Back in the Golden Age of Broadway, the leading ladies and gentlemen of the stage would entertain swarms of swanky people in smoky rooms across town. Nightlife meant something different in that bygone era before hand stamps and wristbands. That style of shows is not completely dead, however. They live on in the somewhat nebulous form we now call cabaret. It can mean anything from octogenarian legends reprising songs they introduced back in the day to forward-looking "alt cabaret" artists like Bridget Everett and Molly Pope, whose bold inhabiting of the intimate setting — new sounds notwithstanding — harkens back to what has always drawn crowds to "come to the cabaret." Now, as before, a hallmark of the genre is Broadway stars on their night off (or between gigs) trotting out solo material, a chance to choose their own repertoire. (Patti LuPone sings songs from roles that she "coulda, woulda, shoulda" played.) Incredibly some of our top talents have yet to tackle the concert evening.* What are they waiting for?
Scroll down to read my selections for the Top Ten Stars Who Need To Do A Cabaret Show.
The Special Mention on this list goes to Ann Harada, whose wildly popular and acclaimed annual holiday show "Christmas Eve with Christmas Eve" (in honor of her iconic role in Avenue Q), while technically excluding her from a roster of yet-to-go-it-solo stars, has proven time and again this great lady's readiness to carry an evening on an ongoing basis.
10. Andrew Rannells
Tony nominee and TV actor Andrew Rannells has demonstrated his versatility from his star-making turn in The Book of Mormon through high-profile replacement runs in Hedwig And The Angry Inch and (presently) Hamilton. Rannells is the rare contemporary actor with the larger-than-life trademark of the old-school stars and adding his intelligent song interpretation and powerful voice to the mix spells the recipe for cabaret success.
Another star of stage and screen overdue for a solo bow is Tony winner Anika Noni Rose, who brings a beguiling blend of both serenity and spunk to her performances. This duality is exactly what it takes to bring down the house and silence the room in a nightclub setting. Furthermore, Rose exudes a seemingly effortless sense of ease that would be a major asset in cabaret.
8. Isabel Keating
When The Boy from Oz stormed Broadway in 2003, Hurricane Hugh (Jackman) was just about all anyone could talk about. There was another subject that came up quite a bit, though, and it was Isabel Keating's breathtaking (and Tony-nominated) turn as Judy Garland opposite Jackman. Sitting in the Imperial Theatre, watching Keating belt out "All I Wanted Was The Dream" was as close to the experience of seeing the real Judy live I'll ever get — and it felt very close. Keating's many talents have been on display in shows ranging from Enchanted April and It's Only A Play to Hairspray and Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark, but I long for the front-and-center magic she served in Oz and look forward to her inevitable cabaret debut.
7. Judy Blazer
Speaking of divas named Judy, the great underused Broadway talent of the last 30 years is Judy Blazer, she of the mesmerizing saucer eyes — seas of blue that teem with soul as her crystal soprano soars to the stratosphere. On top of that, the lady can belt and is a first-rate actress, equally at home in non-musicals. She's currently stealing the show as Miss Shingle in A Gentleman's Guide To Love And Murder as she has before in Broadway's Me And My Girl, Lovemusik and Titanic. When Gentlemen's Guide wraps up its run in January, let's get La Blazer onto a stage by herself and spend and hour or so in bliss.
6. Sandy Duncan
Sandy Duncan, one of the biggest stars of the 70s and 80s, has virtually disappeared from Broadway for decades, save for a short (and wildly revered) run as Roxie in Chicago. I can proudly boast that Duncan in Peter Pan in 1980 was the first Broadway show I saw and I still remember the goosebumps she inspired flying through the air. I can only imagine the thrill of seeing this legendary triple threat up close and personal.
5. Karen Ziemba
While we're on the subject of triple threats, there is one name that comes to mind first and foremost nowadays and that is Tony winner Karen Ziemba. Known equally for her singing, dancing and acting abilities, Ziemba has the potential to provide an old-school kind of nightclub entertainment people of my generation have never seen. And her singular charm is the stuff of cabaret joy.
One of the brightest Broadway stars to rise in recent years is surely Jonathan Groff. He has only three main stem credits, but two of them have been the watershed hits Hamilton and Spring Awakening. He has also had tremendous impact on TV, on the long-running musical series "Glee" and HBO's "Looking." Through it all, and in several high profile Off-Broadway roles, Groff has demonstrated a disarming charisma, an "It Factor" whose value cannot be overstated. The fact that he sings like an angel only further goes to prove what a hit he could be, say, at Feinstein's 54 Below or Joe's Pub.
Another Hamilton star audiences deserve to see in a solo setting is Renée Elise Goldsberry. The popular actress has been amassing fans since her replacement turns in The Lion King and Rent and her breakout performance as Nettie in The Color Purple. Even as a bad guy on CBS's "The Good Wife," you can't help but love Goldsberry. She's as beautiful as she is feisty, as fun as she is intelligent. As far as cabaret acts go, if she built it, we would come…
Few performers have become as synonymous with Broadway as two-time Tony winner Christian Borle. His captivating work on stage in a wide range of plays and musicals has contributed to his status as the go-to-guy for almost anything being cast. Hilarious comedian? Check. Serious actor? Sure. Razzmatazz song-and-dance man? You got it. Sexy. Nerdy. Smart. Silly. Hilarious. Borle is the best. Now, if we could get him into a cozy club setting, the results would likely be an act for the record books.
1. Carolee Carmello
Carolee Carmello has been enthralling Broadway audiences for well over 20 years. This three-time Tony nominee has been dancing with legendary status almost from the beginning. Maybe it's just bad luck that's kept the gold off her mantel. Maybe it's a matter of the particular shows Carmello has been cast in. Clearly, her high-ranging belt is a voice like no other. I recently caught the diva in a reading of an Ethel Merman bio musical and to say she did that classic repertoire justice is an understatement. I think a solo act is just the thing Carmello needs to edge her way over the hump. An evening of only Carolee doing what she does best would prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that this is a Broadway talent of the highest echelon. Of course, I'm not just thinking of her. I want to see the show!
(Ben Rimalower is the author and star of the critically acclaimed solo plays Patti Issues and Bad with Money. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)