Saturday, April 03, 2010

Magic at the Castle

"You were the best! Bessie Smith...Mahalia Jackson...your instrument f&*%$!g blew. me. away!" An older gentleman pokes her shoulder, she briefly glances over.  "Oh s%@!, dad really wants to get out of here. Can you believe my dad is making me go home? You were great! Bye!"

~The always eloquent Ms. Cybill Shepherd's words to me after the show last night.

Yeah...that did NOT suck. And I couldn't wait till all the way till the end to tell you what she said! So here are the rest of the details of one of the most fun nights I've ever had in my nine years in Los Angeles...

So one day a couple weeks ago my dear old friend Mark Aaron James sends me a Facebook message and says, "Hey Jim Caruso's Cast Party is coming to L.A. - it's a really cool thing and I can connect you with him if you want to sing at it."

Backstory: Cast Party is the most famous open mic in the country. Maybe the world. It happens every Monday night at Birdland in New York City and is hosted by show biz vet Jim Caruso and often has the world reknowned pianist/arranger/producer/composer Billy Stritch (who is apparently so busy he doesn't have time for a real website) on piano. Cast Party is the buzziest and grooviest place in town, as "the greatest singers in the world...and some other people" (as Jim is fond of saying) have shown up to perform and/or hang out (Judith Light, Liza Minelli, Parker Posey...just a few of the names I've heard bandied about). Jim and Billy, longtime friends and Liza's homies, decided to "Why Not?" a Casty Party out here in L.A. and they chose the world famous Magic Castle for their venue.

Now...we all know I'm a bit of a rock chick/pop girl. I am grossly under-educated in matters of cabaret and musical theater, because Nashville, where I studied music in college, just doesn't have much of a theater or cabaret community. Once moving to L.A., and movies eclipse theater and cabaret out here. It certainly doesn't get the same respect it does in NY. That said...I had no clue who Jim Caruso was and I had barely an inkling of who Billy Stritch was (and probably only because my neighbor is the sound guy at L.A.'s last true cabaret room, The Gardenia - which also needs its own website - and he's probably worked with him at some point and brought him up in conversation). One also should know that everytime I've been assured that "important people" will be attending a show, it's usually a big, fat, hairy lie, so I rather nonchalantly said, "Sure. Why not."

Disclaimer: Not that my friend Mark's a liar, I don't think he's ever actually heard of the word, but in the entertainment biz, things can happen...and then again, things might not...

Fast forward. I do my research. I'm all, "Oh crap. They aren't kidding around." I talk a lot with Mark via The Book and I say I'm gonna do Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" (my go-to song for cabaret-type gigs). He informs me that a) Billy Stritch doesn't care to do Billy Joel (blasphemy!!! although if I were him, I'd probably think that NEVER would be too soon to ever play or hear "Piano Man" again, too - actually, I think that and I'm NOT him) and b) there is a strict NO BALLADS policy (cue the Soup Nazi bellowing, "NO BALLADS FOR YOU!"). I'm all, "Double crap. What am I gonna sing???"

Uptempos for rock shows? Check. Uptempos for cabaret? Waaah waaah waaaaaaaah.

Yes. I'm a vocal coach. I should know more standards and musical theater, especially since I was in a jazz vocal group in college. And I should DEFINITELY hand in my fruit fly card. Now that we're all done tsk-tsking me, let's carry on.

Long story short, following lots of irritating emails to Mark (bless his patient little heart), I decide on Robert Johnson's "Crossroads Blues" (funny, on my very first blog on here, I quoted verses from it, which I just at this moment recalled...spoooooooky!). I figure every piano player knows their 12 bar blues progression, I used to sing the song with my band back in Nashville so I already knew it and we could swing it just enough to fit into the cabaret atmosphere while still letting my inner-black girl peek through ever-so-slightly. It would really take some WORK to screw it up.

Well. Let's not forget who I am. My name is Darci Monet, and I'm a self-sabotager. I'm in recovery, but sometimes I just don't hold on tightly enough to the wagon.

So I'm ready to do my thang. My friend Candy wants to come along with me, but when she calls to get tickets, they were SOLD OUT!!! OH NOOOOOO!!!

Then it occurs to me...oh my God. What if I was supposed to buy a ticket for MYSELF? Every other open mic in the world comps their singers...but this isn't every other open mic in the world, it's Jim Caruso's Freakin' Cast Party at the members-only Magic Freakin' Castle and even though Jim knows I'm coming to sing I STILL HAVE NO TICKET TO GET IN!!!

Panicked phone calls to the event coordinator at the castle and anyone working there who might help me (no one can). Rifling through emails. I find my original correspondence with Jim and THANK YOU BABY JESUS he had written, "I will put you on the singer's list and comp your ticket. Yay! Can't wait!"

Fortunately I was already sitting down otherwise my knees would've buckled with relief. I really thought I had shot myself in the foot. AGAIN. After all my hemming and hawing over what to sing and coming up with music and yada yada...choosing not to take the easy way out and make the "I don't have time to get anything together" excuse...*phew*! To be safe, I printed out that mo fo email to bring with me and highlighted the "comp your ticket" part. Take THAT, Exclusive Magic Peoples' Club! Das right! You bettah step!

But what to do about my friend Candy? So we decide to make a plan. She could be my roadie. ??? She's my personal assistant. ??? She's my backup singer. ???'s an open mic...supposedly anyone can sing, right? Finally, Candy picks a song and learns it...just in case. We will weasle her in somehow so I don't have to sit through the show alone sweating it out till my turn, even if she's forced to get up and sing "Bare Necessities" to do it.

You should know that Candy is a brilliant professional artist (she designed my most recent album cover). And while she has a pleasant voice and looooves to sing, it is not her profession. I think her willingness to get up in front of a crowd of people who do it for a living is a testament to what a good friend she is. It's also a testament to how badly she wanted to go to The Magic Castle. Cuz surriously, that pad is pimpin'.

Fast forward. Magic Castle last night. Our covert operation begins. We have our sheet music at the ready. We have our story planned. Our teeth are clenched. Our palms are sweaty. I ask the spirit of the Great Houdini to send us a little magic.

"Yes Ms. Monet, here are your tickets and your table number."


The best case scenario of which I had dreamed was that I'd have a comp, Candy would still have to pay the $20 to get in and we'd both have to mill about the bar in our heels all night long dodging Jim so Candy wouldn't really be forced to sing. But no...we were both comped, we had a table and Candy could just have a jolly good time with no worries.

Thanks, Harry.

The door from the lobby into the castle itself is actually a bookcase that opens when you say "Open Sesame" to it. No lie. Then we were sent through a maze of hallways and dining rooms, up stairs and down till we got to whatever the room was where the show was to be held. The Castle looked like the inside of the Titanic or some other Victorian or Edwardian era ship...gaudy, garish, gilded and right up my stylistic alley (I was definitely born in the wrong century). Afterward we nosed around a bit to see all we could see for as long as my sore feet could manage, but for now we concentrated on finding wherever this room was. I was pretty sure we'd need a Marauder's Map to help us find our way out later.

We get there and find our seats and then I introduce myself to the absolutely delightful Jim Caruso. So nice. And not fake nice like L.A. folks...genuine, New York nice (cuz when New Yorkers are not nice, that's JUST as genuine, trust me). We briefly went over how everything works, I'd give my music to Billy when I was summoned up, Jim would chat with me on mic a bit, then I'd let 'er rip. Hilariously though, when he asked what I was singing and I told him, this was his face:

No CLUE what song I was talking about. At that moment I was really glad I'd gone with 12 bar blues, cuz that way Billy needn't have heard of it, either!

So we watch the people file in. I see my friends Jacole Kitchen (she's a theater agent and one of her clients was singing), L.A. Talk Radio's Tony Sweet, talented actor/singer Jeffrey Landman (seriously people...get online!) and I *think* I saw WeHo's King-of-Karaoke Kenny Morse, but I can't be 100% sure cuz he was across the room and I didn't get a chance to go say hi cuz he was surrounded by his adoring fans and connections (dude knows EVERYONE).

And then I saw Cybill. And I thought, "Wow...she is TALL. And still really beautiful."

And it was soon time to start the show. Erich Bergen opened up by facetiously singing Britney Spears' "I'm Not A Girl/Not Yet A Woman." He was funny...and he's super cute. And he made fun of soul singers who do lots of licks and runs and conduct themselves while singing. I leaned over to Candy and said, "He's making fun of me and doesn't even know it."

So who gets called up next?

Ayup. Me. And my little non-theatrical blues tune, licks and runs prepped.

Billy REALLY swang it...swung it?...swinged it? was swinging. It became a jazz standard. Which I suspected would happen but still wasn't entirely prepared for. But that's okay. I went to school for this. RIGHT??? Right. So I swangswungswinged it, too. And laced it with gospel, cuz I just can't help myself. And the spotlight was so bright in my eyes that I could only see the silhouettes of all the heads in the room...Candy was hidden behind Billy at my right (his back was to our table all night) and I could ever so slightly make out Jacole smiling at me to my left, but otherwise - blind as a freakin' bat. It's better that way. Cuz then I might've seen some of the other folks I was singing to in the room besides Cybill and I'd have flipped out. The joint was packed. And I mean packed. Not a single seat open, almost shoulder to shoulder in the bar. And when I finished, there was the kind of applause I've not heard in a very long time. Not, "Dude this band is cool!" applause. Not, "Dude, that backup singer's pretty good" applause. Not "I'm so sloshed, I LOVE karaoke!" applause. Not even, "Girl can saaaang!" applause.

It was "Holy crap, who was THAT?" applause.

All the misery and rejection that comes with choosing a career in entertainment all becomes worth it when those very rare moments happen. It is a sensation I sincerely wish everyone on the planet could experience at least once in his or her lifetime.

And maybe I just imagined it. Maybe I only wanted it to sound like that in my ears so I just conjured it up for you. I suppose you'll have to ask those who were there for realz. Anyone who's followed my blog lately knows that if ever I needed such a pick-me-up, now would be a good time. So even if it was only the angels I heard cheering for me (a psychic once told me that she saw a vision of me singing and there were angels all around me, isn't that the coolest?), I am still grateful for it, because there is no salve to my heart more effective than feeling like I have brought joy to people with my gifts - particularly in a town where it's so easy to allow yourself to slip into feelings of uselessness. Plus, merely a month ago I was on strict voice rest and literally couldn't even produce sound and I'm still not at 100% so I wasn't entirely sure what might have come out. Coulda been all manor of caterwauling going on! So I have to say that for a person who's been spending more time teaching people how to sing than singing herself lately, I felt great about how I did and the reaction it garnered.

Mischief managed. 

And then?


Great performance after funny, great performance. A dude who used shaving cream to sculpt himself into different characters (what??? yes!!! I only wish I remembered his name!). And...

Miss Coco Peru.

Joely Fisher.

Joanne Worley.

The AMAZING Melissa Manchester (!!!).

and of course, Cybill Shepherd.

And there were many, many others whose names I was not familiar with but who are movers and shakers and beloved entertainers within the cabaret and theater world who sang and/or were enjoying the show. I know I am forgetting some of the big deal folks who were Gary Smith (!!!!)...and Larry O'Keefe...I should've taken notes...but it was just OMG after OMG after OMG all through the show. Candy and I were getting tired but we didn't dare leave till the bitter end because we didn't want to miss any more surprises! The show was upbeat, hilarious (our cheeks hurt by halfway through) and joyful and it was a GREAT time. And I think I saw more famous people in one room in that night than I have in all my years in this city.

And so I thank misters Mark Aaron James, Jim Caruso and Billy Stritch for orchestrating such a wonderful shot in the arm for me - and no doubt many others - last night. And I cannot wait till the next one! Whether I sing or not, whether I have to sell my kidney to get a table (which is entirely possible), I'm gonna get me a few hours of New York right here in L.A. on May 26th. My ONLY complaint was the absence of Neil Patrick Harris.

Let's work on that for next time, shall we?

If you live in NYC, you can experience this uber-coolness EVERY Monday night at Birdland. Check Jim Caruso's Cast Party website for the details.

And now, me and my little voice are going to sleep, to dream of my upcoming NYC trip, now that I've got a little reminder... 


MandiCrocker said...

This made me crrrrry, Dingy Dongy!!!! SOUNDS LIKE THE MOST AMAAAAZING NIGHT EVER!!! Soooo, sooo glad you had a fantastic time!!!! Love you!!!

Darci Monet said...

The ony thing missing was you, Punkweed...well...and Neil Patrick Harris. :-)

Mrs. C said...

My cheeks still hurt! Now Darci, I see no mention of the fact that I was your trophy date, which I was. Or that we were sitting at a table with a guy who started every sentence with a Barbara this or a Liza that. Hollywood. And Darci, you were great! I am sure many people in the room will remember you and "your instrument."

Darci Monet said...

Mrs. C I'd have been writing for three more hours if I mentioned EVERYTHING! ;-)