What a way to end my Fringe travels with two shows that, along with Dizzy Miss Lizzie’s Roadhouse Revue-The Orestia, were my favorite shows of the festival.
The last two years, they were Naked and now they went Psycho, and this year, I was crazy about the wonderful selection of songs and the performances of the talented cast – Terri Allen, Chris Cochran, Emily Leatha Everson, Arlene Hill, Michael Vitaly Sazonov, Judy Simmons and Lonny Smith, all wonderfully accompanied by musical director George Fulginiti-Shakar.
Joel: As the director of Psycho Cabaret, take us through the journey of putting this show together.
Judy: We added two new people to the cast this year, Arlene Hill and Michael Vitaly Sazonov. This year’s cast included 4 people, Terri Allen, Emily Leatha Everson, Lonny Smith and George Fulginiti-Shaker, also the music director, who have done it all three years. Chris Cochran and I have been in two years. We consider it a collaborative effort. Everyone brings in songs that fit our theme Psycho Cabaret and we create a show as we go along in rehearsal — really fascinating because each year the shows have been very different.
Having a larger cast made the small stage at Chief Ike’s Mambo room a bit complicated during opening and closing numbers, but otherwise created a good psycho background along with our “shower curtains” to enliven the show.
Joel: What does”Another Winter in a Summer Town” mean to you?
Judy: Interesting question! I always care very deeply about the songs I choose to sing. It is a beautiful song, first, and the lyrics are heartbreaking. It speaks to what we “leave behind” as we grow older and realize how dreams have changed as experiences have touched and molded our lives. It is about loss and loneliness, and lost hope and facing heart-breaking endings.
Joel: What singers have influenced your style of singing?
Judy: Another hard question. Every singer that I listen to has changed and deepened my thinking, even my students. I love to hear people sing, especially cabaret singers including Barbara Cook, Amanda McBroom, Andrea Marcovicci, Karen Mason, Michael Feinstein, Ella Fitzgerald, Mabel Mercer, Billie Holiday and many more. I simply love to sing. I always have from a very young age. It is very gratifying that audiences are still so lovely and seem to enjoy what I do.
Joel: Where will we see you next?
Judy: I am writing a new cabaret that will hopefully be in performance in the Fall, tentatively titled, A Date With Judy. I will keep you posted. I will also be in a reading of a new musical, From TOM to TENN about the life of Tennessee Williams at MetroStage on August 11,12,13,18,19, and 20.
Joel: I despise Mel Brooks’ score for Young Frankenstein, but tonight, you made me love “Don’t Touch Me. ” How did you do that?
Emily: To me, cabaret is “telling stories with songs.” At least at this stage in my cabaret performing life, I do not make a relationship with a song unless I have a specific story to tell.
My good friend Michael Miyazaki suggested that this might be a song for me. When I heard it, a specific context immediately sprang to mind. First of all, as I say in my patter, there really is an awful lot of pressure on married people to have sex, and lots of it. There are books, magazine articles (recent ones, for example, in Time and Cookie [a new moms magazine]), and TV shows…everywhere you look. My husband and I are parents of two young children. With each pregnancy, the last trimester and first 3 months of their newborn lives were, for me, well…let’s just say I was uncomfortable. No sleep, hormonal hell, healing from surgery, being swelled with baby fat and MILK…then on top of that you’re supposed to join in on a sex life? That’s where I’m coming from in this song… it’s all about trying to suppress a “mommy meltdown” and achieve my request to not be poked and prodded for just a few minutes…”Please don’t touch me….and here are a few ideas to tide you over.” This is, of course, not the original context of the song sung by the character Elizabeth in Young Frankenstein.
To perform a song, I put it through a “process” I developed which helps me to cement my understanding and to specify and personalize each moment, idea, and word in the song. The music comes next. George Fulginiti-Shakar helped me come up with a terrific arrangement (and then his amazingly giving/supportive accompaniment each night sets me free to tell this story without worry about the music). It all comes together when I stand the whole thing up in front of a wonderful director like Judy Simmons who helps put the pieces in the right places and correct mistakes. I really believe, though, that a song is never finished…it is always a work in progress (just like life!).
My favorite lines are:
“Until we wean him we will settle for affection. Until we feed him you hold onto that erection.”I had to change the words of this a little to fit my “context” but I like this line because it sums up the whole song and because, well, it’s fun to sing “erection” in a song. I also enjoy the liberation of the “mommy meltdown” and singing “tits” about 25 times. The idea came to me that it was like Sally Fields in Sybil: “They’re everywhere. They’re everywhere.” For me, when I was a nursing mommy, the attention given to my boobs was outrageous! Every pediatrician visit with the babies, my dr. visits, every two hours with the baby, my husband, the stares of strangers…They’re everywhere! They’re everywhere!
Joel: Tell us about the DC Cabaret Network.
Emily: The DC Cabaret Network’s official mission is to “increase the opportunities for cabaret events and performances and build audiences who appreciate cabaret. The Network is also connecting local cabaret artists and creating a home for performers where they can share information and grow artistically.” We host a monthly open mic (organized by Terri Allen), produce showcase events to give members an opportunity to present polished performances, publish a monthly newsletter which contains information about the cabaret scene in the DC metro area, produce a website and blog (both web-mastered by Chris Cochran) along with other activities like seminars and organizing performances for city events like Arts on Foot and Artomatic.
DC Cabaret Network has also produced shows for each of the three Capital Fringe Festivals. For this, we owe a debt of gratitude to Terri Allen for doing all the leg work getting us into the festival and to Judy Simmons for her direction and George Fulginiti-Shakar for his musical direction of all three shows. As a board, we decided that it was important to be involved, from the very beginning, in the creative challenge of the Fringe and, in support of our mission, to give DC audiences a chance to experience this amazingly wonderful art form that is CABARET!
Joel: Where will we see you next?
Emily: Next up for me is a solo cabaret at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church (“Maggie’s Cabaret”) in January or February of 2009. Until then, I’ll be standing up at every cabaret opportunity, singing to my kids every night, and developing a program of “singing” books to kids.
I have been looking for scene stealers among the musicals and concerts at the Fringe, but when I heard the Patrick Bussink whom I had just met when he played Jesus in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot was doing physical comedy like Buster Keaton, I just had to have a look.
Patrick Bussink had the audience howling at the July 25th matinee as he became a human pretzel, smacking his briefcase on the floor, having the briefcase smack him, escaping falling walls, using a tie in new hysterical ways and other physical feats that are difficult to describe. It was Buster Keaton reincarnated.
Joel: How did you come up with the premise for [eureka]?
Patrick: I’ve been on my own meandering spiritual path for a few years now and what always strikes me as funny is that the pursuit of peace of mind and so-called “enlightenment” has to happen, despite (and often because of) all our baggage and neuroses. There’s something hilarious and humbling about the whole process when you stop to look at it. And it just seemed to be the perfect theme to tackle with this style of performance because it was a fun and ridiculous way to speak to it.
Joel: What Buster Keaton movies inflenced your creation of the piece?
Patrick: Mostly The Cameraman. I also watched a couple of Jacques Tati films at the suggestion of my director Wyckham Avery, which were also very helpful.
Joel: What exercises do you do before the show?
Patrick: Lots of yoga. And if I have any tightness—especially in my lower back—I’ll roll around on a lacrosse ball. It’s basically a free massage.
Joel: Explain what happens when the case is opened at the end of the show.
Patrick: Well of course the standard answer to that sort of question is yet another question: what do you think happens? One explanation is that Albert has an epiphany, a [eureka] moment, if you will—and I hope you do. While he doesn’t reach the perfect enlightenment he’s imagined that would make him flawless overnight, he has received some important illumination.
Joel: What is the scariest moment of the piece for you?
Patrick: Well, it’s all pretty safe stuff actually, but falling with the wall at the end was a little scary at first, though I got used to it real quick. As always the scariest part is about 10 seconds before the lights come up at the top of the show =) Today, One of the walls fell early so we had to cut an entire section. Luckily I have a great stage manager who didn’t miss a beat!
SPECIAL KUDOS TO…
Michael Vitaly Sazonov stopped the show singing Andrew Lippa’s “What is it About Her” from The Wild Party at Psycho Cabaret. Michael powerfully performed the song, where, in the musical, Burr – the frustrated “psycho” of the show – tries to figure out why he stays with his cheating wife Queenie. Singing, “This woman makes me cry, this woman makes me burn…”, you could feel Burr’s disgust, frustration and anger. For me, Michael gave the best performance I saw in the two dozen musicals or concerts I saw during this year’s Fringe Festival.
Michael’s is performing his solo show My Well Schooled Heart, as part of Signature Theatre’s “Sizzling Summer Night’s Series” this Wednesday, July 30th at 9:30 PM and Thursday, July 31st at 8:30 PM.
Rachel Anne Warren blew the roof off the Warehouse Mainstage playing the deadly Aria deWinter with her rousing rendition of “This Girl Can Rock” in Landless Theatre Company’s production of Diamond Dead. This girl can sing and rock! Look for the return of Diamond Dead this Halloween.