Photo Credit: Stephen Sorokoff
Cabaret’s best friend and supporter, Raissa Katona Bennett, has had starring roles on Broadway in “Phantom of the Opera” and also in the 1st National Tours of “Cats” and “Parade”. She is a multi-award winning singer and producer and literally took Cabaret by storm when she first arrived on the scene in 2006 with “It’s Possible” at the Metropolitan Room.
Raissa, tell my readers where you have been and what you have been up to over the past few years?
“Until this past year, I hadn’t done a solo show in 6 years, because, as happens to all of us at some point, I had family issues to deal with. At first, helping my Dad sell his home so he could move into assisted living, and then moving him again this past year into a nursing home. My husband and I also moved during this time. Once all the dust settled, I focused on doing mostly theatre – 3 Off Broadway shows in the past few years, and this past spring, I played Helen the first Equity regional theatre production of “Fun Home” at the Music Theatre of CT.”
How long has it been since your last solo show here in NY and how excited are you to bring back your wonderful show “Can’t Help Singing, The Music of Jerome Kern” to The Green Room 42 on November 13th & 27th? (Details listed at the end of this interview.)
“This past May, I returned to the cabaret stage at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, with this new version of my Jerome Kern show. Because I was doing “Fun Home” at the time, I could only do 2 shows, so I’m excited to bring this show back.”
Tell us about the show? What about Kern’s music spoke to you and made you create this show originally?
“This is something I talk about in the show – I wanted to do a Great American Songbook show and I have always loved Kern’s music – he wrote with so many different lyricists and various styles, that there was so much variety to choose from. The music is lush – complex, yet accessible.”
This is also a CD Release show, right? Tell us about the process of making the CD and about your musicians. Where did you record it?
“We recorded the CD live at Feinstein’s at the Regency back in 2011. Stephen Wilde engineered the live recording, and it was then produced and released by the LML Music label. My Musical Director and Arranger was the fabulous Don Rebic (who has since moved out of town) and Tom Hubbard was my bass player on the recording. I’m lucky to have Tom with me again for these shows, and the fabulous Jon Weber is my musical director and pianist this time around.”
You and your amazing husband, Dr. Garrett Bennett, produced the MAC Award-Winning concert series for “Music & Art for City Greens”. How did this come about originally? What was your Mission Statement?
“Originally, my neighbor and then president of Tudor City Greens, Julie Warshaw, asked me to take over the small concert series that the neighborhood parks held. Previously, they had been lovely chamber style instrumental concerts, so I asked if I could “mix it up” and bring in some of my Broadway and Cabaret friends. We started with 2 concerts that first season, and they were a huge hit. We realized that we could use the concerts as a platform for environmental and arts awareness. We became a 501c3 and our primary mission was to increase awareness for the individual stewardship and preservation of our urban green spaces by providing free professional music and art events for culturally, socio-economically and age-diverse audiences in city settings. The series grew quickly, so that over the 9 seasons we ran them, we averaged several hundred audience members at each event.”
Thank you for keeping this group alive on Facebook and for helping the Alumni to continue to promote there and for your weekly Newsletters. Do you ever miss doing these concerts? It was a tremendous amount of work, but I know you had a lot of incredible help.
“Over the 9 years we produced the series, we had over almost 200 different artists perform for us – all donating their time and talent to the cause. We wanted to thank them by helping them promote their shows. Also, so many in the neighborhood continue to ask about the artists they saw here, so it helps them keep up with the artists, and find their shows. Honestly, we DO miss the concerts – particularly the camaraderie – it was a rare opportunity for so many in the cabaret community to be together, perform for each other and just hang out afterward – especially when the weather was good. But we DON’T miss the stressing out about the weather and the physical work. It was a huge undertaking, and in fact, our last concert was rained out and ruined most of the equipment! For most of those 9 years, we had a dedicated group of “Series Regulars” – our band: Bill Zeffiro, Sean Harkness, Matt Scharfglass and Terese Genecco, our sound engineer, Stuart Allyn, and my associate producer and right arm, Tanya Moberly. Tanya still assists me in promoting the Concert Alumni.”
What’s next for you? Are you working on a new show concept? Are you still auditioning for any Broadway shows? Is that still a passion? What would be your “dream role”?
“When it rains it pours! My musical partner, Kenneth Gartman, and I, are doing our duo show, “What a Wonderful World” for Thanksgiving weekend, at the new Magnolia Room in Norwalk CT. Then I’m off to sing the Holiday Pops Concert with the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra and Chorale. And yes, theatre will always remain my first passion – I’ve done more of that in the past years than cabaret. I’d love to do another Broadway show and I’m loving doing the regional work.”
How many boards are you currently serving on? I know you’re active on The Salon Board and I think you are also on the Board of the Dutch Treat Club, yes? For those who do not know Raissa personally, she and her husband are quiet forces behind the scenes of many arts related organizations…tell us about your passion of promoting the arts.
“You’re correct – just 2 boards right now – The Salon and the Board of Directors of the Dutch Treat Arts Club. And, I have to give all the credit to my husband for supporting the arts – without his fiscal and emotional support, I wouldn’t be able to volunteer my time to these organizations, especially the entire 9 years of the Music and Art for City Greens concert series.”
I’m sure that I can speak for all of us, when I thank you for all that you do for the community and for the arts.
“Thank you – that’s very kind of you to say!”
I always end by asking if there anything that I haven’t asked you that you may want the readers to know?
“I use every platform I have to promote animal rescue – in our case, Garrett and I are actively involved with dog rescue. We foster, help train, rehabilitate and rehome dogs, mostly through www.stfbr.org – Shih Tzu and Furbabies Small Breed Dog Rescue. I can really get on my soapbox about it, so I have a blog on my website (http://www.raissakatonabennett.com/category/dog-blog/) that gives a lot of information on this, and I hope people will check it out. There is always something that needs to be done in animal rescue – so even if you can’t foster, we can show you ways to help. If you’d like to know more, reach out to me via my website, www.raissakatonabennett.com or through Facebook.”
Thank you for your time and for doing this little interview. Cabaret Hotspot! wishes you every success on this and all future endeavors.
If you want to attend Raissa’s show (Cabaret Hotspot! highly recommends that you do) here are the details:
RAISSA KATONA BENNETT
Can’t Help Singing – The Music of Jerome Kern – CD Release Show!
The Green Room 41 – 570 10th Ave. @ 42nd Street (4th floor of Yotel Hotel)
Reservations are a must: www.thegreenroom42.com
$15-$55 cover (depends on your seat preference) – NO MINIMUM!
Great food and drink available!
Featuring Musical Director: Jon Weber with Tom Hubbard on Bass. Directed by: Eric Michael Gillett.