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    Bay Area Cabaret’s Visionary: Marilyn Levinson

    Marilyn Levinson, Bay Area Cabaret Founding Executive Producer

    Marilyn Levinson, Bay Area Cabaret Founding Executive Producer

    Many of us at the Bay Times previously lived in Manhattan, where we attended as many cabaret shows as possible. The quality and intimacy of those performances is now captured in shows presented by Marilyn Levinson, Founding Executive Producer of Bay Area Cabaret. New York can eat its heart out, as Bay Area Cabaret performances take place at the elegant, historic and uniquely San Franciscan Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel, high atop Nob Hill. Bay Area Cabaret’s new season launches this weekend with television actress and stage star Megan Hilty.

    Here, Levinson shares with us her thoughts about San Francisco’s cabaret scene, Bay Area Cabaret’s new season, and how LGBT culture fits into the mix.

    BT: What distinguishes Bay Area Cabaret from other nightclub events in Northern California

    ML: The first thing is that we are not a nightclub, under pressure to fill seats night after night. Ours is a curated cabaret series, like Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series. It is operated as a nonprofit. In programming each season, we aim to take our audience on a musical journey, texturing our offerings with a varied lineup of artists from Broadway, jazz and pop. Our aim is not to rotate artists who can sell seats, but to gently expand our audience’s musical tastes and to expose them to seldom-heard artists and even genres with which they are not familiar. Second is that we strive to offer affordable evenings for our audience, and to make it accessible to a greater number of people. An evening at Bay Area Cabaret is the most reasonable cabaret evening in town, with prices ranging from $43 to 48, and no food or beverage minimums. Of course, there are bars in the Venetian Room offering drinks, and the Laurel Court Restaurant just outside the room offers a full buffet supper – and free parking on Nob Hill – for only $40 plus tax and tip. Finally, we strive to build a sense of community among our patrons. It is a pleasure to watch that camaraderie grow among our 140 subscribers, many of whom begin friendships at our shows and artist receptions.

    BT: Describe the cabaret scene in San Francisco, and how it compares to what’s happening in New York.

    ML: Both San Francisco and New York had thriving cabaret scenes from the 20’s onward. But in the 90’s, the climate started changing, with more and more rooms beginning to close. Just last year, longstanding cabarets in New York, such as Feinstein’s and the Oak Room closed, though fortunately, the Café Carlyle, Joe’s Pub and the beautiful new 54 Below remain.

    I founded Bay Area Cabaret ten years ago in response to both a dearth of cabaret-style entertainment in our city and dwindling audiences. Since Bay Area Cabaret started, we’ve noticed a bit of a resurgence of cabaret in San Francisco. Certainly, our audiences have continued to grow, season after season, and we’ve found that we are slowly expanding both the definition of cabaret (introducing our audience to shows by Nellie McKay with Chanticleer, Mary Wilson, Stacey Kent and others) and the cabaret audience itself.

    BT: How does the Bay Area’s LGBT community impact the cabaret scene here?

    ML: The Bay Area’s LGBT community is definitely a large part of Bay Area Cabaret’s audience. There seems to have always been a connection between the LGBT community and cabaret, dating all the way back to the Weimar era in Germany. There are many theories as to why, and mine is this:  In dealing with their own struggles and challenges of wanting to be accepted for who they are, gay people can relate to an artist’s struggles and challenges of wanting to be heard and accepted. Cabarets allowed artists to express themselves freely in the name of art, and thus provide a safe place for the LGBT community to be themselves and express themselves, as artists and audience members. Honesty or, more specifically, authenticity, which is the benchmark of a cabaret performance, is a concept that seems to resonate with the LGBT community.

    BT: How does the LGBT community fit into the cabaret scene in New York and San Francisco?

    ML: The LGBT community always seems to be on the cutting edge of discovering new talent as well as appreciating and supporting great talents that have made their mark in music and theatre.

    The LGBT community is not only a large part of our cabaret audience, but also they are our family, our friends, our co-workers and our community in general. My associate producer Michael Williams was, for years, the owner of the Castro’s Medium Rare Music. We feel that the likes and dislikes of the LGBT community heavily inform our programming.

    BT: What thoughts do you have about upcoming performers in your new season?

    ML: Bay Area Cabaret’s 10th Anniversary Season is our most ambitious season yet! A lot of thought and care goes into shaping our seasons. We look for artists who have an authentic connection to their music and lyrics, and who have a story to tell – all while making an enduring connection with an audience in an intimate room. This season is a melange of legends at the top of their craft, new discoveries and long-time favorites, while also being musically diverse — mixing artists from the worlds of Broadway, jazz, cabaret and popular music.

    Our Opening Night Gala on 9/21, features Megan Hilty, the blonde bombshell star of NBC’s Smash and Sean Saves the World (co-starring with Sean Hayes and Linda Lavin) and Broadway’s Wicked and 9 To 5. Although general seating tickets have sold-out, there are a limited number of tickets and reserved seats available to those who purchase either a 6-show or 7-show subscription.

    Editor’s Note: See the back page of this “Bay Times” issue for the upcoming Bay Area Cabaret season.