AN ODE TO THE CABARET SPOUSE

This is a slightly belated Valentine to all the wonderful Cabaret Spouses in our community who love and support us as we step on to the stage to do what we do. This is unbridled pride, unconditional love, that compliment on how you look right before you enter the room, financial support, a big hug after the show if things didn’t go as expected or to celebrate the joy when it does and sometimes even flowers! There are hundreds of these beautiful people that could be celebrated today but, due to space limitations, I had to keep it to several of the people I know personally. This is, however, a Valentine to all of you amazing spouses/partners!

It would probably have made more sense to ask the performer to tell us about their partner but that would have been too easy. My twist was that I thought that by asking the spouses/partners a few questions, it would become completely clear to you why I felt the need to pay tribute to these special people through their own words.

I asked each of them a few basic questions:

What is “your song”…the song your spouse sings just for you?
What is it like to be a Cabaret Spouse?
How do you feel when the lights go down and your spouse is standing there on stage ready to perform?
What have been the highs of this journey together?

In no particular order, please meet some of Cabaret’s most supportive and beloved spouses/partners and hear why, I am sure, their partner fell deeply in love with them and why they deserve to be honored today and every day!

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Paul Rolnick & Karen Mason (Paul’s song: “Married” or “In My Life”)

Well, both of us are cabaret spouses! I’m a record producer/singer/songwriter/mix engineer. I also make a great hamburger!!  As luck would have it, I happened to be married to one of the greatest performers on the planet!!  Her name is Karen Mason. So, from my perspective it is very important that I can make a decent burger. Gotta keep the artist fed. And…it’s also a good thing that I make great sounding albums for Karen and a host of other artists. When I’m lucky some of these artists sing my songs. For example, Karen Mason and Sue Matsuki!

Sue: Thank you Paul! You’re a great songwriter! Clearly you also have a great sense of humor and I’m going to make sure I get to taste one of those burgers someday! Tell me, what is one of your favorite songs that you’ve written that Karen has recorded?

There are a lot. When Karen sings my song, “It’s About Time” (co-written with Shelly Markham) to honor the right for everyone to be married, it’s a great moment! I’m hoping one day she surprises me with her version of AC/DC’s “It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Want To Rock n’ Roll)”. It would be fascinating to hear what the team of Karen Mason, Chris Denny and Barry Kleinbort came up with on that number!!

Sue: Funny, I have no doubt that they could come up with something! Tell us about watching Karen sing.

I’m nervous that everything will be OK. That the monitors will be right so Karen can hear herself the way she wants and the sound and the lights in the room will all be handled by pros who want to help make a great show. Fortunately, that is what happens most of the time. Karen is a pro’s pro and I have never seen a situation on stage that she hasn’t been able to handle with charm, grace, a laugh and a smile. That, in itself, is a masterclass about being in the moment.

Sue: What has been the best part of this Cabaret Journey? (I know…that word again!)

The journey itself.  Sharing all the moments.  Good and bad.

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Diane Trinkaus & Jeanne MacDonald (Diane’s song: “Always” by Irving Berlin – Jeanne sang it to me with the verse as part of her wedding vows.)

For me, being a Cabaret spouse is both an adventure and a challenge.  An adventure… because we have journeyed together throughout the years to unique places of the heart and soul of so many wonderful people…incredible clubs owned or operated by people who love the art of cabaret.  Challenging because I am not only a Cabaret spouse but Jeanne’s manager and CD producer…Ah the challenges of procuring gigs, making sure you have a mailing list, and being aware of all that needs to have a successful show. “Life is a Cabaret my friend.”

Before every show I would say to Jeanne, “Hit the stage running, plant your feet, give the GIFT, AND have FUN!!”  So, when I see the lights go down I know she is totally present for the audience, ready to give the gift, and ready to let the lyric speak to them.

Sue: What have been the “highs” of this journey together?

The greatest high of this journey for the two of us has been knowing that we have made a difference…that we have touched someone’s heart and soul.  That we have brought  joy, love and laughter.  The other greatest joy for both of us was the night of the Bistro Awards when Jeanne got to sing for Barbara Cook and Julie Wilson! Having so many wonderful people come into our lives has been a special high for both of us.

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Here is a special clip of a song written by Meg Flather celebrating her husband Jamie. It’s called, “He Shares Me with A Lot”. Played by Tracy Stark.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qKpQKEcmy4

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Dan Sherman & Richard Skipper (“Moon River” and “My Secret Love”. Richard doesn’t sing these songs, but I really can’t hear either without choking up because they mean a lot to us.)

Sue: Danny, you are probably one of THE most supportive spouses I know, and I’ve known you and Richard forever. Did you initially get “dragged” into Cabaret or did you always like it?

I am a landscape architect. Some in my profession throw themselves into landscape writing, teaching, tours…all landscape. I feel more fulfilled setting landscape aside at the end of the workday and being lucky to have an exciting cabaret/show-biz life to be a part of.  Our cabaret friends, close friends and inclusion in an artful and expressive community makes our life very rich and full. That world is possible by being a Cabaret Spouse!

When Richard performs, if I am involved with any production aspect of the performance, I feel quite nervous.  Richard knows perfectly well what he is doing in a performance, but he expects the production support to be professional and on cue. If I need to project clips or images from a computer projector, where plugs and wires and files can do as they please, I am on edge.  Otherwise, I am honored to be at a table where the party around me feel they are at ‘table number one’ and I am proud to know that they will not be disappointed.

Sue:  I know there have been SO many highs in this crazy life with Richard but what comes to mind today?

Carnegie Hall was amazing. Carol Channing’s honest embrace of Richard’s talent has been a high part of the cabaret journey – there are so many stories that really happened and that we share.  All the friends that we have that make life so rich.  They are not in landscape – they are our Cabaret friends.

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Chet Whye, Jr. & Katie McGrath (He has his own song! “The Chet Song” – https://youtu.be/sDQjk7IZR_A – written by Katie and Alex Rybeck)

Note: Chet is also a producer and performer. He wrote:

I belong to Katie McGrath. Five years ago, when I became the boyfriend of a cabaret performer, little did I realize at that time I was actually making a career move. There are cabaret shows, revues, open mics, salons, and retreats. In these times the endless MIA jaunts to rehearsals have been replaced by ‘Do Not Disturb’ sessions at the ZOOM studio in the living room.

Someday soon, I and my cabaret spouse comrades, shall return to supporting every performance chair bound in glazed eyed obedience (they also serve who sit and wait and clap on queue).

I must say, though, watching Katie McGrath onstage is absolutely incredible for me.  That woman is almost as amazing as the star that I see every day with no lights and no makeup.

In Katie’s song about me, she closes out with the question, “Have I run out of rhymes for ‘Chet’?”

“Not yet.”

And I’m still doing my best to keep it that way.

Sue: Chet, you had me at, “I belong to Katie McGrath”! I’m not crying, you are!

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Kari Strand & Ann Hampton Callaway (Our song together is: “On My Way to You” but she often dedicates “I’ve Dreamed of You” to me during shows and has written many songs for me.)

What I love about our life is that we are two creative people who are inspired by our travels, the people we meet and get to know, the artistry of the music that we love and how it expresses what we feel, experience and learn. There are ups and downs, yes, but our life feels like a celebration.

I am always proud and excited for the audience to enjoy what I know is going to be a wonderful musical experience. I always look forward to what new patter or improv she will randomly pull out of thin air.

There are too many (highs) to really write about. But our wedding was very special at Birdland, with all of our wonderful friends sharing their talents and love for one another and supporting us as a couple-that ranks in the top 5 if not number 1.

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Tom Orofino & Leslie Orofino (Tom’s song: “On Such As This”)

Sue: Tell us about being a Cabaret husband. Do you enjoy it?

It’s FUN!  I meet new folks and have had some great adventures, what else can a guy ask for!!! I get excited for Leslie when she’s on stage while feeling a bit of my own nervousness. The Algonquin’s Oak Room, where Leslie performed from 1997 to 2005, was a high for sure, especially when Leslie sang a duet with her Dad, Bob…it was a magical evening!

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Christopher DeNofrio & David Maiocco (Chris’s song: It is constantly changing depending on where we are in our lives, but there ALWAYS is one.)

Answer me this…Being a Cabaret Spouse is like…

Sonny and Cher in the early 70’s. Sometimes cooking in our room on the road and owing the government lots of money.

When the lights go down, if I’m exhausted and have a low grade sweat from all of the drama between sound check and places, I feel “calm” because I KNOW it will be a great show! If I’m not, it doesn’t always mean something’s wrong… but it’s more likely.

Sue: I have always said, “Bad rehearsal, great show!” So I get this Chris.

The highs? The people and the friendships we have developed are even stronger than family. Sometimes it’s the tech people or the waiters at a club or other performers. It is an incredible experience and definitely a “high” of the journey.

Tell me a bit more about why “your song” keeps changing.

Although David has a sensational voice, he doesn’t sing a lot. Most of the time he makes up a silly song just for me. Right now, it’s “rock rock rock rock, wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle” because that’s what he hears me singing to my little ballet students when I teach from home on Zoom. (Note: Christopher is a renowned ballet dancer and instructor.)

In the theatre, I always know when he’s playing something right at me… to me. It’s situational. When he used to play for Tommy Femia I got a wink every time he played “Carolina in the Morning.”

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Here is a special clip of a song written by Audrey Appleby celebrating her husband. It’s called, “Beyond the Curtain” co-written with Sean Harkness.

https://vimeo.com/433251279?fbclid=IwAR1Wc-VxQBTSofO5jogTH2mltfbFoEhpgbm6jXSLW_OjwDiOwV900mZfg2w

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Eliot Rowlands & Deborah Stone (Eliot’s song: “Just To Look At Him”)

Sue: One of my favorite moments in Cabaret ever, was when Deb was singing at Pangea and I watched YOU watch HER. I could feel your pride. Tell me how you feel about being one of our honored Cabaret Spouses?

I love being a Cabaret Spouse. For one thing, unlike Deb’s drama rehearsals of the past, she is at home, singing her sweet heart out with an endless variety of material…and I’m in the next room, rapt.

At her performances, I am totally enthralled, but I’m also drawn to the faces of people who may be new to cabaret. Invariably and, it seems, inevitably, they move from a passive state of simply watching to one of, well, complete enthrallment—all her excitement, longings, sorrows, joy become theirs too. A complete communication has occurred.

Among the many highs of this life together are—to see and feel her total involvement in a song’s story, to read her rave reviews like those of Stephen Mosher, and to witness the energetic exchange and harmony between Deb and her musical directors—Woody Regan, Daryl Kojak and John M. Cook—on stage.

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Sue: Last but not least are another couple I just adore.

Stuart J. Allyn & Carole Demas (Stuart’s song: “Meadowlark”)

I’m probably different than many a Cabaret Spouse as I work in the industry. As a sound designer/engineer and producer, I work with my spouse on her shows, and usually end up mixing them. I put together a lighting plot and a stage plot and work closely with the Music Director and Stage Director (when there is one).  So, for me, it is a very collaborative effort.  We discuss songs, patter, show line up, clothing, mic technique, everything.  And, because of her, I have ended up involved in a lot of other shows many of which she was not in, but she introduced me to the people involved.  I have also roped her into shows I was doing.  Sometimes, I am just there for support, when everything else is already taken care of, but most of the time, it becomes something of a team effort, though she is clearly the star of our relationship.

When the lights go down before a show, I feel just as nervous as she does.  It is a trait we both share.  We both have a Broadway background, but even when I am mixing a show I have done a hundred times or seeing a show I sound designed for the hundredth time, I am always nervous just before curtain.  Carole is the same way, lots of nervous energy until the first notes of music come out and then it’s the work of the moment for each of us and there is no time to think about the nerves.

A big high occurred when we did a series of shows in Barbados to raise funds for the local hospital.  We were in a wonderful old concert hall with a number of other Broadway Stars and nice big band.  She was one of the stars and I sound designed and mixed.  We did 2 weeks of shows for 3 consecutive years.  Similarly, Carole Headlined on Crystal Cruise, Film and Theatre cruise to French Polynesia.  That was quite amazing.  And we did 2 concerts on the Island of St. Croix, both as fundraisers for different charities.  there have been plenty of others along the way, finally, though this is not Cabaret but Broadway, a few years ago, the entire original cast of “Grease” got together to perform the opening for the “Gypsy of the Year” show at The New Amsterdam Theatre.  Totally sold out, 1800 seats each night, it was quite fabulous to see Carole up on that stage singing her heart out and receiving a huge ovation from that audience.

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Sue:  People used to joke about there being a “Kenro sighting” in relation to my own sweet Cabaret Spouse. His support and love have always been behind the scenes but his belief and pride in my work means the world to me. He is truly the wind beneath my wings which has allowed me to soar over all these 35 years I’ve been performing.

There is an episode from “Friends” where Phoebe screams, “He’s her Lobster!” after seeing an old video of Ross’s reaction showing that he had loved Rachel his entire life. Why a lobster? Because, lobsters mate for life! Here’s to all of our Cabaret “Lobsters!” Who’s like any of you? DAMN FEW!

Thank you, Paul, Diane, Danny, Chet, Kari, Tom, Chris, Eliot and Stuart for sharing your thoughts with us today and for being the kind of Cabaret Spouses that you are. Happy Belated Valentine’s Day! Thank you also to Meg, Katie, and Audrey for your gorgeous songs.

This article is dedicated in loving memory to Bill Sensenbrenner, with all our love to Frank Dain.