Friday, November 14, 2008

Cabaret makes a comeback: Classic cabaret meets modern-day Chicago.

Before Liza Minelli hit the stage in fishnets, green fingernails and fake lashes, Chicago was brimming with Broadway acts and burlesque shows. But after reaching its peak during Prohibition, the once-popular stage performances went cold with the repeal. Over the past few years, however, cabaret has made a comeback in these local haunts.

Blue Bayou
Skip the movies at Southport's Music Box and head across the street for a live show instead. The New Orleans-inspired Blue Bayou Bar and Grill hosts a French Quarter burlesque show every Thursday night, starring local cabaret queen Michelle L'Amour. The show kicks off around 10:30 p.m. when L'Amour slips into a scandalous striptease number on the venue's signature bar-top stage. The free performance allows you to put your money where your mouth is with the restaurant's Cajun and Creole-tinged menu, featuring Louisiana favorites like lump crab cakes and classic jambalaya. And if you're lucky enough to catch the lady's garter, Blue Bayou will buy you a congratulatory tipple.

3160 Owner Jim Flint has turned this popular Lakeview spot into a nonstop cabaret, and the acts just keep getting better. Local showstoppers, including a few nationally known names, take the stage Wednesday through Sunday. Velvet curtains, theatrical lighting and several disco balls provide a classic cabaret backdrop in the venue's rich brown interior. The space also houses a number of cocktail tables, a jukebox with over 100 selections, an antique-style bar and a baby grand piano that serves as a focal point. Flint's handpicked lineup of high-energy performers provides a familiar mix of music and comedy, while his drink list offers a fun mix of classic and contemporary concoctions. And since there's no cover, you can splurge on the booze.

Davenport's Piano Bar & Cabaret
It's not enough that Wicker Park has already laid claim to saucy, sought-after spots like Violet Hour, Debonair Social Club and Flat Iron. The neighborhood also claims one of the city's most notable cabaret joints. Davenport's Piano Bar and Cabaret hosts a number of theatrical acts, but it's Fridays and Saturdays with Daryl Nitz and George Howe (or Mr. Entertainment and Mr. Music) that captivate the club's trendy crowd. The duo has been performing together for eight years now and for the low price of a CTA bus ride, you can catch their cabaret-style "Experience." Part of that experience includes audience participation, piano requests, comedic relief and music ranging from pop hits to jazz numbers. Additionally, Davenport's Piano Bar and Cabaret, in conjunction with the Chicago Cabaret Professionals, will host a special holiday performance this year. The show takes place Monday, December 1 and Tuesday, December 2 at 7:30 p.m.; proceeds from the evening will benefit Teen Living Programs and Save The Children.

Kit Kat Lounge and Supper Club
This modern-day supper club attracts a diverse crowd of Broadway-lovin' babes and theater junkies. A regular lineup of female impersonators including Madame X, Traci Ross, Angelica Love Ross, Candi Stratton and Kathryn Cole entertain guests with lip-synching skills and swaying hips. Kit Kat's drink list, boasting over 70 cocktails, are almost as entertaining as its glitzy divas. Try the kitty's dream with vodka, orange and cream or the Peggy Lee martini with vodka, orange, banana liqueur and cranberry.

Drury Lane Water Tower Place
OK, so it's not the type of place to sit back and sling drinks, but there are plenty of those places nearby. After taking a quick hiatus from Chicago's bustling theater scene, this historic downtown space is back in full swing with a monthly cabaret concert series. Performances take place on Mondays and tickets typically run around $25. A full crew of Chicago Cabaret Professionals-including performers, producers, writers, directors, composers and lyricists-reel in herds of locals and a handful of tourists, too. The series currently runs through December, and with any hope, will live on long after.

This article was first published on Centerstage.
Photo: Cabaret performer Michelle L'Amour, courtesy of Blue Bayou.

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