During one of her semiannual European concert tours, Tucson singer, songwriter and pianist Lisa Otey was in the Netherlands when she tried a decadent dessert from a street vendor. Vanilla ice cream covered with warm cherries, it was called "Hot Love."
She immediately called Diane Van Deurzen--her life partner, as well as frequent musical collaborator--at home in Tucson. They'd been in the planning stages of a new cabaret show about love and passion. Otey told Van Deurzen, "We have to call our show Hot Love."
Thus did the seed of an idea begin to grow into the "decadent" revue that Otey and Van Deurzen will present with four other performers this weekend and next in the Cabaret Theater at the Temple of Music and Art.
They will be joined by Todd Luethjohann and Regina "the Queen" Willis, both veterans of Love for the Holidays, a similar cabaret performance that Otey and Van Deurzen presented in 2004. Additions to the quartet this time around include former cruise director Zach Sparrow and comedian Jamie Walker.
Also inspiring to Otey and Van Deurzen was the sexy Cirque du Soleil show Zumanity, which the pair saw in Las Vegas. Especially notable was the enveloping sensuality of that production. So Van Deurzen has designed a lavish and welcoming set and physical environment with rich textural fabrics, rose petals and candles to greet the audience at Hot Love.
"We really want to bring out that passion in the audience before the show begins, to stimulate all the senses," Van Deurzen said during an interview, along with Otey, over Sunday brunch.
Like Zumanity, the show will feature casual pre-show entertainment during which Sparrow will perform simple illusions, and Walker will literally feed strawberries to willing audience members.
"The beauty of the space in the Cabaret Theater is that it is intimate. It holds between 80 and 100 people," Otey said. "We hope to feed their senses in all aspects of the show."
The material for the show will include a variety of original tunes, as well as pop standards ("Makin' Whoopee," "Let's Do It") and steamier songs by Barry White and Donna Summer. In addition, Van Deurzen's romantic poetry--as well as works by Maya Angelou, William Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson--will be performed as connective tissue between songs.
Otey will accompany the performances on piano. Any Tucsonan who has seen her play in various jazz, blues, pop, boogie-woogie and melodramatic theater contexts will attest to her versatility.
Van Deurzen is equally adept at a variety of music. With a strong theatrical background, she performs a combination of blues, folk and jazz in the style of a breathy, sexy chanteuse.
Said Otey, "Diane has a real sweet voice, kind of like a Marilyn Monroe, a Doris Day or a Peggy Lee, and for the really sexy songs, she can make you feel like you're being wrapped up in love. First of all, her eyes just make you melt, and then her interaction with the audience leaves everyone just in a puddle."
In return, Van Deurzen said of Otey, "I think she just breathes, and the room breathes with her. She can really engage the audience. It's a beautiful connection based on the passion of the blues and a softer side."
Otey has been performing in Tucson for some 20 years, since college. She met Van Deurzen at church about seven years ago. They both perform during Sunday services at St. Francis in the Foothills. They have been a couple for about a year and a half and recently bought a home together on Tucson's westside.
Otey has released several well-regarded albums over the years, the most recent being last year's Trio, a straight-ahead jazz recording with her longtime rhythm section of drummer Fabrice Bessouat and bassist Harm van Sleen. Van Deurzen sang backup vocals and co-produced the recording with Otey.
Now the two are hard at work on an album for Van Deurzen, which will include original music, blues classics and jazz standards. They expect to release the CD in time for Christmas 2007 on Otey's 10-year-old independent label, Owl's Nest Productions.
Otey said Hot Love is "all about the diversity of love and the different forms it can take. Everybody feels passion and love. If you have a problem with someone or question something about them, just love them more."