Making the most of my days in the D, I attended a pop-up cabaret.
Cabaret 313 (313’s the area code of Detroit) was started by Allan Nachman and Sandi Reitelman. How, I wondered, did 2 virtual novices pull this off?
Allan and Sandi met on a committee. They both mentioned their love of cabaret. (Think Josephine Baker at the Folies Bergere or Toulouse-Lautrec posters for The Moulin Rouge in Paris; the satire of the Kabarett during the Weimar era in Berlin.) Sandi had studied music in college and worked behind the scenes for arts organizations. Allan and wife Joy loved Feinstein’s and the Café Carlyle cabarets in New York. Detroit was lacking in such entertainment. Allan and Sandi decided to do something about it.
For the past 4 years, the twosome have brought top notch singers to pop-up venues around Detroit. Nachman calls their audience “urban explorers who enjoy adventures in the city.” I attended the last performance of the 2016/17 season, held in a club-like setting of the Boll Theater in the downtown Y. What a treat.
Initially, Allan and Sandi tested the idea at soirees in homes of 3 “influential” friends. In the north end, hosts were Ethan & Gretchen Davidson (he’s the musician son of the late industrial scion/Pistons owner Bill Davidson). Downtown, Plante Moran chief marketing officer Jeff Antaya hosted in an empty loft next to his own in the Willis Building. In Grosse Pointe, dermatologist Ali Moiin hosted. Allan and Sandi invited friends to buy tickets. The evenings were a hit.
Sandi recalls sitting in back of the Davidsons’ living room the night of their first soiree. As Christine Andreas began to sing, “tears rolled down my cheeks. I thought: Wow. This is real. It’s going to happen.”
Response, Allan said, was “enthusiastic enough” to recruit donors to help finance a series. They created a board of directors from music-minded friends. Allan, a lawyer with Butzel Long, established a non-profit 501C3. They decided to rotate venues, encouraging suburbanites to visit different parts of the city.
“I had experience with artists and agents,” Sandi says. “Allan had legal experience. We learned as much as we could and created as many relationships as we could.” They both put in countless hours.
A highlight was Allan Cumming, a singer/performer/actor, also a star of the TV series “The Good Wife.” (Cumming won a Tony on Broadway as the emcee in Cabaret.) It took 2 years to negotiate his contract. Demand was so great that they rented out The Cube at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, sold out all 350 seats, and turned away 100 more. Also sold out: Anna Gasteyer, a singer/comedienne who was on SNL.
High priced tickets, $125 and $60, don’t cover the expense of mounting cabarets. The difference is made up by donations from aficionados.
Sandi “loved the chance to use all the skills” she developed over her career. Aside from finding and contracting with talent, arranging locations, overseeing sound and lighting, “It’s taken leadership and passion. I feel as though we planted the seed, and it has roots.”
Sandi recently gave up her post as executive director. Husband Claud retired as a surgeon at Children’s Hospital. The couple want to spend more time traveling. She and Claud began checking off destinations on their bucket list. In the last month: Peru, New York and Napa.
While seeking Sandi’s replacement, Allan’s doing his best to fill her shoes. “We’ve put in 4 hard years and built something terrific. I want to see it continue.” His wife, Joy, is “very supportive.” Though many of Allan’s friends are retiring, he sees ensuring the future of Cabaret 313 as “worth giving up a few golf games.” Next season includes John Pizzarelli, a cabaret rock star with many solo albums and appearances on albums by Paul McCartney, James Taylor, etc.
Cabaret 313 features some of the best in the business. Along with friends Duffy Wineman and Tonia Victor, I saw LaChanze (Creole for “the charmed one”). LaChanze won the Tony in 2006 for her lead role as Celie in “The Color Purple.” (Based on the 1982 novel by Alice Walker, the play depicts an African-American woman in the American South in the early 20th century.)
LaChanze sings with intensity, rhythm and vocal range and moves as gracefully as she sings. In a small venue (an audience of about 80), she makes such direct eye contact that you’re sure she’s about to sit down at your table and order a drink.
LaChanze sang several numbers I didn’t know. “Have You Ever Felt This Way” was a knockout. She asked if anyone knew who wrote it. A lone voice from the back called out: Pink. After, I listened to Pink’s version. Not close to the power of LaChanze’s.
At the end of her performance, LaChanze revealed that when she was 8 months pregnant with her second child, her husband was killed in the 9/11 attacks. Securities trader Calvin Gooding was working at Cantor Fitzgerald in Tower One of the World Trade Center. 3 years ago LaChanze sang “Amazing Grace” at the dedication of the 9/11 memorial and museum. She dedicated her performance to her late husband.
Regarding her last song of the evening at Cabaret 313, LaChanze has sung it as a lullabye to her two daughters every night for many years. While singing at the Boll Theater, she murmured goodnight to each of her daughters by name. There can’t have been a dry eye in the house.
Her final song: “That’s All.”