Cabaret brings to mind Liza Minnelli, black clad, chain-smoking, beret-wearing Parisians, and if possible, a little bit of skin. The hint of burlesque is always a good motivator, which could explain the full house at The Mezz on Thursday night for the 8 p.m. showing of Black Cat Cabaret in its inaugural performance. And while it failed to meet any of those expectations, this American version of cabaret was, at its core, entertaining.
Three women singing songs over the course of the hour-long show told a story from a female perspective that covered history, theater, and modern pop. Local composer and performer Laura Ball was the core of the show as she sat behind the piano and seamlessly kept the evening flowing. She kept it light, telling stories and impressively coercing audience participation and laughter. Her performances were experienced and confident. It was hard not to fall a little bit in love with her earnest attempt at Journey.
With her was another obviously seasoned performer, Mary Fishburne who had a flair for theatrics, operatics, and comedy. Equally professional, her efforts were flawless and not quite heartfelt, but oozing with confidence. This poise was necessary, given her vicinity to Shelby Levine. After Levine's knock-your-socks-off-solo in the group's opening song of Peggy Lee's "I'm a Woman," Fishburne honestly quipped, "I don't want to go next."
It was this third and youngest singer who not just stole the show but made it worth the night out. Only her fidgeting fingers belied Levine's age of 15, for when she sang, the audience seemed to collectively hold their breath. She belted out "And I Am Telling you I'm Not Going" made famous by Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls — rattling the wine bottles in the back. With her mom and boyfriend in attendance, Levine dreams of a future in the medical field with hopes of being a pediatrician, but this didn't stop her from trying out for X-Factor. As a student at Charleston School of the Arts, she was selected to participate, courtesy of her relationship with Fishburne who occasionally visits the school as a guest performer.
Ball is an avid supporter of the music scene in Charleston and was eager to include a younger artist in the show and present an evening of music that was cross-generational. "I wanted something both familiar and new, something to help build a musical community. My dad said 'Give them what they know to hold onto, in order for them to stretch.'" It's this mentality that is the core of UNED!TED, an educational arts effort aimed at linking art projects and performances with local academic initiatives. So Lady Gaga and Judy Garland battled it out on the stage and the audience was able to eat, drink, and soak up the talent in an atmosphere that was a far cry from a Parisian cabaret but had an appeal all its own.