Basically, cabaret is a kind of entertainment usually involving song or comedy, presented in a small room. Traditionally, that small room is a cafe or nightclub where patrons sit at tables, but this year, IT is moving its cabaret series into its own traditional 80-seat theater.
What's now called "Sizzling Summer Sounds" started about a decade and a half ago as a comedy-improv series featuring Molly McKasson and IT director Susan Claassen, but it morphed into a mostly musical offering. After several years at the Doubletree, the events shifted to the Arizona Inn; last year, remodeling and changing priorities there sent the series to Soleil restaurant in the foothills. But since then, the restaurant has been sold twice and is itself being remodeled, leaving the summer sounds without a place to sizzle.
"We thought before we go into another venue, it would be good to get at least a 50-year commitment before we build another stage," jokes Claassen.
So she has relocated the performances to her own theater--whose rows seat about as many people as were settled around the tables in the other venues--and has worked out pre- and post-performance deals with Pastiche Modern Eatery, the popular restaurant on Campbell Avenue not too far from the theater. Before each show, Pastiche offers a special $20 IT Cabaret Dinner (beverage and gratuity not included), and after the show, the cast will retire to the restaurant to mingle with the migrating audience and try some drink and dessert specials.
If "cabaret" is, as Claassen insists, a style or a state of mind, it nevertheless implies a certain atmosphere that can't be reproduced in the straight rows of theater seating. Nevertheless, Claassen is confident that her audience will follow the shows. "There's no surefire anything," she says, "but the advance sales seem to be good."
And what's selling? This year, for a change, almost all the talent comes from Tucson. Says Claassen, "There is so much world-class talent that lives here, we want to showcase that." Not to mention that the lack of a partnership with a hotel makes importing acts from the East or West Coast a lot more expensive.
The one import this summer is Los Angeles humorist Charles Phoenix, bringing with him what's billed as a "retro vacation slide show" called "God Bless Americana!"
Says Claassen, "He celebrates the humor in all of us Americans in a very kitschy, family-appropriate way." Phoenix closes the series Sunday, July 1, at 3 p.m.
It all begins June 14 and 16 at 8 p.m. with a Cole Porter tribute featuring pianist Jeff Haskell and singers Katherine Byrnes, Jack Neubeck and Liz McMahon. "That quartet is our standard gang, but the show itself is hot off the press--I'm working on rewrites right now," says Claassen. "We're looking at the familiar and some of the not-as-familiar material, going from Cole Porter's early Yale days through the luscious score of Kiss Me, Kate."
June 15 at 8 p.m. and June 17 at 3 p.m. will bring a blues and boogie-woogie blast with Joe Bourne and Arthur Migliazza. Then June 21 and 22 at 8 p.m., it's "Wild Women of the West," with local honkytonk angels Lisa Otey, McMahon (an old hand with Patsy Cline material) and Elise Ackermann. The latter is the daughter of Gaslight Theatre music director Linda Ackermann, and she's back in town after having just graduated from Boston University. "She's such a major talent," says Claassen. "She sings like an angel, and she can play the fiddle and drums--she does it all." The show surveys the work of women in country music, from Patsy Montana (in 1935, she was the first woman in country music to have a million-selling single) to k.d. lang and Lee Ann Womack.
Classic jazz songs are on tap from the trio known as The Band (Haskell), The Blond (Betty Craig) and The Baritone (Neubeck) June 23 at 8 p.m. Then it's a calypso show June 24 at 3 p.m. from Khris Dodge, Marcus Terrell and Cliff Berrien.
June 28 at 8 p.m. promises a jazzy spin on popular song classics from Rob Boone, Daniel "Sly" Slipetsky and Rob Wright. "That should be a hoot," says Claassen, "with tuba, banjo, trombone and some keyboard. The mind boggles." Then Robert Shaw (the young local entertainer familiar from many Gaslight appearances, not the dead English actor) and his Lonely Street Band present a tribute to the young Elvis at 8 p.m., June 29 and 30.