Life is truly a cabaret, old chum, with the San Francisco debut of Broadway/TV star Bryan Batt at Society Cabaret, which has also found a new home inside the Hotel Rex. Batt’s amazing show also plays Friday and Saturday at 8pm with a matinee Saturday at 4pm.
Before going on about the ultra talented Batt and singing the praises of Society Cabaret’s new digs, I thought I’d take a moment and point out the beauty and the art of a cabaret performance for those who have never experienced it on their own.
It’s more than the title to a Liza Minnelli song and movie, that’s for sure. I think of cabaret as a mini acoustic performance in a setting so intimate that you can’t feel closer to the performer without having a real interpersonal relationship. To be a successful cabaret performer, you really don’t need the best voice (in general – Batt exceeds here). You just need a lot of good songs, great banter with the audience and be able to act and sing even while waiters go around helping people fulfill their two-drink minimums. (But no minimum at Society Cabaret.)
This is where you separate the men from the boys. It’s really much easier to play a larger stadium or theatre, surrounded by a big band or orchestra. In that situation, you can almost camouflage yourself in with background dancers, singers, band members or elaborate sets. And the audiences in these locations seem so far away that a performer can actually feel the divide between them and their fans.
In a cabaret, it’s often just the headliner and perhaps a piano player or trio on a small stage. That’s it. The audience is so close that if the singer drops a prop, someone in the front row can hand it to him while he continues his song. You have the perfect seat whether it’s the front row or last since the theatre is usually small. It’s a great time for an artist to explore his palette, being able to create rich and significant moments of entertainment.
This is why I love a cabaret.
Last night, Batt exemplified everything I am talking about. He had a great rapport with the audience as he told antecodes about growing up looking like his father but feeling more like his mother. He blended that with what he called a mixed bag of nuts in song choices where he’d go down his own memory lane singing “Downtown” and “This Guy’s in Love With You” while belting out – in fantastic voice – some Broadway show tunes we’re all familiar with. Then, he’d pull out a few surprises – songs not known to your typical astute cabaret goer let alone a newbie audience member, bringing a freshness to his show.
His surprise song choices all were accompanied by stories of his life and love of theatre and the wonderful support of his mother to pursue his dreams. It would be a disservice to give details about this beautiful moments of the show, including the letter from Jessica, as everyone should go into Batt’s performance without knowing his play list or program.
While many people do not know his name, we definitely know his face from TV’s “Mad Men.” And if that was impressive enough, he was able to channel all of his theatrical experiences and mix into this 90 minute show. He reminded us of the sensitive side we saw him in the movie “Jeffrey” and he proved to be the strong singer we heard in “Beauty and the Beast.” The only thing missing, and perhaps if there was a larger stage, his great dancing skills as seen in “Cats” and “Starlight Express.”
An evening with Batt is one not to be missed. It was greatly enhanced by the overall experience created by Society Cabaret, coupled with his master behind the keys, his musical director Michael Lavine. The theatre can hold about 100-110 but Society Cabaret has decided to not fill to capacity as other venues pack their guests in too tightly. While you can still bond and converse (before/after the show) with your neighbors, there is actually elbow room. Further, the cocktails and food offered in the Cabaret, or outside in the hotel’s Library Bar, are far superior to any other cabaret food and beverage options I’ve ever been offered.
Great venue, good food, excellent talent – no wonder that Bryan’s “batting” a thousand. Hope he comes back soon. Just in case, you better see him now.
To get tickets and more information, go to www.societycabaret.com.