Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome: To Cabaret School Recent visitors to New Haven may have been greeted with an unusual sight: not the stressed-out Yalies, but singers from across the world uniting for the International Cabaret Conference, now in its eighth year. Run by a former club owner and taught by a who's who of cabaret superstars, it offers singers the chance to hone their craft.
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Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome: To Cabaret School

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Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome: To Cabaret School

Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome: To Cabaret School

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/129031086/129061818" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

LIANE HANSEN, Host:

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Life is a cabaret, old chum. Come to the cabaret...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CABARET")

JEFF LUNDEN: For the past 30 years, Erv Raible has come to the cabaret almost every night. He's been a club owner in New York, he coaches singers and he's artistic director of the cabaret conference. Raible says cabaret may be a rarified medium but it can also be deeply emotional.

ERV RAIBLE: The intimacy of it, I think, is the most important part. The fact that, unlike any other genre in the entertainment world, you actually go into a room where you go out of there feeling like you know the person, you know something about them, they have touched your heart.

LUNDEN: Learning how to effectively touch the heart may be the central goal of the nine-day conference. But the 38 students also take classes in repertoire, hair, makeup, clothing, sound, lighting and marketing. Their ages range from 16 to 66. And they come from all over the United States and around the globe.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)

LUNDEN: On a drizzly July afternoon in the dorm's basement, Erv Raible introduces the faculty and students to one another.

RAIBEL: Okay, I'd like to welcome everyone. We're here from all over, as far away as Australia and Israel this year.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

LUNDEN: One of the Australians is a tiny dynamo with a big voice, named Nikki Aitken.

NIKKI AITKEN: My training has been in classical, jazz and musical theater. And cabaret kind of seemed to be the obvious choice, to be able to take all the different kinds of repertoire and put it into one show.

LUNDEN: That evening, in the first rehearsal, Nikki struts her stuff.

AITKEN: (Singing) (unintelligible)

LUNDEN: The next morning, student Harold Sanditen performs his unique take on a Beatles song. Faith Prince likes it but sees room for improvement.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE CAN WORK IT OUT")

HAROLD SANDITEN: We can work it out and get...

FAITH PRINCE: Can you start over again? I need you to not close your eyes. I feel like you're closing your eyes on the most important contact.

SANDITEN: Okay.

PRINCE: And you've done your homework. Your homework is done. I don't want to see that.

SANDITEN: Okay.

PRINCE: I just want you to do it simply. You know exactly what you're doing. Start again.

SANDITEN: (Singing) Think of what you're saying...

LUNDEN: At age 55, Harold Sanditen has traveled a long way, literally and figuratively, to come to Yale.

SANDITEN: I was an investment banker and then I became a theater producer for 20 years in London and I gave that up three years ago to start singing, which is what I wanted to do in the very first place, but I never had the confidence.

LUNDEN: Canadian Lindsay Sutherland Boal has come a long way, too. She trained in opera but changed her mind right in the middle of an audition.

LINDSAY SUTHERLAND BOAL: I stopped singing in the middle of the aria and I said, I'm very sorry, I don't want to sing Pamina. I don't want to sing Mozart. I don't want to sing opera. As a matter of fact, I never want to sing another operatic note for the rest of my life. And I walked out of that audition and I walked out of my operatic career and into my career as a cabaret singer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M A STRANGER HERE MYSELF")

SUTHERLAND BOAL: (Singing) How can he ignore my available condition...

LUNDEN: Over the course of a week of 14-hour days, the teachers work hard to rid Boal of some of her operatic habits - a tendency to use broad acting gestures. Today, music director Alex Rybeck is her coach.

ALEX RYBECK: I don't think it needs a lot of stuff.

SUTHERLAND BOAL: Yeah.

RYBECK: Simplicity. You're a very rich cake. Your cake does not require a lot of icing.

SUTHERLAND BOAL: Okay.

RYBECK: Your face is very expressive, your voice is very expressive. The more stuff you do, the less we get you. It gets - it becomes a mask.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO)

RYBECK: Just simple questions.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO)

SUTHERLAND BOAL: How can he ignore?

RYBECK: Yep.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M A STRANGER HERE MYSELF")

SUTHERLAND BOAL: (Singing) How can he ignore my available condition?

RYBECK: Ms. BOAL (Singing) Why these Victorian views?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M A STRANGER HERE MYSELF")

LUNDEN: Across campus, Nikki Aitken's preparing for the final concert, singing a tune Barbra Streisand made famous.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T RAIN ON MY PARADE")

AITKEN: (Singing) Don't tell me not to live, just sit and putter...

LUNDEN: She says she's learned a lot about focus over the past week.

AITKEN: Finding specificity and finding truth and finding ways to make it about the audience.

LUNDEN: But Harold Sanditen says it's not just about digging deeper into ballads.

SANDITEN: (Soundbite of song, "Me and Mrs. Jones")

SANDITEN: (Singing) Me, me and Mr., Mrs. Jones, Mr. Jones, Mrs. Jones, Mr. Jones, Mrs. Jones.

LUNDEN: Lindsay Sutherland Boal performs in a striking red bustier, but with a newfound stillness.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M A STRANGER HERE MYSELF")

SUTHERLAND BOAL: (Singing) I'm a stranger here myself. How can he ignore my available condition? Why the Victorian views?

LUNDEN: And Nikki Aitken focuses and just hits it out of the park.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T RAIN ON MY PARADE")

AITKEN: (Singing) ...is gonna rain on my parade.

LUNDEN: Afterwards, teacher Faith Prince is verklempt.

PRINCE: I think I've learned tenfold, a hundred-fold, a million-fold, even more than these students have. It's rocked my world, this conference, so - I think they did incredibly, deliciously wonderful.

LUNDEN: For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New Haven.

HANSEN: You can see complete performances for the cabaret conference at our website, NPR.org.

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