Last year, Jim Caruso brought his Cast Party, an open mike night held weekly at BIrdland, to a larger venue, Town Hall, as a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. The event was so popular, he staged an encore performance on February 23, this time raising money for the Actor’s Fund. The evening was magical, beginning with a rousing rendition of “Cornet Man” by Janis Siegel, and concluding with a goose-bump inducing “This Nearly Was MIne,” from Tony Award winner Paulo Szot.
Caruso has become a piped piper for talent, uncovering performers who run the gamut—singers, dancers, musicians, acrobats, jugglers, magicians, and comedians. Each Monday night at Birdland, Caruso invites professionals and amateurs alike to take the mike and perform. Many have used that opportunity to launch careers, and several were on stage at Town Hall.
Caruso is a true impresario. A performer himself, he excels as a master of ceremonies, introducing each act with enthusiasm, bantering with each person who comes on stage, and improvising with both humor and tact. Once again, the incomparable Billy Stritch served as musical director and foil for Caruso, the two trading barbs and keeping the show moving along. What a pair!
The evening was made possible through the efforts of Scott Siegel, who, with his wife, Barbara, has written more than 40 books on all aspects of show business. He hosts a variety of events at Town Hall, including a Broadway Unplugged Concert Series. The show was directed by Rick Hinkson and stage managed by Jennifer Marie Russo. Besides Stritch, the band included Daniel Glass on drums and Tom Hubbard on bass.
There was something for everyone. True cabaret fans were treated to legend Marilyn Maye singing “Lazy Afternoon/Country Boy” and Jane Monheit, delivering a sultry “Some Other Time.” Holly Near, accompanied by John Bucchino on piano, charmed with a beautiful version of “If I Ever Say I’m Over You.”
Broadway was well represented. Stephanie J. Block, accompanied by Paul Loesel on piano, sang “Invention,” and during her chat with Caruso confirmed that she will be taking over from Sutton Foster in Anything Goes. Julia Murney sang a spirited “Murder He Says.” Later in the program, Block and Murney, who have both played the green witch Elphaba in Wicked, sang a stirring “I Will Never Leave You,” from Side Show.
Laura Osnes, whose Broadway resume includes South Pacific, Anything Goes, and Bonnie and Clyde, showed why she is considered one of the brightest new stars in musical theater. Her heartfelt interpretation of Frank Wildhorn’s “Someone Like You,” was a showstopper. Wildhorn accompanied her on piano.
Andrew J. Nemr, a protege of Gregory HInes, paid tribute to his mentor, joined by the dance troupe Cats Paying Dues. Nemr reminded everyone why Hines’s style of tap earned him high marks from his fans. The tap dance number was energetic, a true celebration.
What would Cast Party be without a few quirky acts? David Ippolito, aka “The Guitar Man of Central Park,” in his “A Different Cowboy’s Lament,” sang about not being a fan of country music. Aaron Weinstein, a Cast Party discovery, who most recently appeared with Karen Oberlin at the Metropolitan Room, played a lively “Just One of Those Things” on his violin.
Marcus Monroe, introduced to Caruso by Luci Arnaz, defied gravity by juggling, besides heavy clubs, several very sharp knives. Rudi Macaggi spoofed the crowd by lip syncing Luciano Pavarotti while wearing a fat suit, then shed that outer skin to perform a series of very challenging acrobatics. He finished his act by swallowing a long, blue balloon. Don’t try this at home.
Paulo Szot finished the evening in style, captivating the audience with “This Nearly Was Mine,” which he sang in his Tony Award-winning role as Emile de Becque in South Pacific. After a standing ovation, Cast Party concluded a second successful year. Dare we say, see you next year?