Since there's a serious lack of appreciation of cabaret in Cleveland, it's wonderful that producer-director Laura Workman and friends are bringing the Cabaret Sampler to Kennedy's at Playhouse Square during April. Featuring five or six different singers each weekend, the show offers a 15-minute taste of each performer's wares. And, as with any sampler box of chocolates, there are a couple of rich and delicious truffles alongside the occasional spit-it-out-quickly caramel. But the overall effect is delightful and whets the appetite for more.
Opening weekend was highlighted by a terrifically emotive set by Beth Yager, who made fun of her dour promotional photo and nailed a couple tunes, including the wistful "There's a Fine Line." Rob Gibb was endearing as he fretted about reaching midlife (his crisis: performing in a cabaret show), and he massaged the emotion in "Shouldn't I Be Less in Love With You." The most audience-friendly performer was Ralph Diludovico, short in stature but long in charisma, who encouraged an audience member to buy him a dirty martini in trade for one of his CDs. He also shared a six-song medley he once sang at a humiliating talent show.
Less successful was Lynnette Guttmann, who had a potentially cute Barbie-Doll prop gimmick and got in some shots at living in a red state. But her flat rendition of "Moon River" was out of a beginner's songbook. And Paul Hoffman was working so hard to reach the higher notes in his songs that neither he nor the audience could relax. (But kudos to him for adroitly handling a malfunctioning alarm bell that blared during his set.)
In the next three weekends, all of these singers will make return appearances, along with well-known local performers such as comical (and omnipresent) Kevin Joseph Kelly, Paula Kline-Messner from the long-running Menopause the Musical, and Workman herself. They are backed by a tight three-piece combo, led by cheerful musical director Charles Eversole on the (sad to say) electronic keyboard.
At its best, cabaret singing is passionate and personal -- whether the material is light or serious -- and it doesn't necessarily require great pipes. No one would ever accuse the recently deceased Bobby Short of being a pure singer, but he was a sparkling and engaging storyteller. And if this Cabaret Sampler can help reveal some of that kind of talent, the city will be much richer for it.