“Requestos?” Karen hesitantly asked her Japanese audience.
“Karensan … Do you know … "
"Oh my god, I hope they don't ask for a Japanese song!"
"You Are My Sunshine?”
“Phew!” Karen’s tension and nervousness suddenly disappeared on her first night of a successful nine-month gig at Saipan’s Niko Hotel piano lounge.
So began Karen’s crazy, adventurous career entertaining premium hotel and cruise-ship guests throughout the world. Singing and playing the piano – and telling stories around the show tunes and American Songbook standards in her many-thousand repertoire.
At least until she met me. I was a grounding force as I became the world-traveling adventure as she held down the home front.
She discovered new focuses. Reaching into her childhood life of Broadway shows and the urge to be back on stage, she became interested in cabaret and storytelling. But where do you start?
Karen had many show-biz friends she gained working in a local gay bar with whom she shared her thoughts. Soon, there was a team – a theatrical director, a musical director, and leads to musicians … but no one to produce and finance the endeavor.
Well, who else to induct for the job but me – Who, me? Although I had a musical background, my only exposure to the entertainment world was my wife, Karen, for whom I’d been schlepping her equipment all these years. What does a computer science engineer have to do with liberal arts? I took marketing communications courses at UCSD, so I had a handle on marketing and public relations. Will that help?
Karen was in charge! She wanted to tell her stories to live audiences.
So, I crash-learned stage lighting and sound, audio and video production, etc.
But she was always ahead of me. As I frantically tried to rent a venue, finally settling on the 500-seat Saville< Theatre< on the San Diego City College campus, she was incommunicado assembling her music, trying to tie it all into a coherent storyline and recruiting musicians.
Karen always wanted the best she could get – ‘Queen's taste with a pauper pocket.’ Beyond all possible belief, she recruited Joe Foss, one of San Diego’s top performance pianists, and Bill Andrews, the dream choice for bassist. What’s amazing – they were willing to be paid from the show's take! And rehearsals began at our house.
Karen themed her show around Cabaret, the musical. “Who’ll be your MC?” asked the band.
“You mean a Joel Grey-like person? I never thought of that.”
“Well, you need to since that’s how you want your show to flow. I know the perfect actor/singer, but he won’t be cheap,” replied Joe.
It took some persuasion, but Ric Henry agreed to come on board. It's a good thing he accepted because his extensive experience directing shows helped translate Karen’s vision into a professional presentation. The rest of the production crew fell into place as a few of her intrepid followers pitched in to be a part of the adventure.
Meanwhile, I must create advertising material, including posters and tickets – Photoshop to the rescue! But the show needed a name, “Karen’s Cabaret’ wouldn’t hack it. Besides, my argument was that it’s not a real cabaret which is performed in a small, intimate space. Plus, traditional cabaret doesn’t include the extravagance of this show.
“It’s a cabaret my way!” stammered Karen.
“That’s it,’ exclaimed Ric. “Cabaret My Way.”
So the rehearsals went on. Our two. Brittanies Touché and Mona, having grown up sleeping under Karen’s piano, loved the music. Mona, the female, loved to crawl into the base instrument case.
It wasn’t just a smooth cruise. I had to figure out what equipment we needed, where to get it, and how to pay for it. Plus, as the tension grew toward the venue rental date – how to fill the five hundred seats.
In the midst of the dress rehearsal Karen was so nervous, worrying about having a ‘Streisand moment,’ as in forgetting the words, she wanted to cancel – on the day of the show. Even though she flawlessly played lead roles in east-coast Broadway summer stock and in musical productions at Hollywood High School.
Her fans came to the rescue, filling 385 seats. And all thought the show a great success.
The rest, as they say, was history. Every year, we would produce a new show with a winning team. In each, Karen wrote her own story around her selected songs. One of which was her life’s story as a musician – ‘Trains, Boats & Planes … Oh My!’
Her storytelling in words and music was the winning way. It was the cat’s meow. Karen kept on breaking legs.
Even in her intimate lounge performances, especially in retirement homes, Karen weaves her songs around stories the audience loves. And she knows how to pick them.