Jim Caruso’s Cast Party
Monday June 20, 2005
Written by Frank J Avella
Photographed by Lina Haskel
“We’re a phee-nom!”
“We’re like the Altar Boyz.”
“Or maybe we’re your Dreamgirls!”
This bit of witty banter between Jim Caruso and Billy
Stritch kicked off another dazzling Monday night at Birdland.
No, it’s not a cabaret show or an off-Broadway musical.
Nor is it stand-up comedy. And yet it’s all three...
and so much more!
On any given Monday night at 10:00 p.m., the Birdland
audience is filled with musical theatre veterans and fans,
tourists - international and otherwise - as well as a
potpourri of every walk of life. They eat. They drink.
They applaud. They mingle. They take to the stage and
sing. And everyone has a fabulous time. So what
exactly is it?
It’s Jim Caruso’s Cast Party! Right. Okay. And that would be...?
Fitting Cast Party into an easily definable genre
listing is difficult at best. And that’s part of
what makes this weekly event so spectacular. Depending
on the Monday, you may be privy to Liza Minnelli taking
to the stage and belting out an accapella Arlen classic
or lucky enough to enjoy one of the many prominent Broadway
composers testing out a fresh tune from a spankin’
new show. Another night may feature a cabaret superstar
belting out a timeless ditty and that same night you may
experience a random Red state visitor showing his/her
vocal mettle. Once in a great while there’s a warbling
clunker in the bunch, but that even adds to the fun.
Cast Party was born two and a half years ago
when mega-multi-tasker Jim Caruso was press-repping a
certain Manhattan night club and decided to toss an impromptu
Christmas party. A slew of his talented friends attended
and partied and sang until 2:00 a.m. The club asked him
if he would mind doing it every week. And lo and behold...
a major New York attraction was born. JCCP has
since moved venues a few times (one of my personal favorites
was a place called The Pink Room where everything was,
well, pink!) until it found a permanent and perfect home
CBS calls it “extreme open mike night,” which
describes the relaxed, shmoozy yet pregnant-with-talent
atmosphere Jim has created. The scene is electric. The
crowd eclectic. And there’s a wonderful blend of
Southern-fried-food smells pervading the air.
Last Monday, June 21st was no different as far as the
talent on display - beginning with Jim and the legendary
Billy Stritch on piano. These two dapper gents have worked
together many times and the ease with which they duet
- both musically and comically, is a joy to experience.
Rounding out the “Cast Party Symphony Orchestra”
is the amazing Steve Doyle on bass.
Caruso crooned his own rendition of “Down with Love”
with such evocative style he proved he is a master entertainer
as well as host. From that point on, the party began.
And the list of wonderful singers included: the energetic,
crowd-pleasing octogenarian, Bob Dolphin, who did a tap
dance for his fans; Cindy Lee (The Blonde Songbook)
performing a Betty Hutton gem from the film The Perils
of Pauline; Joan Crow brilliantly reworking “Ding
Dong the Witch is Dead”; the always-astonishing
Julie Garnier, who managed to bring the house down with
a Larry O’Keefe (Bat Boy) tune; Hilary
Kole, doing a fantastic jazzified rendition of “Cheek
to Cheek”; David Goldman (guitar/vocals) & Alan
Darcy (sax) tearing the place up with an awesome Spanish
set, and so many more...
Tyler Maynard, Andy Karl, David Josefsberg, Ryan Duncan & Scott Porter
The piece de
resistance of the evening (and the reason a gaggle of
teenage girls were seated in the front row, salivating
with anticipation) was the appearance of the cast of
Altar Boyz (Tyler Maynard, Andy Karl, David
Josefsberg, Ryan Duncan and Scott Porter). And the Boyz
did not disappoint, singing the rousing, “I Believe”
from the runaway hit musical. Later in the evening,
Boyz member Scott Porter continued to entertain the
crowd with his unbelievable verbal percussion.
To close the evening, Jim Caruso returned to the stage
to sing one of his signature songs, a balladized version
of “If I Only Had a Brain.” So mesmerizing
was his performance that for four minutes he made the
audience forget he was the same Jim Caruso who was hosting
the evening - the self-deprecating comic genius who put
this all together for so many people to come and enjoy.
In those four minutes, he was simply another incredibly
talented artist singing his heart out for the audience.
Jim with Altar Boy Scott Porter