by Justin Brady
Shannon Forsell began her love affair with cabaret when she began performing more than two decades ago at the American Cabaret Theatre. Five years ago, when the large-scale productions that ACT was known for were no longer sustainable, she presented a vision that transformed the ACT into The Cabaret and moved to the Columbia Club. Modeled after intimate cabaret spaces in New York City, that vision's created one of Indy's swankiest nights out. Just this weekend while Broadway made a splash with the Tony's, here in Indy audiences watched Laura Benanti, one of Broadway's leading ladies, in an intimate performance at the venue. Executive and Artistic Director Forsell makes a convincing case for doing a night out at the well-appointed spot right by Monument Circle, previews the upcoming season and shares the impact The Cabaret is having regionally.
Sky Blue Window: It's been five years now since American Cabaret Theatre transitioned into The Cabaret. Since then you have led The Cabaret by focusing more than previously on bringing in nationally recognized cabaret acts. Have you found a niche in Indianapolis for this performance style?
Shannon Forsell: I always thought that Indy needed an intimate cabaret venue. Whenever I could, I went to New York to see cabaret in such great rooms as The Café Carlyle and The Oak Room at the Algonquin. Modeled after these great rooms, The Cabaret was born. We are thrilled to be celebrating our fifth anniversary this year. By presenting world-class performers, The Cabaret has created not only a local niche, but a regional and national one as well. Performers once only able to be seen in just a handful of major metropolitan cities can now be seen right here in Indianapolis. People from all over the country now can come to see our shows. Regional audiences especially in areas such as Cincinnati, Chicago and Louisville are now regulars here. Cabaret lovers no longer have to travel to New York City to see world-class cabaret performances.
SBW: Can you make a pitch to convince someone to attend The Cabaret for the first time? What will the experience be like?
SF: The easiest way to describe a night at The Cabaret is that it is a cross between a nightclub and theatrical experience. When you step into the room you will find you are in one of the most swanky and glamorous rooms in the City. The room is both glamorous, but intimate -- darkly lit and filled with cozy cabaret tables complete with candle lamps. The backdrop of each show is a floor-to-ceiling plate-glass window designed by Tiffany & Co. overlooking Monument Circle. However, the vibe is one of approachability and intimacy. While attending one of the shows, you can savor a full-dinner or a variety of hors d'oeuvres and luscious desserts. Complete the night with a perfectly poured martini, cocktail, or selection from our extensive wine list.
SBW: The 2014 Summer/Fall Season was just announced, and as always, it has some major talent coming. What highlights should audiences look for?
SF: Well, of course, I think all of the shows are going to be special, so it is difficult to choose the highlights ... however, many people are excited about hunky Broadway and film star Cheyenne Jackson, who is kicking off our Summer/Fall season with his show "Cocktail Hour: Music of the Mad Man Era." Audience members are encouraged to wear their vintage attire and partake in martini and drink specials from the era. Rising star Jeremy Jordan (Newsies, SMASH) will be bring us his brand-new cabaret show, "Breaking Character," and the provocative jazz diva, René Marie will heat things up with her saucy show "I Wanna Be Evil: With Love To Eartha Kitt."
SBW: Do you have any favorite moments or performers that have appeared at The Cabaret?
SF: There have been so many mesmerizing moments, some deeply meaningful, some hilarious, but all memorable. Some of my favorite performers and performances have included the hilarious Ana Gasteyer (SNL, Suburgatory) who is also a fantastic singer; fierce Broadway star Stephanie J. Block (Wicked) raising the roof with her version of "Defying Gravity"; Jonathan Groff (Spring Awakening, Glee) making the audience cry with deep emotion with "Left Behind" from Spring Awakening and then cry with laughter with his version of Weird Al Yankovic's "Amish Paradise"; experiencing a musician from Paris Combo playing an ethereal muted trumpet via the trumpet being submerged in a bowl of champagne, and seeing European cabaret star "Meow Meow" crowd-surfing -- I am pretty sure that is the first time that has happened in the Columbia Club...
SBW: The Cabaret also presents local talent and hosts master classes for local performers. Have you seen growth in interest and opportunities for cabaret performers in Indianapolis as a result?
SF: Part of The Cabaret's mission is to train aspiring local cabaret performers that we can also feature on our stage. Our classes have become extremely popular -- as it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to have one-on-one performance training from an accomplished performer such as a Broadway star. We also have more extensive classes to train aspiring performers in the art of solo performing and creating their own show. We continue to expand these educational programs and performance opportunities so that local talent might not only perform on our stage but will be prepared to perform on a national stage as well.
SBW: What is your vision for cabaret in Indianapolis in the next five years?
SF: My vision is to keep building upon and strengthening the early success of The Cabaret both on a local and national level. We want Indianapolis to be the Midwest center for the "best of the best" in cabaret. We hope that our success will also create a momentum for more cabarets to appear around the country. Detroit has already started a cabaret based upon our business model. We also strive to keep building a scene and home for local performers so that they can have work right here in Indianapolis as well as nationally.
For an audio sample, listen to our playlist preview of The Cabaret's upcoming eclectic season.