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Posts Tagged ‘“Liza at the Palace”’

Photo credit: Bill Westmoreland

I first interviewed Jim Caruso in 2009 when “Adaumbelle’s Quest” was just starting and Jim just finished starring in Liza Minnelli’s “Liza At The Palace.” Two years later, it’s a real honor to be able to interview Jim again and dedicating this interview to Cast Party on the heels of Jim Caruso’s Cast Party Benefit at Town Hall on Thursday, February 17 at 8pm, benefiting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Produced by Scott Siegel, this very special edition of Jim Caruso’s Cast Party will be featuring a host of talent! Joining Jim Caruso, will be Liza Minnelli, Chita Rivera, Billy Stritch, Lucie Arnaz, Larry Gatlin, Marilyn Maye, YouTube sensation “Miranda Sings,” Tony nominee Christopher Sieber, two-time Tony nominee Sally Mayes, jazz singer Hilary Kole, R&B tenor William Blake, jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein, Natalie Douglas, Klea Blackhurst, acrobat and comedian Rudi Macaggi and the Dueling Fiddlers.

Photo credit: Bill Westmoreland

Jim Caruso recently made his Broadway debut alongside Liza Minnelli in the Tony Award-winning smash hit Liza’s At The Palace!, singing, dancing and celebrating the music and arrangements of the late, great Kay Thompson and the Williams Brothers. For his nightclub work, Caruso has won six MAC and two BackStage Bistro Awards for his sold-out New York shows at Birdland, the Algonquin Hotel, and Arci’s Place; and has also performed in runs at the Gardenia and Cinegrill in Los Angeles, The Vic Theater in Chicago, Libby’s in Atlanta, the Colony Palm Beach Hotel and the Connaught Room in London. He sang with the New York Pops in an all-star tribute to Kander & Ebb at Carnegie Hall, and returned to “The Hall” in a tribute to Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, hosted by Michael Feinstein. On the small screen, Jim was seen co-starring with Kathie Lee Gifford on Showtime Television in “Personal Assistant,” and co-starred on the Nostalgia Network variety sit-com, “Café DuArt” for two seasons. Jim and his vocal trio, Wiseguys, were invited to sing at President Clinton’s First State Dinner at the White House, and celebrated Bing Crosby in concert at Carnegie Hall with Rosemary Clooney. He guest-hosted “Broadway On Broadway 2000” in Times Square for a crowd of 100,000 theater fans, hosted the 2000 MAC Awards at Town Hall in Manhattan and has co-hosted the Drama Desk Awards webcasts for four years. For the past eight years, he has hosted a Monday night showbiz bash called “Jim Caruso’s Cast Party,” which was honored with a New York Nightlife Award, as was his Broadway at Birdland concert series. His new cd, “The Swing Set,” was released on January 11, 2011.

1. What made you originally start “Jim Caruso’s Cast Party” and how did you originally come up with the concept for it? I was doing PR for a nightclub that didn’t have much going on, busying myself writing press releases about drink specials. To entertain myself, I threw a Christmas party in the club for my pals. Everyone sang around the piano, and stayed till 3am. The next day, the manager, Lionel Casseroux, asked if I’d do it every Monday. I said no. A few clubs and eight years later, we’re still packing ‘em in and meeting some of the most brilliant, shocking talent in the world!

2. How do you come up with the line-up of talent for each week’s “Cast Party?” Cast Party is an open mic! I don’t come up with the talent at this point…they just show up! Every single week, I have about 30 folks wanting to perform for a packed house! I’m so lucky to be able to do it at Birdland, which is right in the theater district, and certainly one of the premiere music rooms in the world!

3. What made you decide to bring “Cast Party” out to Los Angeles? The Hollywood Cast Party has been a complete gift to Billy and me. I’d heard that The Magic Castle was planning to open one of their rooms for musical entertainment, so I called Matt Patton, who does the booking. He immediately signed onto the idea, and we were off and running! Now, we make the schlep out west every other month!

4. Do you plan on expanding “Cast Party” to any other cities? Yes! It looks like we’ll be taking Cast Party to Chicago and Las Vegas – and there’s a bit of talk about London. Can you imagine? We’re like the Ice Capades! The Jim Capades? I love a capade!

5. Who’s the most interesting person you’ve had perform at “Cast Party” in NY & LA? Who is the one person you were most surprised by showing up at “Cast Party?” Who is the one person who hasn’t done “Cast Party” that you would like to? Well – there’s interesting, and there’s ‘interesting!’ Betty Comden made one of her last public appearances at Cast Party, and sang “One Hundred Easy Ways To Lose A Man,” from Wonderful Town, which she wrote with Adolph Green and Leonard Bernstein. Carol Channing spoke of her commitment to arts education, then did the “Ephraim, let me go” monologue from Hello Dolly, and launched into “Before The Parade Passes By.” Last week, Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura on “Star Trek”)discussed her friend and mentor, Martin Luther King, on the night of his birthday – then sang a stunning “Summertime.” There have also been memorable performances of a different kind – the man who yodeled Elvis tunes comes to mind, as does the woman who sang an original song about pollution. They were showstoppers in every sense of the word. I’m desperate to have my two heros – Carol Burnett and Dick Van Dyke – join us. I just know they’d have a swell time, and I’d be in heaven to finally be able to entertain them!

6. When you first started “Cast Party,” did you ever think it would turn into what it has become? I’m in shock and awe that Cast Party has become the entity that it has! I’m thrilled and proud and dazzled by the fun we’re allowed to have every week!

7. What has been the best and most difficult part about “Cast Party?” The best part of it all has been the friendships that have been forged, due to Cast Party. What did I do before? It’s a wonderful meeting-place for theater and music buffs and the people who love them! I’m not sure there IS a bad part, other than having to hear “Orange Colored Sky” a skrajillion times.

8. You’ve been doing “Cast Party” for almost 8 years, what made now the time to do a special benefit show for it? How did you decide which performers would participate? Scott Siegel, who produces a fabulous series of events at Town Hall, called me and asked if we’d like to do a Very Special Cast Party as a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to take our event to a huge stage, raise money for one of my all-time favorite organizations, and have some fun with my friends! It’s a big theater, and I knew we’d have to score some big names to sell tickets, so I just started calling my most fancy friends – and was thrilled that they said ‘yes!’

9. Liza Minnelli and Billy Stritch are two performers that will be performing at your Feb. 17 “Cast Party” benefit. How did you first come to work with them and what has been the best part of working together throughout your career and what have you learned from them? Billy Stritch and I have been best friends for about 30 years, which is shocking, considering we’re both in our late twenties. We met when we were both singing in clubs and living in Texas. We moved to New York around the same time, and have been hanging out, singing and making each other laugh ever since! One night, he met Liza while he was playing piano at a wonderful place called “Bobo’s.” He invited her to his show the next night, and stationed me next to her table, so that I could hear what she thought. That was the beginning of a friendship that changed both of our lives! He started arranging, playing and conducting for Liza, she asked me to open for her, assist her on Minnelli On Minnelli, and finally dance and sing in Liza’s At The Palace! What have I learned from Liza Minnelli? Are you kidding? We don’t have that kind of time! She’s a genius at what she does. Her work ethic is amazing – she will rehearse for eight hours non-stop. Her urge to please her audience is beyond compare. And her musical knowledge is something that might surprise a lot of people. If a clarinet is playing the wrong note in a chord, she hears it. Not surprisingly, she has a huge over-view of how showbiz works, and I love that.

10. What are you most excited for about the Feb. 17 “Cast Party” benefit? I’m most excited to get all of those brilliantly talented people into one room and tell them how much I love them for making this dream come true. We’re going to blow the roof off of Town Hall!

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London GarciaCortes AlexanderIn case you missed fellow “Adaumbelle’s Quest” participant Cortes Alexander on LA Talk Radio’s London Garcia Show last weekend (10/4), here is your 2nd chance…http://www.latalkradio.com/images/London-100409.mp3

Great interview and selections from Cortes’ album “Swell.”

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Billy StritchBilly Stritch is an award-winning composer, arranger, vocalist, and jazz pianist. He’s worked with the greatest in both music and theatre including Liza Minnelli, Reba McEntire, Linda Davis, and Christine Ebersole. Since the age of 12, Billy has been delighting audiences with his skill, humor, and showmanship. During his time at the University of Houston, Billy created the musical group Montgomery, Plant, and Stritch. This jazz vocal group started out playing in local saloons, but before they knew it, they were crooning in some of the best supper clubs around the country. These gigs led the group to the JVC Jazz Festival where they got paired up with Mel Torme at Carnegie Hall which took them to becoming regulars at the Newport Jazz festival and toured Italy for four years with the North Sea Jazz Festival. The group did eventually disband and Billy made the leap to New York City. One night he was playing in a piano bar, when Liza Minnelli walked in, heard him play, and instantly hired him to arrange for her “Steppin’ Out At Radio City” extravaganza. This amazing pairing took Billy all around the world and continued with Liza asking him to associate produce her CD “Gently,” which earned two Grammy Award Nominations. He was also co-arranger with the great Marvin Hamlisch for “Minnelli on Minnelli” at the Palace Theatre in New York City. In 1994, Billy and Nashville writer Sandy Knox, wrote the Grammy Award-winning country song “Does He Love You?,” which was recorded by country superstar Reba McEntire and Linda Davis and has sold over four million copies nationwide. “Does He Love You?” has also appeared on Patti LaBelle’s CD “Flame” and most recently was performed on “American Idol” by Reba McEntire and Kelly Clarkson. A new path opened for Billy in 2001 when he was cast in the Broadway revival of “42nd Street” as “Oscar,” the piano-playing crooner. This is where he met the one and only Christine Ebersole and eight nights a week, they got to perform their show-stopping number “I Only Have Eyes For You.” Their enjoyment of one another led to many future collaborations together including their nightclub act “In Your Dreams” which they performed in 2004 at Feinstein’s in New York, The Cinegrill in Hollywood, and Manhattan’s famed jazz club Birdland. Their act led them to releasing a CD of the same name in November 2004. Their latest release together, “Sunday In New York”, also stemmed from their nightclub act at The Metropolitan Room in New York City. From solo CDs to guest appearances on many others, Billy is your go-to guy for a defining sound that will rock your soul. Billy can currently be seen in Las Vegas at the MGM with Liza Minnelli  in “Liza at the Palace” until October 1 and then they go down under for Liza’s Australian tour through November 3. Be sure to catch these two legends together…and you certainly catch more of Billy at http://www.billystritch.com.

1. Who inspired you to become a performer? My Grandmother used to take me to see all the shows that came through Houston (my hometown) when I was between the ages of nine and 12. Those experiences greatly influenced my desire to be onstage; seeing Ginger Rogers in “Mame”, Barbara Eden (!) in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” and my favorite Debbie Reynolds doing her nightclub/concert act. So it really wasn’t one particular person who inspired me, but rather all of those childhood experiences that worked together to ignite my desire to be a performer.

2. Who is the one person you haven’t worked with that you would like to? Hard to name just one, so I’ll name a few: Cher (duh), Patti Austin, Streisand, Sting, Trisha Yearwod and Martina McBride.

3. Do you have any strange or unusual talent that no one knows about? I can’t think of one, but if I did I would probably keep it a secret!

4. What has been your most embarrassing on-stage moment? Luckily, because I am usually seated at the piano, there haven’t been many. But when I was in the revival of “42nd Street” on Broadway (in the small but pivotal role of Oscar the pianist) I was talking to a few of the dancers offstage, just chatting away, until I realized that I had totally missed my entrance in the “Lullaby Of Broadway” number. I was supposed to enter onto an elevated platfrom via an offstage staircase and instead had to just sneak on from stage left with a clump of people. Since I was just one person in a cast of 54, I don’t think anyone noticed – except the Stage Manager, who gave me a note after the show!

5. Is there ever a time you thought about quitting? Quit and do what? I’ve always felt that my talent was a God given gift and that I was meant to develop it and share it. I can’t imagine doing anything else – certainly I can’t think of another business where you get to sleep late, socialize in nightclubs, meet celebrities AND get paid for it!

6. Favorite website? I love Mental Floss (because I am a trivia and quiz geek), and I am an All That Chat voyeur, for sure. Also, Playbill Online gets checked at least every other day. You Tube is terrific, but I only go there if I have a few hours to kill, because one clip surfs you to another, and another, and another……

7. Favorite musician/singer? Pianists I love: André Previn, George Shearing, Bill Evans, Lee Musiker, Bill Charlap. Singers I love: All the ones I work with – Christine Ebersole, Marilyn Maye, Liza, Klea Blackhurst – and ones I don’t work with – Patti Austin, Cleo Laine, Mel Tormé, Reba McEntire, Trisha Yearwood, the list goes on….

8. Favorite play/musical? “Sunday In The Park With George” affected my deeply when I first saw it in the 80’s, also “Sweeney Todd”, “42nd Street”, “City Of Angels” and everybody’s favorite “Gypsy”.

9. Favorite TV Theme Song? This is even before MY time, but I love the theme to the old “Patty Duke Show” – I wish they’d bring TV themes back, but when you have to knock out an entire 30 minute show in 22 minutes, I guess a full theme song takes up too much time. It’s a shame, because now when we think back on shows from the 50’s to the 80’s, what do we remember most? The theme song!

10. “Mary” or “Rhoda”? Mary, of course. Actually though, Sue Anne Nivens was my fave. I love Betty White and have met her many times. She’s a delightful lady!

BONUS QUESTIONS:

11. Favorite kind of shoes? Prada.

12. Boxers or Briefs? I love Boxers, but personally I have a Border Terrier named Ivy who I’m hopelessly in love with. Is that what you meant?

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Liza at the PalaceIf you’re in Las Vegas from September 25-October 1 be sure to catch Liza Minnelli, along with “Adaumbelle’s Quest” participants Jim Caruso, Cortes Alexander, and Billy Stritch at the MGM Grand performing in “Liza At The Palace.” You’ll get to hear Liza sing her hits and pay tribute to her Godmother Kaye Thompson. The September 30 & October 1 shows are being taped for  distribution to Public Television and eventually DVD. This is your chance to see a true legend live on stage! Don’t miss out…

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