Produced by InStages Theater above DOMINIC'S 261 Tremont Street, BOSTON 1(617)350-7355 every other Wednesday
"Cabaret" in this case isn't the Kander & Ebb adaptation of Christopher Isherwood. It means seating at tables and encouragement to frequent the wide bar back of the wide, shallow audience-space in front of the wide, shallow stage. It means a series of songs from a series of performers sung to an on-stage electronic piano under simple lighting and one round leko, centerstage, instead of a follow-spot. And after the second intermission there's an Open Mike for anyone who came prepared to sing.
Since performers vary, quality may too, but InStages Theater has a preference for what a lyric sung by Jamie McGonnigal refers to as "show tunes" and I prefer to call story-songs --- songs out of Broadway musicals that still have smidges of plot and drama and character about them, whether you know the musicals they came from or not. And the performers tend to choose either solidly belt-able ballads, snappy up-tempos, or catch-throated bluesy prayers.
They are lucky to have Doug Hammer, who can make his piano sound like a pit-full of orchestra behind the build to a final note. With him in their corner, and a minimal flick of gesture here and there, singers are free to make these songs there own playing "in one".
On the twenty-fifth of September, I heard Gretchen Goldsworthy --- whom I will review in "La Cage au Folles" at the North Shore Music Theatre soon --- and Jamie McGonnigal who has yet to fight free of undergraduate college, followed by a second- half filled by the four singers of a group called Big Smile. The range of ages and experience here were filtered through the taste of Hammer and the producers, keeping the level of the work high.
It's one thing to sit in a first-balcony and watch a musical comedy unfold down onstage, and quite another to have a singer, conscious of the details and the subtext of a song, doing it practically in your lap. When the performance is that close and alive in such an intimate setting, every note and word, humanly created, is very humanly compelling.
It's interesting, in such a setting, to note which performers will throw away anyone else's take on a song and make it uniquely their own. Some interpretations seek to pay homage to one famous recording, while others make you to forget it. And then there are songs that sound like originals because hardly anyone sings them anymore --- or at least not in quite this way. Merely including the verse to a song, which people usually ignore, can make it sound copmpletely new again.
Mistress of Ceremonies for the evening is Jennifer Trainor, who sings with a relaxed jazz flavor and never flusters, (as a serious comic might) when her patter evokes respectful smiles rather than raucous guffaws. She knows its her job to make audience and performers comfortable with one another. And partly because of her work, the audience is attentive, respectful, and responsive throughout the entire show.
And the tell me talent is coming from all directions eager to perform.