Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 37 / 14 September 2017
 

Jim Caruso

Cabaret

Welcome to his Cast Party


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"When I was a kid," remembers Jim Caruso, the Manhattan-based singer, dancer, and talent curator who will play ringmaster to local talent at Feinstein's at the Nikko next weekend, "I loved this television show called Hugh Hefner's Playboy Penthouse."

The program, taped in a Chicago studio dressed up to look like Hefner's bachelor pad, was formatted as a cocktail party, at which the era's swingingest host chatted with guests such as Anita O'Day and Sammy Davis, Jr. who would then do 'impromptu' musical performances, accompanied by the Cy Coleman Trio. All were surrounded, of course, by a bevy of bunnies.

Caruso watched it for the articles.

"I felt like I had this intimate, fly-on-the-wall experience of great talent," he says, "the way the cameras came in on the performers, not like they were up on a stage. It was as if you were really invited to this great party."

That's the feeling Caruso hopes San Francisco audiences will feel at a rare local installment of Cast Party, the 'extreme open mic' event he's been hosting on Monday nights for 14 years at Birdland in Manhattan.

Caruso has worked as an arranger, backup singer and dancer for Liza Minnelli; plays his own cabaret gig with pianist Billy Stritch at the Cafe Carlyle; and has recorded several albums (He'll sing a number of his own to open the Feinstein's shows). But he says he's realized that showcasing other performers' may be his calling.

"After so many years wishing I could be a superstar, it turns out that I feel really good being a sort of talent whisperer!"

In New York, Monday being a dark night at most theaters, Broadway performers regularly take the stage –and fill the audience– along with unknowns hoping to catch a break, or at least rub elbows with the pros and bask in an evening's applause.

"We used to have this little girl come in," says Caruso. "She was 13 or 14 years old, wearing Leboutin shoes. Well that turned out to be Ariana Grande."

Actress Colleen Ballinger, a YouTube personality who now performs as her talentless, egomaniacal Miranda Sings character in clubs and theaters nationally, has been a regular Cast Party drop-in.

"When I take the show on the road," says Caruso, "I do try to stack the deck a bit. I've got a great Rolodex and I do my homework to make sure we get some of the great local performers. But it always ends up that we have more performers who want to participate than we expect. You wouldn't believe how much talent there is in Delray Beach, Florida!"

"I only have one rule if you're going to perform," he says. "It's got to be upbeat; no ballads. It's fun and fast and it's a party. "

Caruso also stresses that Cast Party is about conviviality, not competition.

"All the television shows that spotlight musical talent now are contests," he notes. "I'm not a big fan of judging talent. I like to cultivate it and encourage audiences to show their appreciation for it.

"It's so cool to meet these incredible people who are willing to put themselves out there. It takes a lot of guts for a Long Island mom to come out and sing on the same bill as someone who regularly plays at places like Feinstein's. I started putting these shows together as a job, but it almost feels like community service at this point."


Jim Caruso's Cast Party at Feinstein's at the Nikko, Friday Sept. 22 & Saturday Sept. 23, 8pm. $17.50-$25. ($20 food/drink min.) Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St. http://www.feinsteinsatthenikko.com/ Would-be Lana Turners of song can reach out to Caruso through Facebook or at www.CastPartyNYC.com/contact









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