Cabaret as Personal Musical Theater

I was looking through my past blogs to see if I’ve defined cabaret before and couldn’t find anything.

This past Friday, I was thrilled to reunite with Ryan Cappleman to perform a revised version of my first cabaret, “Oh! To Be a Movie Star!” at Germano’s in Little Italy (the revision includes the addition of the exclamation point after “Oh!” where there had previously been a comma). We had a terrific turnout, unlike the performances that Ryan and I did back in Milwaukee, and it was extremely well-received. It’s nearly a week later and I’m still re-living moments that I felt went particularly well and not moments that went badly (this never happens).

There was one friend who had planned to come but didn’t because he said he had a hard time getting his fiancée to go to concerts on Friday night, which is their date night. I was surprised that he said that, because he’s a musician and actor as well. He thought that the performance was going to be something along the lines of a recital, rather than – well, what it was.

So I’ve done some more musings on exactly what cabaret is. And the title of this article is from something that was said to me by Amanda McBroom at a cabaret workshop I attended in Brookfield, Wisconsin, when she was asked to define cabaret. She thought a bit and said, “Cabaret is personal musical theater.” It’s taking pieces that mean something to you and developing a narrative from those pieces. It might be that you have a theme in mind, or it might be that a theme comes from the pieces you’ve selected.

In the case of this week’s show, my theme was movies and movie stars, and the songs I chose reflected that. And more important, what movies have meant in my own life.

Another definition that I came up with was that creating a cabaret was like writing a script for a jukebox musical. A jukebox musical is a bunch of songs by one artist or composer around which an often-lame script is written. Now, I generally hate that genre. My own personal idea of hell would be sitting through endless productions of Rock of Ages, Jersey Boys, and Pump Boys and Dinettes. But a cabaret is picking songs – perhaps by the same composer, perhaps based on a theme or an era – and putting them together with a narrative of some kind.

However, in a musical, there’s a full cast of characters. In cabaret, all the characters are played by a single performer (or a small group of performers) who might have some specific lines that she wants to say to introduce a song, but the songs are the script. They are what tell the story, through the singer’s interpretation.

In Oh! To Be a Movie Star!, Ryan and I told stories of wanna-be actors, both from a humorous and a tragic perspective, of fans who admire and obsess over the object of their affection, of up-and-coming stars and those fading into obscurity. It wasn’t a single narrative following one person from beginning to end. That’s a different kind of show. And maybe it’s one I’ll do someday.

All I can say right now is that cabaret continues to be one of the most rewarding and creative outlets I have as an artist these days. It’s not the only outlet, which it was in Milwaukee (and why not having an audience was so demoralizing to me), but it’s the one that makes me feel the most like myself. It’s personal. It’s musical. And it’s theater.

Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

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