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March is the Month for Cabaret… and All That Jazz.

In cities like New York City, Los Angeles, London and Sydney, cabaret is celebrated throughout the month of March and, if Kerrykate Abel has her way, Buffalo will follow suit.  Producer of the new Cabaret Series for Buffalo United Artists (BUA), Kerrykate is looking to make this storied art form a bigger part of the Queen City‘s rich arts and culture scene.


“I think it is exactly the kind of entertainment that Buffalo needs to continue to grow as a city,” said Kerrykate. “I believe the time has certainly come for its return.”


Although song is certainly a predominant feature in cabaret, the style of performance is a departure from what one would typically think of musical theater.  For one, a cabaret show is shorter (usually 12-13 songs) and less expensive than a theater performance, with a significantly smaller-sized audience. But more striking is that there is no cast and there are no characters.  Cabaret is typically one person telling their own personal story to an audience through a mix of dialogue, song and story-telling.  The idea is for the performer to convey their story with such a deep level of honesty and vulnerability, that the ambiance in the theater and the audience’s comfort level is actually driven by this performance. 


“You have to have a certain level of life experience and maturity in order to relate to the audience on this kind of level,” explained Kerrykate.  “There is an intimacy, a sophistication, about cabaret that you simply do not find in any other genre.  The seasoned performer can make the air in the room change just by the slightest movement of their hand and, when the audience/performer connection is truly superb, you find yourself hanging on every word, every note, every blink… it’s a very raw, personal, soul bearing experience that cannot be ‘faked.'”


Cabaret gained popularity in America just prior to World War II and reached its height in the ’40s and ’50s, but then started to decline in the ’60s due to the rising popularity of rock concerts and television variety shows.  Going to discos became all the rage in the ’70s and cabaret was completely pushed out of the mainstream (the disco movement really did kill everything, didn’t it?).


In its simplest and truest form, cabaret got its start in what was known as “supper clubs” – secluded joints jammed with people at small tables with ultra dim lighting, a smoke-filled haze and just the right amount of seediness. A piano player sat up front with a singer sprawled atop, spotlight on them and (if they were lucky) a microphone in hand.  Michelle Pfeiffer in the Fabulous Baker Boys comes to mind.  An even better visual is Moulin Rouge in Paris; that is, the spiritual birthplace of the can-can dance, not the commercialized tourist destination it is today.


Traditional American-style cabaret features songs from the Great American Songbook, which includes artists ranging from Irving Berlin and Duke Ellington to Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.  Jazz heavily influenced cabaret, which you can hear in traditional speakeasies. Today, cabaret has expanded its repertoire the way most other musical stylings have over the years and incorporates some rock in its line-up. The type of music you get from a cabaret show, of course, solely depends on the performer and what they feel most accurately represents their story.


Western New York has a long and varied musical history, which cabaret is apart of. Historical gems like the Statler and a myriad number of other local hotspots like Cyros and Harry Altman’s Town Casino used to host these intimate evenings.  Now, with a new theater on Chippewa Street (which celebrates its one-year anniversary this Saturday), the BUA is leading cabaret’s return to Buffalo.


“We at BUA have only just begun and I hope for the series to continue to grow and prosper; to enjoy a host of different personalities and talent styles and to welcome Western New York back to this wonderful art form,” said Kerrykate.


To help celebrate Cabaret Month, BUA is putting on the third show in their Cabaret Series, Chuckie and the Rack, based on the life story of one of Buffalo‘s most recognized and respected performers, Chuck Basil who, naturally, is also the star performer.  Showcasing dynamic vocals, including three- and four-part harmonies, the BUA Theatre will host this limited engagement March 19-21 and March 26-27.  All performances begin at 8 p.m., except for Sunday, March 21, which will begin at 7 p.m. 




The fourth show in BUA’s Cabaret Series is on the horizon for May featuring Kerrykate Abel herself telling her story through some Springsteen (when telling one’s life story, utilizing The Boss seems aptly appropriate to me).


And while smoking in public places may no longer be allowed and the joints may be less seedy, every bit of the intimate ambiance of a traditional cabaret is still at the heart of each performance.


For more information on the Cabaret Series or for tickets, e-mail the Buffalo United Artists or call 716.886.9239.


Image credits: March is Cabaret Month by Stu Hamstra’s Cabaret Hotline Online; Chuckie and the Rack cast by Michael Walline.

Written by Katie Krawczyk

Katie Krawczyk is a freelance writer who has contributed to Buffalo Rising since 2009. A Buffalo re-pat, Katie moved back to the city in 2006 after living in Washington, DC, The Netherlands and Indiana. In addition to being a writer, Katie is a business owner, PR specialist, philanthropist, world traveler, and self-proclaimed life enthusiast. She loves her hometown as much as she loves chocolate and peanut butter.

View All Articles by Katie Krawczyk
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