For most of us, the word “cabaret” conjures up images of Toulouse Lautrec, Liza Minnelli in a bowler or Nicole Kidman on a trapeze above a throng of admiring men. It's a bygone world of the gritty, the gaudy and the decadent. What the word might not bring to mind is the “New York style” of cabaret, the American version of the art form and one that is currently gaining popularity in San Diego, at Schroeder's Cabaret in the Westin Hotel at Horton Plaza.
Don't look for fishnet-wearing background dancers or feather headdresses at Schroeder's. No lacy underwear here. The American style of cabaret is nothing like a burlesque show. What it is, says co-owner Sher Krieger, is what many of us might describe as a lounge act, usually a single singer with piano accompaniment who combines songs and personal anecdotes into a show with a unified theme.
“It is an extremely intimate style of performance,” Krieger says. “In our venue you can literally reach out and touch the performer.” Because of this intimacy, you're aware of the nuances of the performance in a way that you wouldn't be, say, on TV or at Radio City Music Hall. The flick of the wrist, the movement of the eyes and even the rhythm of the performer's breathing all become extremely vital parts of the show.
Unlike a nightclub, each show at Schroeder's is a one-off, with songs and vignettes chosen specially to fit together for one night and retired after only one performance. The single-show runs are an interesting contradiction to the spirit of Schroeder's, which is helping to maintain an elegant, timeless style of performances. Though the singers draw from all styles and periods, most of their songs are from the 1920s to the 1960s.
Schroeder's was launched three years ago, the brainchild of Krieger and her partner, Tom Warren. The venue was originally conceived of as a nightspot for baby boomers. “There's a real lack of good entertainment options out there for those of us who are middle-aged,” Warren says. “There are a million good restaurants downtown, but once you've eaten, if you aren't ready to go home, there're no options. You can stand in line at a big, loud club or find a dark bar for another drink. That's it.”
Schroeder's wants to fill that void. But to do so, they'll need to be able to have shows regularly, rather than their current, less frequent shows that happen only when they have a performer and their current venue at the Horton Westin conference room is available.
“The Westin has been really wonderful to us,” Krieger says. “But in the long term we want a venue where we can have a more dependable show schedule, so that our regular clientele can show up without necessarily planning weeks in advance.”
Getting that regular clientele hasn't proven too difficult. “In general, once we can get them in the door, people are hooked,” Warren says. “It's a tremendously appealing style of performance. During the course of a show you really get to know the performer.”
Schroeder's is very much a family institution. While the venue has changed a few times over the past three years, the principle diva of the cabaret has been Tom's wife, Bettina “Pixie” Warren, Schroeder's most consistent performer. Warren's daughter often runs the camera. And Krieger's mother, Shellee, one of the last great dames of American cabaret, is also a regular.
Other performers at Schroeder's are luminaries from both the national and regional scene. Cabaret namesake and musical-director-to-the-stars Todd Schroeder is a regular guest, as are local artists from San Diego's Old Globe and Repertory theaters. The tentative lineup for the 2006 season includes performances by Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame and Angela Lansbury.
“We're surrounded by talent,” Krieger says. “It's wonderful.”
With its intimate venue, closely set tables and frequent love songs, it isn't surprising that Schroeder's is planning to do Valentine's Day in a big way. In fact, they're doing it three times, including a show aimed at gay and lesbian couples.
Friday, Feb. 10, at 8 p.m. will feature love songs performed by Eileen Bowman and Ric Henry, with musical director/accompanist Rayme Sciaroni. Saturday, Feb. 11, at 8 p.m. brings in Needham Brothers-Anthony Bollotta and Jorge Luis Abreu-with Sciaroni, for a romantic evening with a gay theme.
Then, on Tuesday, Valentine's Day proper, at 7:30 p.m., Bollotta is back with musical director/arranger Jim Guerin and Baruti. Baruti, who is rumored to do a wicked Nat “King” Cole tribute, will be making his Schroeder's debut. Also on the bill is a mysterious “special guest.”
Tickets are $30 per person for the show only and $110 per couple for preferred seating, a bottle of champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries. For more information, or to purchase tickets, log onto the Schroeder's website at www.schroeders.cc.