ReView : www.MetropolitanZoom.com
By: Sue Matsuki
Cabaret Hotspot was asked to review two offerings from Metropolitan Zoom, Bernie Furshpan’s virtual cabaret room. One show used tracks and the other used live instruments, enabling us to review the production value of both shows and how far the virtual performance venue has progressed over these past few months. Both shows were stellar performances by two consummate professionals.
On Friday, April 16, Eddie Bruce performed his “Music of the Tony’s” show…the music of Anthony (Tony) Newley and Tony Bennett. Bruce used big band orchestration tracks for his show. He usually performs in larger venues to hundreds of people.
On Saturday, April 17, Rosemary Loar presented, “Close Enough for Love”, her show about the journey of a woman “of a certain age” trying to find love… again. She used a full trio led by Frank Ponzio on piano, Tom Hubbard on bass and special guest John DiPinto on accordion.
The focus of this review is the technology itself and the service offered by Metropolitan Zoom and not the individual performances. However, it should be noted that both shows were incredibly well done, the live band (for Loar’s show) was fantastic and both were performed LIVE in Studio A as if we were sitting in the room, right there in Long Island City, Queens.
Once audience members purchase a ticket directly on the https://metropolitanzoom.com/ site, they receive a Zoom link with a reminder on the day of the show. As you order your ticket, you may want to look around the site. Performers may want to take the “Virtual Studio A Tour” to see how the shows are produced, behind the scenes. You might also want to see one of the shows, to get a sense of the quality and overall production value. Either of these shows would be an excellent choice, depending on if you are thinking of doing a show using a live band or tracks.
The initial impression upon clicking the Zoom link is very different and exciting, as Metropolitan Zoom strives to simulate the excitement of entering an actual cabaret room. As you enter the Zoom Room you are greeted with a message that says, “You will be ‘seated’ shortly.” You are then placed in the waiting room, watching a “warm-up act” on what looks to be an old-fashioned TV set. You can also see the other attendees, but everyone is muted.
Bruce’s pre-show video featured a duet by Michael Buble and Blake Shelton , and Loar chose Mama Cass Elliot, both breaking with learned tradition of having a female singer “open” for a male singer and a male singer open for a female singer. This tradition of opening the act with a performer of opposite gender reduces the risk of any unintentional comparison. But, this is a minor observation, and may in fact be falling out-of-date in the era of non-binary consciousness.
Next up in the pre-show is the charming and peppy “Metropolitan Zoom Theme Song,” co-written and beautifully sung by Sara Zahn (written with her husband, composer Allan Kashkin).
Finally, the act is announced by producer Bernie Furshpan and we’re now in “show mode.” What do we see? A lovely curtain (blue background for Bruce and red for Loar ) with gorgeous lighting, which is worth noting because many times, in a virtual studio situation, the lights can be harsh and unkind. The overall look of the stage was very impressive…it looked like a nightclub.
For Bruce’s show, using professional, big band tracks, the focus of the camera was kept pretty much waist high and close up. Bruce was completely comfortable with this camera angle and, in fact, played to us as if he were on TV. He was able to reach through the camera right into our viewing space. Also appreciated was the technical aspect of queuing up the tracks with precision timing to Bruce’s patter and set ups. There was one minor delay, but Bruce ad-libbed confidently, “What, is the band taking a break?” As mentioned, Bruce plays large venues. Realizing he was in a small space, while still authentically performing as if he were playing The Palace was again, impressive. With his big voice, big energy, amazing arrangements, total comfort on any stage, and the fact that he spoke directly to us a few times during the show, connecting to us and letting us know that he knew we were there is the mark of a pro. He remained focused on us, which is no small feat, virtually or IRL.
In Contrast, Loar’s show would be considered an intimate “Caber-Jazz” show, with a great band, fantastic arrangements, a special guest, patter; a through-line show with great singing, a lot of personality, connection to her lyric, and to her audience. Here again, as in Bruce’s case, the screens in front of her, showing her audience (75+ people tuned in) enabled her to do what Bruce did, speak to us as if we were in the room with her. She even built in a sing-along for us! The difference in this show was that, due to there being a band present, the technical aspect was heightened. With the studio equipped and multiple cameras, we got shots of Frank and Tom’s hands on their solos, close ups of Rosemary and even shots superimposed over each other. It was very much like watching a television performance. It was beautiful.
What does the singer see? If you take the “Virtual Tour of Studio A” you will see there are two giant TV screens set up right in front of the performer. These screens show multiple “Zoom” boxes, in grid fashion (Brady Bunch Box), simulating the performer’s view of their audience when performing live. The audience is present, just not in the same space.
Of note: the sound level, in relation to the band and vocals, was even and very good. Occasionally, there was a slight latency issue with the video versus the audio (but not with the vocals versus the band). So, one could perceive a little time lag from the singing vs. the video on Zoom. It was a minor issue and did not take away from the performance.
Metropolitan Zoom uses an electric baby grand (looking) piano with weighted pedals that, to this reviewer’s ear, sounded pretty good. They also have an electronic drum kit available as needed.
The only slightly disappointing item was the canned applause. Yes, It’s fun. But, because it’s the same clip over and over, it can become distracting, and take us out of the performance ambiance the artist is trying to create. Certainly, there are different sample clips of applause to choose from? Or perhaps the answer is to record real applause for several different songs and “feels,” and then using those specific sounds, depending upon the needs of the song within the show. There should be more boisterous applause for the bigger numbers and the volume levels of applause should change as per the feel of the song.
There is a bit of “Audience Preparedness” we might consider as well. At Metropolitan Zoom the audience is seen by the performer. Note the word “At” in the last sentence, because “at” Metropolitan Zoom you feel as if you’ve actually left the house! So, make a night of it! Dress up. Grab a cocktail and a snack and enjoy the show! Keep your camera on and allow the artist to see you. Yes, we all have times when we are not camera ready, but it’s important to the performer to know you’re there and to have the visual of the “live” audience in front of them on the screen.
After the show meet and greet with the artist/band in the Metropolitan Zoom “green room.” This is really fun. “VIP” status ($10 additional purchase) enables the ticket holder to be in a separate zoom-room with the performers to just chat and catch up.
Overall, all things being equal, Metropolitan Zoom is the next best thing to being there, and could possible broaden the audience for cabaret on a national, and even international, level.
Want to watch a well produced show or thinking of booking a show? Check out: https://www.metropolitanzoom.com