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Cabaret: The New Night Out In North Texas

by Shelley Kenneavy 16 Feb 2015 6:00 PM
Liz Mikel Cab 1

Liz Mikel performs at Sammons Cabaret. Photo: Joyce Sanders

Cabaret combines the bang of a theatrical performance with the intimacy of a jazz club. And it’s happening all over North Texas. Art&Seek’s Shelley Kenneavy caught up with three groups in particular that are bringing the art form back in a big way.

Promotional art for Denise Lee's cabaret show. Photo: Denise Lee OnStage

Promotional art for Denise Lee’s cabaret show. Photo: Denise Lee OnStage

A dark room, a jazz trio, a silky voice. It’s cabaret night at the Sammons Center, and Heather Paterson croons a soulful tune originally recorded by Billie Holiday. The word cabaret can mean lots of things. An elegant jazz singer with a piano. George Gershwin and Irving Berlin and the Great American Songbook. And to some it’s come to mean something seedy. Singer Denise Lee is trying to change *that* particular image.

She says, “One of the taglines I put on the Dallas Cabaret Artists page is ‘Dear Strip Clubs, I’d like my name back. Love, Cabaret.'”

Sammons Cabaret founder Tracy Fulton says it’s booming.

“The first year and a half we were literally calling friends and family and using social media because we didn’t have a budget. And now it’s definitely selling out.”

Everyone agrees cabaret is at its core “an intimate musical theater experience that includes the audience.” That’s what Lee aims to deliver in her new cabaret series, Denise Lee OnStage.

She explains, “The words in between the songs are just as important as the songs themselves and the through line that they have to have. What makes it different from a club gig is that there’s a whole concept.”

Sammons Cabaret usually features a single performer, but the recent season opener was a group showcase. WT Greer did an interpretation of a Lionel Richie song while Marc Toussaint kept it traditional, even down to the jokes.

Sammons Cabaret's Tracy Fulton. Photo: Sammons Center for the Arts

Sammons Cabaret’s Tracy Fulton. Photo: Sammons Center for the Arts

At Front Line Productions, it’s always a group show. They’re based at the Kitchen Café in Plano.

I caught up with Front Line’s James McQuillen at an uptown coffee shop. Funny coincidence – a bit of cabaret-sounding jazz was playing in the background as we talked about how cabaret can be more than just a quick drink accompanied by a song or two. It can be a full experience.

McQuillen says, “We came up with this kamikaze cabaret concept. The whole thing being that there’s maybe like 8 to 14 people on an evening around a theme. Like in March what we’re going to be doing is an evening celebrating Stephen Sondheim.”

McQuillen and his partner Jay Gardner say producing a cabaret is simply more practical than putting up a full musical. But it still has the feel of a night at the theater.

“And that’s sort of where we’re drawn more to. I mean, I love an amazing jazz singer, but we’re drawn to that more sort of theatrical quality of cabaret.”

Tracy Fulton thinks it’s a special kind of person who performs cabaret. It takes a certain artistry.

He says, “I think the best cabaret artists are the ones, they have a passion for what they’re doing. They love talking about the artist that wrote this or the first time it was performed at whatever venue. They get music. And this is their life.”


Other Places to See Cabaret Performances: 


  • Michael Cook

    Shelley, thank you for shining a spotlight on these wonderful music programs!

  • Love our cabaret stars!