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Cabaret Week

March is Cabaret Month, a celebration invented by cabaret owners in New York City as a way to draw attention to this intimate entertainment form just as Manhattan begins to emerge from the slow months of winter. Buffalo, of course, does not slow down for winter. Nonetheless, Kerrykate Abel, the Cabaret producer for Buffalo United Artists, is joining the festivities by presenting Buffalo’s foremost cabaret artist, pianist-singer Mr. Chuck Basil. His show, called Chuckie and the Rack, show opens on Friday, March 19th at 8pm in the BUA Theatre at 119 Chippewa Street, between Elmwood and Delaware.

“The Rack,” refers to the full-figured trio of backup singers who will perform with Basil, specifically, the buxom talents of Sheila Connors, Loraine O’Donnell, and Miss Abel herself. O’Donnell and Abel shook their maracas earlier this season in their own cabaret show, Mommy’s Martini Hour, for which Basil served as the music director, as he has for the entire BUA cabaret series, now in its first year.

Urbane and sophisticated, “cabaret” is a very personal and personality-focused entertainment form. We may know the word best from the Kander and Ebb musical that gives us the sentiment “Life Is a Cabaret,” but American cabaret is somewhat different from the European version. In Europe, you are likely to find a variety show, or even a full-fledged floor show, sometimes politically oriented, complete with a master of ceremonies. American cabaret is almost always a single act—sometimes a comedian, a drag artist, or a band with a featured instrumentalist—but most often, American cabaret is focused on a singer with a talent for storytelling and a genius for song interpretation.

Great cabaret performers can command the small venues in which they perform with style and ease, forging a personal bond with their audiences, taking them into their confidence, and making it seem as if we are all on intimate terms. That is the delicious thrill of cabaret.

Some of the cabaret greats were first known in other venues: Noel Coward came from the theater, Marlene Dietrich from the movies, and Peggy Lee from the big band circuit. But some of the greatest are known primarily for cabaret alone: Hildegard, Julie Wilson, Bobby Short, and Eartha Kitt. They appeared in other venues, but cabaret is their domain. Frank Sinatra would happily admit that he learned phrasing and storytelling by watching the great Mabel Mercer and technique from Sylvia Syms.

Contemporary masters of the art include Sally Mayes, K.T. Sullivan, Ann Hampton Calloway, Andrea Marcovicci, Annie Ross, Marilyn Maye, and Michael Feinstein, at places like the Metropolitan Room, Feinstein’s, and Don’t Tell Mama. (When Joan Rivers isn’t working the red carpet, she can be found back in Manhattan at the West Bank Café, working the sort of intimate room where she got her start).

If you don’t know the names of these artists, it is because their influence, while colossal, is typically confined to a finite geography—to one city, or even to the show room of a single upscale hotel. For decades, Bobby Short reigned supreme at the Cafe Carlyle in New York’s Carlyle Hotel, where he would entertain audiences with selections from the American Songbook—Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Harold Arlen, the Gershwins. A great cabaret experience should feel like a private discovery.

In Buffalo, Chuck Basil and Kerrykate Abel reign supreme.

A noted cabaret artist in her own right, Abel is devoted to the resurgence in cabaret entertainment that began about a decade ago, and is working the BUA venue as a kind of mission. She has sought to showcase local talent, and to reignite the pubic appetite intimate entertainment in a casual setting. The series began this season with Marc Sacco’s autobiographical cabaret show, Marc with a “C,” and will continue with Abel’s own show with Basil.

Chuck Basil has long been one of Buffalo’s most popular and respected performers. Indeed, he has performed thousands of songs on numerous stages and at countless piano bars throughout this region. A regular on the wedding circuit, he has sung at more than 2,500 local weddings. In 1999, he was selected to participate in the Cabaret Symposium at the Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford Connecticut, where he was tutored in the art of cabaret by such legends of the form as Julie Wilson, Paul Trueblood, and Sally Mayes—as was Miss Abel. In 2002, he was chosen by Marvin Hamlisch to perform with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and to showcase “Take Me to Christmas Past,” a song that Hamlisch wrote specifically for the event.

Basil’s newest CD will be released later this year. In keeping with the cabaret spirit—intimate, warm, and personal—Chuckie and the Rack promises “a musical journey performed in concert/cabaret style filled with an array of songs and stories inspired from Mr. Basil’s life and career.”

This limited engagement continues March 20, 21, 26, and 27. All performances begin at 8pm, except for Sunday, March 21, which will begin at 7pm. For more information or tickets email the Buffalo United Artists box office at or call 886-9239.

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