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The fabulous Natalie Douglas, singing her version of the classic “Get Happy.” So playful, well-acted and fun–I love it! She performed at last year’s New York Cabaret Convention, and has won numerous MAC, Nightlife and Backstage Bistro awards. She has more information, including upcoming performances, at her own webpage, and several songs are on You Tube–Enjoy!
Welcome to Cabaret Tip Tuesday at McElrath Cabaret, where we offer cabaret performance tips to help you put together a great performance at your next show!
Today I’m thinking about preparing a cabaret show, so my tip for you today is this: Choose your cabaret accompanist wisely.
For your cabaret show, you will want a piano accompanist who is a true accompanist. What this means is that this person will listen to what you are giving him or her vocally, and set it to the appropriate music for you.
You will want to find an accompanist to work with at the beginning of your cabaret show preparation. If you click and treat this person well, hopefully you will be able to continue to work with him or her for a long while. This is a great thing, because the longer you get to work together, the tighter your vocal and piano performance will become, so you will get to the point where you can almost read each other’s minds. He or she will be so in tune with what you are doing and what you’ve rehearsed that they will be able to help you out almost imperceptibly if you go up on a lyric or run into other kinds of trouble onstage. If you find a great accompanist, be respectful and treat them very well, because there aren’t all that many of them around.
At the beginning, you will want to talk to your accompanist about your show, and the feel that you want for each song that you will perform. Your accompanist should listen to you, and take your ideas into consideration as you rehearse together. You will need to work together to decide where the accompaniment will be in the background so the lyrics and acting can shine, and when the piano can really rip in piano solo parts.
It is important to remember that the whole point of cabaret is primarily to entertain through acting the song lyrics. If the accompaniment gets in the way of that, then it is not good accompaniment for cabaret.
It is definitely not the same as jazz performance, where the sound is the important thing. I am not saying that cabaret needs to sound bad to be effective, but I am saying that the lyrics and the acting of them are the most important part of a cabaret show. I have been to some jazz performances where the sound was great, but I may as well have bought the album and played it at home, because there was no stage show whatsoever in how they performed the songs. If you are working with someone who comes from the jazz arena, they may not understand this difference between jazz and cabaret, and may play over the top of you, drowning you out as you try to act your lyrics. They may not be trying to be mean to you; they simply come from a different mindset and sensibility with regards to performing a song. (Divas are not always the only divas in cabaret sometimes!) For this reason, it is sometimes easier to work with an accompanist who comes from a musical theatre background, because they are used to putting the singer first.
Ultimately in cabaret, it is the singer who is the leader of the song, but good accompaniment can add another layer of meaning to the overall effect of the song, and you will want to work with someone who understands that.
It’s a little like getting married and finding someone who understands you, can put up with you, will give and take with you, and someone that makes you feel comfortable when you work together. Remember that your accompanist is someone you want to pay attention to, because they have heard you work your songs so much that they can offer important insights. Your accompanist should be someone you want to collaborate with to make the overall audience experience so much better when you are working together than if you were performing apart.
Of course, if you are working with a talented accompanist, you will want to give them opportunities to shine in your show. Beautiful accompaniment with well-acted lyrics is a multi-faceted diamond that you are offering your audience. Be gracious and give them solo space when you are not singing–the audience will appreciate it, and it helps to add variety to your show. Remember that some of the best acting moments happen when you are silent on stage, and the subtext of the song washes over you–that all can happen with a musical background, making it more than what it would be on its own.
Hope these Tuesday cabaret tips help–let us know what other topics you’d like to see us cover here, and we’ll do our best to work through them!
Do you agree with me that the singer and the lyrics come first in cabaret, or do you have a different take on it? If you are an accompanist, what would you add to this conversation? Leave us a note about it in the comments below—we always love to hear from our readers!
We appreciate your support!
Till next time,
ps–The Cabaret Soiree Link Party is still going strong–you can visit anytime to click on the links and see what others have posted, or you can share your own recent cabaret blog or cabaret website link from now through Thursday. Link is below.
Weekly Post Lineup At McElrath Cabaret:
Tuesdays: Cabaret Tip Tuesday
Wednesdays: Ask A Cabaret Question
Thursdays: Featured Cabaret Blog, Website, Performer
Fridays: Cabaret Through Time