I have interviewed six-time MAC and two-time BackStage Bistro Award winner Jim Caruso twice before, once in 2009 after he made his Broadway debut alongside Liza Minnelli in "Liza's at the Palace" and again in 2010 when Cast Party took to the stage at Town Hall as a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Now, to be able to interview Jim once again for Cast Party's second benefit at Town Hall, is a true joy and honor. This year's Cast Party is benefiting The Actors Fund.
In true Cast Party fashion, this year's show has the best of the best taking to the stage! Joining Jim will be Golden Globe and Tony Winner Linda Lavin, the uber-talented jazz and adult contemporary vocalist Jane Monheit, Broadway Star and Drama Desk Nominee Stephanie J. Block, nine-time Grammy winning solo artist and founding member of The Manhattan Transfer Janis Siegel, David Ippolito AKA "That Guitar Man From Central Park," Broadway sensation Julia Murney ("Wicked"), stand-up comedian, Grammy nominee and "Celebrity Apprentice" Lisa Lampanelli, Tony Winner Paulo Szot ("South Pacific"), Lysistrata Jones’ Liz Mikel, comic juggler Marcus Monroe, "The Acromedian" Rudi Macaggi, Holly Near will be performing with lyricist/composer John Bucchino ("A Catered Affair"), and Laura Osnes will be performing with composer Frank Wildhorn, best known for his Broadway musical "Jekyll & Hyde." Also joining the party is Terri Klausner, who will be singing "Hit Me With A Hot Note" from "Sophisticated Ladies," and Andrew Nemr, whose tap company "Cats Paying Dues" will perform an unforgettable tribute to Gregory Hines. And that’s not all - many more surprise performers and special guest stars will be on hand too! Billy Stritch will hold court at the piano, adding vocals and banter to the proceedings. Joining the musical fun will be Daniel Glass on drums and Tom Hubbard on bass.
This Thursday, February 23 at 8pm, come join the "Cast Party" at Town Hall (123 West 43rd Street, between 6th & 7th Avenue). Click here for tickets!
1. Last year was the debut of Cast Party at Town Hall as a special benefit for BCEFA. This year, you are bringing Cast Party back to Town Hall, but now it's benefiting The Actors Fund. What made you want to bring Cast Party back to Town Hall? How did you decide to benefit The Actors Fund this time around? Last year's Town Hall Cast Party was such a smash and we had an absolute ball! I mean...anytime a show opens with Chita and closes with Liza - the crowd is going to go wild! Happily, Town Hall asked producer Scott Siegel to bring us back, so back we are coming! I'm happy that we're benefiting The Actors Fund. It's an organization that serves all professionals (not just actors) in the theater, film, tv, music and dance business. Can you believe it's been around since 1882? It's actually older than ME!
2. What can fans expect at this year's Cast Party benefit that is different from last year's? Just like the weekly Cast Party at Birdland - the cast is always different. The weekly event is an open mic, but obviously the Town Hall event is not. I called on some of my most talented, thrilling and dazzling pals to perform with The Cast Party Symphony Orchestra (Billy Stritch, Tom Hubbard and Daniel Glass)...and everyone said yes! I can't wait to hear what the hilarious and filthy-mouthed Lisa Lampanelli has to say about all of it! She was the first person I invited to do the show, and the first to accept! Even though she called me a 'loser with a dream' onstage, I love her and am obsessed with her humor. I'm excited to see what kind of chaos she brings to this season's "Celebrity Apprentice," and to this very special Cast Party!
3. How did you choose this year's talent? I literally went through my address book and called friends, and some folks who, through the years, have become Cast Party favorites. There are Broadway and theater folks aplenty, like Linda Lavin, Paulo Szot, Stephanie J. Block, Laura Osnes, Julia Murney, Erich Bergen and Liz Mikel. I'm thrilled to tell you that songwriters Frank Wildhorn and John Bucchino will both be at the piano showing off a few of their respective tunes! If you're a jazz fan, you'll flip for superstars Janis Siegel (from Manhattan Transfer) and Jane Monheit. There will be a spectacular all-singing-all-dancing tribute to Gregory Hines, starring Terri Klausner, Andrew Nemr and Cats Paying Dues. David Ippolito (the Guitar Man From Central Park) will give us a taste of his folky/funny/smart material. Aaron Weinstein will show off his Jack Benny vibe and his jazz violin virtuosity. Holly Near has been one of my favorite singer/consciousness-raisers forever, and I can't believe she's performing with us! The brilliant juggler/comic Marcus Monroe and the completely crazy clown/acrobat Rudi Macaggi round out the show, helping me feel like a modern-day Ed Sullivan! All we're missing are plate-spinners and a mouse puppet!
4. One of this year's performers is Golden Globe and Tony Award winner, Linda Lavin, whom I was fortunate enough to interview last month. She mentioned it was because of you that she started her act that her CD "Possibilities" comes from. What made you want to work and develop an act for her? What has been the best part about working with her? What made me want to work with Linda Lavin? Isn't the fact that she's kind of a genius enough? Plus, she's one of my best friends, and a regular at Cast Party and constantly on the Broadway at Birdland lineup. We like to say that we 'met at the White House,' because we were both on the bill at Clinton's Inaugural, then sang at his first State Dinner. She is incredibly musical, tells wonderful stories and has great taste in songs! It didn't take a brain surgeon to know that she should have a nightclub act. When we were putting that first act together, I'd give her a small note, and she'd run with it, creating something fantastic. I would feel very good about myself - until I remembered that SHE's the genius - not me! No wonder everyone in the theater wants to work with her - she makes them all look good!
5. Since we spoke last year, Cast Party has now gone to Chicago, Pittsburgh and Las Vegas in addition to LA and continues every Monday in NYC at Birdland. What do you like about bringing Cast Party to these various cities and does Cast Party differ from city to city? Honestly, it's a joy to celebrate and connect with talented people all over the country. Occasionally, someone will be surprised that it's possible - as if New York City had a lock on talent. I remind them that everyone on Broadway is from somewhere - they weren't born in that ten-block radius! Maybe the folks we meet on the road are considering a move to either coast. Maybe they've chosen to live their lives outside of Manhattan, singing, dancing and acting in local theater and clubs. Either way, we find 'em - or they find us, and we all have a ball entertaining each other. We struck the jackpot in Las Vegas - all the leads in all the production shows came to sing for us, including Jersey Boys, Lion King, Vegas: The Show, and Donny Osmond! In Pittsburgh and Cleveland, alot of theater majors from Carnegie Mellon and Baldwin Wallace showed up for us. Los Angeles is packed with theater folks, along with legends like Carol Channing (yes!) and Melissa Manchester, who is a regular! Each city has it's own vibe, as you would imagine - but the HEARTS of the extraordinary performers are what keep Cast Party afloat. Talented people have always been my passion. It's my great honor to give them a stage so that they can show us who they are.