Life is a Valentine: Courtney Tisch & Karen Lange on Singing Our Hearts Out
When I got the call from Karen Lange and Courtney Tisch that they were performing a Valentine’s Day-themed cabaret Singing Our Hearts Out at The Bethesda Theatre. I had recently fallen in love and wanted to take my new partner to something romantic and fun so I immediately invited him and made it an outing for my group The Ushers Theatre Going Group, which was celebrating its 20th anniversary. Many members had also recently been struck by Cupid’s arrow.
What an entertaining night we had! We were treated to some of the most talented women in our area singing Broadway tunes and some songs that I had never heard before. Everyone put their own personal touch to their songs, and kibitzed with the audience. It was the perfect Valentine’s Day gift.
I asked producer Courtney Tisch and Karen Lange to talk about how they managed their miracle of casting, and rehearsing midst the largest snowfall in the DC area in decades and still got the buzz out in time to sell out the evening. They’re reprising the cabaret in May, so read on to get an idea of what might be in store for you.
Joel: Take us through the journey of co-producing Singing Our Hearts Out.
Courtney: I have always been enamored with cabaret shows. I love the idea of putting together a group of talented people in a close and intimate space and singing from every genre of music imaginable. I lived in New York for a few years before DC, and cabaret shows took place pretty much every night of the week.
In DC, cabarets are not put on that often, and this year I really had the urge to produce one in hopes of this becoming a more regular thing around town. Karen and I had become close through Washington Improv Theater, and since I knew she had recently started her own theater company, I thought she’d be the perfect person to collaborate with on a project. Together we each invited strong female singers that we knew in the area to come together and sing songs about whatever Valentine’s Day meant to them, and picked the weekend of Valentine’s Day as our performance date.
The cast included the very talented, Toni Rae Brotons, Susan Dye, Allyson Harkey, Caren Hearn, Kristin Jepperson, Natalie Pyle, Renee Rabben, Randa Tawil, Karen and myself. We decided to let each performer pick their own songs, with no restrictions on the type of song it was, and in turn we got a truly diverse line up of songs, ranging from everything from jazz, to folk, to comedic skits, to pop to musical theater.
Karen: I’ll just add that I had the connection to the Bethesda Theater since I performed there in an improvised music show earlier in the fall of ’09. I commissioned some marketing posters and logos, and made sure to email about a thousand people. We also promoted the show on Facebook, Twitter, and the Pinky Swear Productions web site.
Joel: Karen, talk about your two songs, “Brass Pocket” and “A Quiet Night Home”
Karen: Since I am usually making up songs as I appear in Washington Improv Theater’s iMusical, I was really excited to sing songs that were written by someone else.
I chose Brass in Pocket, by The Pretenders, specifically because it wasn’t a Broadway song. We had a lot of powerhouse singers in the cast, and I thought they would represent musical theater quite well. I wanted to do something a little different. My voice is alto with a big belt, which really suits the song and the rock genre. I liked that it was a little sultry, sassy, and sexy. I slowed down the arrangement to make it more “loungey”. I hope I did Chrissie Hynde proud!
Brass in Pocket was also a nice balance to the other song I chose, A Quiet Night at Home from Bare: A Pop Opera. My friend (and Pinky Swear co-founder) knew a member of the original cast of Bare. I had never heard the music until we were on our way back from a theater trip to New York City. She played the song, and I really felt the lyrics, deep in my gut. It’s about a high school girl who is overweight and ignored by her friends. She is lonely and longs for someone to love her, but feels like there’s no way anyone will love her as she is. She puts on a brave face and shields herself by being funny. This describes me to a T in junior high and part of high school. The emotional connection I had to this song really showed when I performed it. I got a great response from the audience. It was a magic moment for me.
Joel: Courtney, tell me about “A Fine Fine Line”, which is one of my favorite songs from a Broadway musical (I played it for an ex to explain to him why I wanted him out of my life!) and “Life is A?”
Courtney: I absolutely love the song “A Fine Fine Line” from Avenue Q which is one of my favorite shows. Before the cabaret I had actually only ever sung this song for auditions, so it was really exciting to perform it in front of an audience for the first time. Even though this song is about the hurt that can come along with love, it was definitely a perfect song for this cabaret since we were presenting all sides of love and relationships, not just the happy sides.
The other piece I performed, “Life is A?” is actually a solo performance piece I developed that I’m currently working on expanding into a one woman show. The piece is about a young girl named Casey who completely freaks out when she does not get the lead in her high school production of the musical, Cabaret.” It actually works really well as a cabaret piece because it combines singing, comedy, and the musical Cabaret all at once.
This piece is equally funny and ridiculous because it actually comes from a semi-autobiographical place! Though I got to play the part of Fraulein Kost in Cabaret when I was a senior in high school, which is a great role, I very much wanted to play the lead role of Sally Bowles. This piece is my way of playing that part as many times as I want to.
Joel: What was your favorite performance that night besides your own?
Courtney: This is a really hard question to answer! Everyone brought so much to the show because each woman has such different qualities which are fantastic on stage. However, if I had to choose I would have to pick Susan Dye’s performance of “Many A New Day” from Oklahoma. She was just so creative in setting up this piece as a girl named “Laurie” being in therapy for loving a crazy guy named “Curly,” and it was absolutely hysterical. She even held up psychological disorder posters throughout the song. How can you not love that?!
Karen: I really enjoyed watching Kristen Jepperson and Caren Hearne tear it up during their duet/medley. They had tremendous comic timing and played off each other so well. It doesn’t hurt that they are both dynamite singers. Kristen was also very, very helpful in arranging the group songs with our accompanist.
Our opening number of Poison’s “Every Rose has its Thorn” was also hysterically funny to arrange and produce. I like the fact that we melded an 80’s hard rock hair band in with songs from Oklahoma and Jesus Christ, Superstar.
Joel: I hear you will be doing the show again. Fill us in. What plans do you have for doing more cabarets in the future?
Courtney: We are very excited because we actually will be reprising our cabaret again soon on May 7 and 8th at the Warehouse Theater, and being produced by City Artistic Partnerships! This will be a slightly different run as we will be sharing the bill with local a cappella groups, Capital Blend and Kismet as part of an all female musical weekend called, “Warehouse or Bust.” They are phenomenal groups, and we are excited to share the stage with them. Our cast for this weekend includes, Toni Rae Brotons, Susan Dye, Kate Debelack, Isabel Hernandez-Cata, Randa Tawil, Brittany Williams, and Karen and myself. Please visit http://www.cityartisticpartnerships.org/cap/ for more information and to order tickets. After the May show we hope to produce a Punk Rock themed cabaret as well as a Halloween themed cabaret. We will keep you posted on the details
Karen: Since I co-founded Pinky Swear, and produced a show for 2009 Capital Fringe Festival, I figured that producing a cabaret wouldn’t be too challenging. In fact, the only real challenge was the snow! We were so happy that so many people made it to the show, despite the onslaught of Snowmageddon. Following the May cabaret at Warehouse, Pinky Swear is producing another Fringe festival show called Be Here Now, which is an homage to Chekhov’s Three Sisters. Like last year, we will be directed by Lisa Bruneau, the amazing local actress & co-founder of Taffety Punk. The play has incredible writing by Carson Kreitzer.
DC Cabaret Network website.