With venues reopening in New York, life is cabaret once again

“Thank you all for risking your lives to come out tonight,” Joe Iconis Welcoming socially distanced crowds quipped to the reopening of cabaret venue Feinstein/54 in June. manhattan.

The musician, songwriter and performer Iconis, beloved among young musical theater fans, was joking, but before diving into the goofy and poignant set, he alternated with actor and singer Jorge Salazar—a star of the first Broadway production of Iconis, “keep more calm”“It’s the most incredible thing to be able to do this show for real humans, not computer screens,” he said.

A moist-eyed reunion between the cast and fans is happening across the city as the Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being relaxed. One fan told the band Betty, “I hope you are prepared for how emotional it will be when you are on stage, because it will be emotional for us, supporting artists we love again.” Huh.” In the intimate spaces that house these shows, interactions between the cast and those who love them are integral to what Sandra Bernhard called an “in-the-moment, visceral experience”.

Old establishments like jazz clubs Birdland and Blue Note, new venues like Green Room 42 and City Winery in Hudson River Park (which both reopened in April), as well as the East Village alt-cabaret os Pangea and Club Coming are once again . Offering food, drink and in-the-meat entertainment as cabaret giants – along with other jazz and pop acts, and drag artists – return to work which is their bread and butter.

“Seeing people again reacting physically to music – tapping toes, trembling heads – it’s almost better than applause,” said pianist and singer Michael Garin, one of many who have spoken out during the pandemic. Used social media to stay connected with fans during, and in between to resume performances for a live audience.

But, Garin said, “it’s not like we’re flipping a switch and getting everything back to normal.” Especially in the spring, not everyone was ready to pick up where they left off. “There were some musicians who were ready to book as soon as possible, and others who said, ‘Let me see – I don’t know if I want to be in an indoor space right now,'” said Steven Bensusson, president of Blue Note Entertainment. of group.

Scott Siegel, creator and host of VirtualScott Siegel’s Nightclub New York,” said the nervousness is still shared by some patrons: “Everyone is hopeful, but I hear people say they are nervous. There are also many people who come from outside the Tristate region, and this is an attempt to get in.”

Regulations are still in flux, with vigilance and adaptability both key. Gov.’s Andrew M. Before Cuomo’s announcement in mid-June that State may reopen almost completelyBirdland had planned to return to only 50 percent capacity on July 1. Instead, all of its 150 seats are accessible from the start, with variety show hosts Jim Caruso and Susie Mosher, including theater and cabaret veterans like Chita Rivera and Natalie Douglas in the first week. (The club’s lower venue, the Birdland Theatre, will be closed until September.) Blue Note, which reopened in mid-June at about two-thirds capacity, has since made all of its 250 seats available. Proof of vaccination against the coronavirus is not required in any club, although unvaccinated masks are recommended at Birdland.

In contrast, below 54, where the plan is to gradually build back to a full crowd of about 150, proof of vaccination is required, as it is in the 60-seat cabaret room in Pangea, which is still limited to 80 percent capacity. . Both locations were among those that developed the streaming series when it closed. “We originally got into it to stay active, but it became a way to pay employees and expand the audience,” said Richard Frankel, one of the owners of 54 Below, which will launch the new series “Live From Feinstein/54″. below,” offering a live stream live streamed from the venue on July 11.. “Right now we’re focused on reopening Live, but it’s certainly something to continue exploring once the dust settles.”

Ryan Paternite, director of programming at Birdland, is similarly encouraged by the response to “Radio Free Birdland”, although he said, “My feeling is that people get very jealous watching shows on their computers or phones – especially if they have Have to pay for the ticket.”

Artists are generally optimistic about the opportunities created by technology. “I’m very pro-streaming,” said Tony Award-nominated singer and actress Lily Cooper, who is set to appear on Below 54 on July 28 and August 15. “It broadens the spectrum of people being able to see things, and that’s very important.” Caruso plans to continue streaming his “Pajama Cast Party” weekly; He added that the virtual program has given him the opportunity to grow more colorful with his audience (“It’s become more colorful, literally and figuratively”) and his talent pool (“I’ve delved into TikTok and Instagram and discovered some thrilling new artists) “) is allowed to diversify.

Many are hopeful that diversity and inclusivity will be further emphasized in an art form that counts artists of color such as Mabel Mercer and Bobby Short as historical icons. “My art is often based on what I’ve gone through, and being a black man is part of that,” said Broadway veteran Derrick Baskin, who packed R&B classics at the bottom 54 on the list of recent dates. is.

“The great thing about cabaret is that, if you’re able, you can react to what’s happening in the world,” said Justin Vivian Bond, who is scheduled to reopen Joe’s pub in October. For Bond, the pandemic presented challenges in a different way, in a different way, as faced by the LGBTQ community during another plague: “When AIDS was happening, even when people were dying, you were with them. Could have been. The phase we’ve just gone through was a very isolating stroke. I don’t know if I’ll have any great insights about it, but hopefully the audience will enjoy what I say .

Bernhard, who will be back in December for the annual holiday engagement at Jo’s Pub, which she was supposed to leave in 2020, is still not sure what insights she will provide. “The prime location I’m in, I don’t even know what the next two months are going to bring,” she said. “I just want to perform, like everyone else does right now.”

Artists and fans will be greeted with renovations at some venues, and other temptations. Birdland reduced its ticket price to 99 cents in July, a fee the club had originally opened in 1949. 54 Below is introducing a new menu created by “Top Chef” winner Harold Dieterle. West Bank Cafe’s Laurie Beachman Theater is getting a “face lift,” its owner Steve Olson said – fresh paint, new carpet and bar equipment, upgraded sound and lighting – in preparation for reopening after Labor Day. Triad Theaters used their forced downtime to “revamp, repaint, and acquire new equipment,” said booking director Bernie Farshpan.

But it’s the love of performing myself, and the perspective gained after a year of lost shows, that is prompting many of the cast’s emotional reactions to return to the stage. Michael Feinstein, the multitasking American songbook champion and namesake for clubs in San Francisco and Los Angeles as well as New York, believes that “anyone who is an artist is coming out of a very different place, of connection. With deep emotion and joy and gratitude.”

“I can’t imagine any artist taking any moment of everything we do,” he said.

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