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The New Old Cabaret

January 12, 2010

People have long been saying that the cabaret is dead. In some of the larger cities, young performers of one kind or another have been working to resurrect the genre. But what they are calling cabaret isn't really cabaret in the traditional sense of the word. Featuring strip-tease, contortionists and women dressed in frilly bloomers playing rock cello or accordion while singing about the lint they found in their uncle's belly button last week, the acts are closer to standup comedy, burlesque and circus than they are cabaret in the true sense of the word.

Yet there do seem to be a few performers out there who are interested in keeping the flame of traditional cabaret alive. One such performer is Carly Ozard, a young San Francisco-based chanteuse whom I heard for the first time at the Eureka Theatre over the weekend and was blown away by.

Ozard has been performing on the local scene for a while with such musical theater and light opera companies as the Lamplighters and 42nd Street Moon. I've heard her perform in these contexts before. But I had little idea about what a great singer and communicator she was until I experienced her solo act on stage.

Ozard's songlist followed the standard pattern of vacillating from serious to comic to serious to comic songs. Yet there was enough variety in the performance to keep us engaged. Ozard's playlist betrayed a wicked, self-deprecating sense of humor as well as a soft and cuddly side which was tender but never sugary. Her repertoire was smart, full of personality and eclectic with numbers ranging from "Closer to Fine" by Emily Sailers of The Indigo Girls, to a side-splitting bastardization of the Rogers and Hart classic "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered". Ozard's version, entitled "Bewitched, Bothered and Bipolar" and adapted by local impresario Tom Orr, was one of the highlights of the show.

Ozard was sick the night she performed at The Eureka Theatre, but she remained the consummate professional throughout. There's a toughness about her which is sassy and likable. "My teacher says that it doesn't look right to drink water out of a bottle on stage," Ozard said at one point, taking slugs from a big plastic bottle. "Well, that's too bad." She also has a natural banter and managed to link the songs with funny and touching anecdotes which moved the show along without getting in the way of the music. In other words, she managed to maintain a good balance between songs and talk.

It's no surprise that Ozard was named Best Cabaret Performer at the Cabaret Showcase Showdown 2009. I predict this performer will go far.


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