and hear the sounds of singers who prove that cabaret music is alive and well in Chicago. At this year’s gala we have seen some familiar faces that we have enjoyed for years. The gala also Honored singer Joan Curto with the Gold Coast Award honoring her over 20 year achievement with the craft.

First of all, I want to honor all of the singers who were outstanding at this event. Some are a little more seasoned than others, but none the less provided an enjoyable evening of listening to cabaret. I will point out some high points from the evening. However, I don’t want to minimize the talent of everyone with this group. Everyone gave notable performances.

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Joan Curto, 2016 CCP Honoree Photo credit: Brian Jackson / Chicago Tribune

During the cocktail hour, with Musical Director, Elizabeth Doyle, we heard some aspiring singers which included Anna Bessarud, Bill Dyszel, Jenifer French, Natalie Myre, Patricia Salinski, Kat Victoria, and the Boomer Babes; (Jan Slavin and Pam Peterson).   During this portion of the evening it is a shame that much of the audience didn’t get the opportunity to see this talented group. The headlined show is billed to begin at 7:00 where the cocktail show begins at 6:15. Unfortunately many of the patrons do not arrive until much later and miss a lot of wonderful talent. Perhaps with planning future galas, the structure may need to be billed as one show so these folks are not missed.

Starting off the Cocktail show was Anna Bessarud, who sang,“ Wherever He Ain’t”, from Mack and Mable. Anna who just appeared at Davenports in Powerful Women gave a powerful performance providing emotion and a beautiful voice, Bill Dyszel who is relatively a new comer to the Chicago cabaret genre, sang a parody about Amazon to the tune of Camelot. Bill’s lyrics are extremely entertaining and incredibly funny. Interestingly enough Bill has sung with the New York City Opera for 14 Years. Bill’s parodies are fun and amusing. Bill has an amazing voice and I would love to hear more serious selections from him. Jenifer French who is gearing up for her 2nd Peggy Lee show at the Skokie Theatre on October 29, gave a jazzy performance of “I Love Being Here with You”. If you haven’t seen Jenifer’s Peggy Lee show. Don’t miss it. Patricia Salinski sang “If you Love Me”. Admittedly, this song is not really one of my favorites. I would have loved to hear some of Patricia’s other songs that she has sung around town or during her wonderful cabaret show. Albeit, Partricia put forth great effort for her performance. Then there are The Boomer Babes, the fabulously entertaining Jan Slavin and Pam Peterson who sang a parody of “This Could be the Start of Something Grand”. Their harmonies and on stage chemistry are always wonderful and amazing. I would have to say the bright new faces of Natalie Myre and Kat Victoria really brought down the house during the Cocktail Show.   Natalie Myre, who has been singing at Davenports every 1st and 3rd Thursday, sang an original song called ”For You”. Natalie has a fresh sound and she is very comfortable being on stage, singing and playing piano. I expect much more from this talented young woman. Kat Victoria then sang a rich ballad, “I Will Survive”. Kat’s powerful voice echoed through the Park West and left the audience with her pleasing sound. I am expecting much more good things to come from Natalie and Kat. They really gave an outstanding performance for the Cocktail Show.

The main show at the Gala did not disappoint we had the familiar faces and sounds from much of the cast which included Anne, Burnell, Mark Burnell who sang a wonderful pairing of “Blame it on the Bossa Nova and Save the Last Dance for Me” Anne and Mark are always extremely entertaining. Elizabeth Doyle treated the audience with a very moving arrangement of “ Where Do You Start”. I have never heard Elizabeth sing better. It was also a treat to see Elizabeth step out on stage rather than sit behind the piano. Hilary Feldman sang an beautiful song called “Flight”. Hilary’s voice soared along with the song. Cathy Glickman, sang “I’d Give Anything to See You Again”. Her song had a salty country sound which Cathy sang well. Again I have heard some of Cathy’s other arrangements which better showcases her talent. Again, not to diminish Cathy’s talent. I personally prefer some of her other songs. Carla Gordon sang “A Prayer for America”, which is an original song written by Carla and her writing partner Wayne Richards, from her sold out Blacklisted show. A fabulous song with a lot of emotion and meaning It is also very appropriate for what America is experiencing today. Sophie Grimm who is a theatrical actress and from a musical family did not disappoint opening the Gala with “Cockeyed Optimist”. Sophie is a true entertainer with a bright musical future. Scott Gryder emulated Frankie Valli singing “Your Just Too Good to Be True” with a true Jersey Boys style. It was great to see Scotty sing a serious tune. Paul Motondo sang “Sinatra” about Old Blue Eyes with his impeccable style. Paul’s voice is smooth and sexy. Judy Rossungnolo-Rice cooked with “I Can Cook Too”. Judy who is relatively new to the cabaret stage combines her gutsy voice with her acting background to give an energetic, pleasing performance. One of the many highlights of the evening was from Tom Michael. Tom who performs many shows with Beckie Menzie sang “Once Nearly Was Mine” from South Pacific. This song was one of the best I heard from Tom Michael, and the audience agreed. It was sensational.

The CCP Gala had some very nice pairings of David Edelfelt and K.T McCammond singing an original song written by David titled, “I Want to Be Better”. Very entertaining, with great lyrics about always wanting to be better. David and K.T.’s blending and chemistry were perfect. Beckie Menzie, Laura Freeman, and Marianne Murphy Orland paired up with their Girls Like Us group singing “I’m Gonna Wash They Man Right Out of My Hair” The song started with some of the male singers; Tom Michael, Paul Motondo, and Scott Gryder singing ‘There is Nothing Like a Dame”, with the guys joining the ladies on stage and the ladies pushing them away. Nice choreography. It was also nice also to see Beckie step out from behind the piano to sing with her singing partners. Suzanne Petri and Bob Moreen sang one of my favorite songs from Willy Wonka, “Pure Imagination”. Their musical pairing works very well together. Daryl Nitz and Johnny Rogers sang another original song written by Johnny Rogers and Billy Stritch, “Better Now We Have You”. With Johnny’s incredible talent on the keyboards blending his and Daryl’s voices this song was fun and delightful.

Daryl Nitz and Denise McGowan-Tracy started off the second act with fundraising which they were able to double the contributions from last year. Denise, who is the Hostess with the Mostest each week at Petterino’s Monday Night Live along with Beckie Menzie, worked nicely together with Daryl Nitz from   Davenport’s Nitz-Howe Experience at enticing audience members to contribute toward the Chicago Cabaret Professionals. Daryl and Denise who know how to schmooze with an audience, added fun and humor to their duties to achieve their successful goal. Denise McGowan-Tracy and Daryl Nitz have provided so much visibility for many of the cabaret artists, I would have liked to have heard a song from both of them, or perhaps possibly let them M.C. for the Gala as well. Daryl and Denise are very talented and the Chicago Cabaret world owes them their extreme gratitude.

The true veterans of Chicago cabaret did not disappoint. Nan Mason sang a stirring arrangement of “Ten Cents A Dance” with her incredible style that she is known for. It takes me back to the days she performed at Yvette’s. Daryl Nitz introduced Denise Tomasello as Chicago’s Queen of Cabaret who entered the stage with her long time musical director, Russ Long. Denise sang an emotional “Once Before I Go”. by Peter Allen. The musical pairing of Denise and Russ brought memories of them performing at Sages and Gentry so many years ago. Russ Long makes a piano sing with him at the keyboards. Denise has performed with many fine musicians. But the chemistry between Denise and Russ is still pure magic. It is hard to believe that Nan Mason, and Denise Tomasello have been performing for more than 40 years. They continue to remind every one of the days where they were the original performers that showcased of the art of Chicago Cabaret.

The honored performer of the evening was Joan Curto. Joan was presented with the Chicago Cabaret Professional’s Gold Coast Award. Joan was introduced by the former original owner of Davenport’s Piano Bar, Bill Davenport. Bill gave a touching introduction where he was instructed by Joan not to make her a saint. Bill responded with, “No problem”. Bill’s presentation was very sincere and quite funny. Joan took the stage with her charm and sang rather than give a long speech. Joan was honored for her 20 plus years of entertaining in Chicago and across the country. Most recently Joan produced and Directed Cole Porter’s 125th Birthday celebration. This concert included four other artists and a 16 piece orchestra at Chicago’s Auditorium Theater. The celebration was extremely successful as have been most of Joan’s endeavors.

Joan accepted the Gold Coast Award with very few words. Joan mentioned that singing has always been her passion, and that she is very grateful for all of her opportunities and the award. Joan then proceeded to sing I’ve Got You Under My Skin; You’re the Best Thing to Ever Happen, and The Boy with the Bugle.

Before singing The Boy with the Bugle that Joan mentioned her best accomplishment is her three sons. Joan thanked her three adult sons for their patience while she was going to auditions and jobs. She also mentioned that she doesn’t cook, but she can sing. When the boys were younger she mentioned she always answered her son’s questions with a song.

The 18th Chicago Cabaret Professional’s Gala was once again a wonderfully entertaining event. Joining Elizabeth Doyle, Mark Burnell as musical directors was Musical Supervisor Beckie Menzie. Completing the on stage trio were bass player; Jim Cox, and drummer; Phil Gratteau. Chicago Cabaret Professionals and its singers have proven that the art of cabaret is here to stay.