Broadway Bingo brightens Wednesdays at Feinstein's
by Jim Provenzano
You can't ask for two more talented hosts for a musical theatre trivia night. That's because Joe Wicht (aka Mrs. Trauma Flintstone) and J. Conrad Frank (aka exiled Russian royal Katya Smirnoff-Skyy) have decades of theatre, cabaret and bar experience between them – that is, performing in bars.
The two multi-talents are giving Wednesday nights a new level of curtain-raising fun with Broadway Bingo at Feinstein's at the Nikko.
When he isn't tickling the ivories, Joe Wicht works at Project Open Hand, the food service agency for people with health problems, from HIV to other life-threatening conditions.
But by night, Wicht is often entertaining, be it at Martuni's or now on Wednesdays at Feinstein's. He's starred in the occasional musical (Xanadu at New Conservatory Theatre Center) or operetta (Queer, based on the William S. Burroughs novella). He also hinted at a new under-wraps project that will be part of the upcoming San Francisco International Arts Festival.
For Wicht, "the goal of Broadway Bingo is to have a game, but make it completely Broadway-oriented. Feinstein's management team has a love for Broadway, which is unusual for most folks in the Bay Area."
At the fun night, guests check off slots on cards with show titles as soon as a song or riff is sung, played or amusingly mentioned by Katya or Joe. "There are a lot of people who can get into it, along with the cocktails," said Wicht. Prizes include promotional items like CDs, hats, and tickets to Feinstein's shows, and A.C.T. theatre tickets.
With a bevy of local talents currently working on local shows, expect some laudable guest singers, like Veronica Klaus, who sang a sexy torch song (Her Tuesday night Torch nights at Martuni's have been extended). At the preview, a few other talented singers performed a song, including Betty Roi, a diminutive French woman who basically channeled Edith Piaf.
Another guest crooner was Jesse Cortez, who will soon be costarring in Dirty Little Showtunes at New Conservatory Theatre Center with satirist/lyricist Tom Orr. Nightlife and musical theatre performer Alotta Boutte also sang.
The evening, set in the expansive redesigned Kanpai Lounge adjacent to Feinstein's itself, took on a fun party atmosphere, with comfy sofas and lounge chairs filled by patrons eager to guess one obscure show tune reference after another.
Wicht admitted that his memory is "far from encyclopedic, but I have tons of music at my fingertips. I have been doing this stuff for a while."
Wicht actually put himself through college by playing piano in a Virginia bar, and for the first year he was underage as well (and therefore politely declined to mention the venue).
The pair of Wicht and Frank are also part of the local celebrity-filled final edition of this year's Cabaret Showcase Showdown, which will be held at Rebel, on Sunday, October 13 ($15. 7pm, 1772 Market St.) Now finishing its fourth year, the monthly talent show has broadened the careers of several local talents, from veteran vocalist Paula West to X Factor finalist Jason Brock, who will be a judge and guest performer.
J. Conrad Frank performed in musical theatre since childhood, years before he evolved into creating his statuesque drag persona Katya Smirnoff-Skyy, the exiled Russian empress.
"My iPod is a playlist of musical theatre," said Frank, who said that he loves digging up trivia notes to work into the new night.
"As Katya, I sort of avoided doing too much musical theatre. For Broadway Bingo, we're really able to delve into that, which is fun."
Frank described the new night as "a mix of people we invite, plus people who want to sing. There will always be a range of talent, including a few performers from Feinstein's."
Hotel guests at the Nikko have visited as well. "Last week, we had lot of people coming from the hotel, and really enjoying themselves, including a few random Australian tourists" said Frank.
One of the notable visuals, of course, are Katya's gowns, which Frank credited to local designer Mister David. Made of upholstery fabric with a subtle patterning, Katya's opening night gown, a boned outfit with a tight fishtail skirt, kept Frank/Katya mostly upright, but looking fabulous.
For now, the informal setting of the lounge makes for a festive relaxed atmosphere. The weekly show may move into the main room of Feinstein's soon, but that remains to be seen.
"If it does move into the showroom, I think it'll be more appealing for the performers, who make it a better show," said Frank. "But it is a happy hour."
Katya's monthly show at Martuni's continues every third Sunday, and Frank's annual holiday show will play at Feinstein's on December 19.
For more holiday hilarity, Frank will play Joan Crawford in a new revival of Christmas With the Crawfords. Other performers include Ethel Merman and Connie Champagne, and that show will play up in Yountville.
In between their own busy schedules, the duo of Joe and Katya, together again, should spice up any theatre fan's midweek.
"I love the situation where people are really relaxed and comfortable to have fun," said Wicht. And guessing show tune trivia, he added, "keeps our little rotten brains alive. The drinks make it more challenging."