In New York City, it seems, one can find a cabaret venue on virtually every corner. Although such institutions are far less common in our own metropolitan area, things are starting to change. Much of these thanks go to two infectiously energetic musical theatre aficionados – Regie Cabico and DonMike Mendoza.
Over a year ago, they created a weekly cabaret series at Dupont Circle’s Black Fox Lounge, aptly named La-Ti-Do (catchy no?). Every Monday, spoken word artists and area musical theatre performers share the stage in this informal and immensely collegial and encouraging environment.
Depending on the week, one can see performers that have graced the stage on a regular basis at Signature Theatre, up-and-coming young singer-actors who’ve performed at Keegan Theatre among other venues, local musical theatre college students, and spoken word artists who have received local and even national acclaim.
Last Monday (March 25th), for example, those that trekked to the Dupont area in the rain were treated to some fierce belting from local up-and-coming musical theatre performers Tina Ghandchilar and Nora Palka. These versatile performers, backed by stellar pianist Jonathan Tuzman, covered everything from contemporary showtunes to pop songs. When local Catholic University of America musical theatre student Zazzy Brown and spoken word artists Saida Augostini and Denise Jolly (5th in the National Poetry Slam) were added to the list, the end result was an entertaining evening to be sure.
Ms. Palka – a CUA alum with performance credits at Keegan, Signature, Landless, and Washington Stage Guild – started the show with a technically brilliant and emotionally purposeful rendition of Stephen Schwartz’s “Meadowlark,” (from The Baker’s Wife) which she dedicated to her late, great teacher Jane Pesci-Townsend. Often, I cringe when young performers take this classic on, but Palka certainly did it justice and then some. She also exhibited her peppy musical theatre side with Andrew Lippa’s “Life of the Party” (from The Wild Party) among other numbers from Thoroughly Modern Mille and Company. In every case, she commanded the stage.
When I saw Ms. Palka in Keegan’s recent production of Spring Awakening, I remember being extremely impressed by her smoky, blues-infused, and textured vocals as she took on Ilse’s featured number, “Blue Wind.” She displayed this same vocal skill as she covered numbers from singers as varied as Joni Mitchell and Janis Joplin. She’s one to watch to be sure.
Ms. Ghandchilar – who received musical theatre training at James Madison University and the Theatre Lab and has performed at Keegan Theatre among other local theatres – was exceedingly charming as she took on everything from Disney (“Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid) and contemporary musical theatre (Howland and Dickstein’s “Astonishing” from Little Women) to recent pop hits from Sara Bareilles, Kelly Clarkson, and Alicia Keys. Her big vocals on every number were matched by equally intense emotions. Although I find “Astonishing” to be a bit overdone – and it’s clear not every singer who tries it should – Ghandchilar met the challenge. I appreciated that she did not simply copy Sutton Foster’s rendition of the song, but made it her own. The vocal highlight of the night, by far, was her take on Bareilles’ “City,” which was stunning beautiful.
The other featured performers, particularly Denise Jolly, also made the most of their time in the spotlight. Jolly proved adept at showcasing her spoken word talents with poems that covered issues in the modern social consciousness. Her evocative poems are fearless and her performance style certainly matches them.
Cabico and Mendoza still have some kinks to work out with their hosting skills, but they are performers in their own right, and are certainly entertaining. I certainly commend them for giving these young performers a platform to share their talents with the local community.
I urge DC Theatre Scene readers to give this weekly cabaret series a try.
This review covers the La-Ti-Do performance on March 25, 2013. Performers change on a weekly basis. For further information on La-Ti-Do, which is presented at the Black Fox Lounge – 1723 Connecticut Avenue, NW in Washington, DC – every Monday from 8 – 10 pm, visit the La-Ti-Do Web site or Facebook page (click on the Events tab). Tickets are $10 at the door.
Coming April 1: The La-Ti-Do April Fool’s Day Show featuring original work from composer Eric Tipler and his Fringe Show One Night in NY“. Hosted by DonMike Mendoza with Guest Host: Simone Shiff. Guest performers TBA.