Open Mike Cabaret

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Editorial Review

Channel your inner Clooney. Rosemary, that is.
By Moira E. McLaughlin
Friday, Nov. 11, 2011

Wannabe singers all have to get their start somewhere. For aspiring cabaret stars in Washington, the path to the spotlight starts in a theater's lobby.

DC Cabaret Network, a group of about 75 cabaret lovers, hosts a monthly open-mike night for novices and experts alike just inside the doors to Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street NE.

"The point is to create a community of cabaret singers," says Terri Allen, who runs the event. "It's a time for people to come together . . . and time for people to explore new music."

When you go, bring sheet music for the piano accompanist and be prepared to sing with a microphone. You don't need to have the music memorized, but you should know your notes and the mood you want to convey.

Introduce your song if you like. Sit on the bar stool-height chair if you prefer. Do what makes you comfortable and helps you get in the cabaret mood.

"The whole idea is, this is supposed to be a supportive group [where you can] try out things not in front of a paying audience," says Ron Squeri, a computer programmer who performed John Denver's "Leaving on a Jet Plane" at a recent open-mike night. "It's a tough art form," he adds. "It's music sung in an intimate setting or in an intimate way. It's much more about the communication of the lyrics than the singing of the song."

The intimate open-mike nights usually draw singers from across the area.

Christy Trapp, a mother of three young kids, drove from Annapolis for the open mike, where she sang "The Nearness of You," by Hoagy Carmichael and Ned Washington. To her, cabaret is "any song that tells a story. It can be classical, a standard tune, pop or country," she says.

There are plenty of smiles and applause from the friendly audience, and the atmosphere in the lobby is cool without being intimidating. The fact that bar stays open to sell beer and wine may help calm nerves, too.

Michael Miyazaki, who works in customer relations and lives in Washington, has been performing for 14 years. He sang Rod McKuen's "I'm Not Afraid" and his own very clever parody version of Stephen Sondheim's "Another Hundred People" from the musical "Company."

"I've always loved cabaret," Miyazaki said in the break between sets. "Growing up, everyone else's favorite music was Kiss and the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, and mine was the Andrews Sisters."