Petula Clark went “Downtown” and The Jeffersons moved on up, but there’s always cause for some commotion when modern cabaret stars boldly cross Manhattan’s equator, as they will in this month’s Downtown Series at Feinstein’s at The Regency.
Nightlife promoter Daniel Nardicio has joined forces with Jen Gapay of Thirsty Girl Productions to curate a performance series of their favorite downtown divas, who are being exported uptown to the posh Feinstein’s Feb. 13, 19, 28 and 29.
This ambitious series, which marks the producers’ third major collaboration since last year’s Glamour Ball and I…Amanda Lepore in Concert, launched Feb. 13 with a Mardi Gras celebration starring New Orleans jazz singer Ingrid Lucia, her traditional New Orleans Jazz Band and New Orleans-bred drag queen Bianca Del Rio. Future performers include cabaret chanteuses Angela Di Carlo, Bridget Everett, Natalie Joy Johnson, Amber Martin and Molly Pope, plus flamboyant musical comic Cole Escola, of Logo’s Jeffery & Cole Casserole notoriety.
When people think of me, they think 'underwear party,' but I've always enjoyed producing musical events and I love to keep people guessing," said Nardicio, the man behind some of New York’s most scandalous gay-themed events. “I have a huge love for all of the cabaret artists who work downtown, so I thought, ‘Why not bring them to one of my favorite venues?’ It’s also great for Feinstein’s, because what doesn’t grow stagnates. And let’s face it: Barbara Cook’s on her last leg!”
“Sometimes, us downtowners like to feel a little fancy, and I think the uptowners like to feel hip sometimes, too,” added Gapay, producer of the New York Burlesque Festival and the original founder of Coney Island’s Siren Music Fest. “These acts may be a little crazier than a normal Feinstein’s show, but we’re hoping that audiences welcome the change, and of course we hope that no one gets kicked out in the process."
Although the duo hope to bring a new audience to Feinstein’s, the series is as much about exposing the performers to new fans as it is about exposing uptown crowds to Downtown talent. “I wanted to find great performers who could benefit from a wider audience,” Nardicio said. “When I realized how many of these performers hadn’t yet played one of New York City’s best cabaret venues, I saw the perfect opportunity to introduce them to a whole different audience and also get some of the younger Downtown kids up to this amazing venue to check it out. I imagine that the mixture of old money and young dreams will create a great alchemy.”
The producers embrace the challenges associated not only with taking performers out of their downtown habitat but also with spicing up Feinstein’s more conservative programming. Ponders Nardicio, “What happens to a wild performer like Bridget Everett when she can’t show her underwear? Will she become a diamond under the pressure? I told all of the performers, ‘I don’t want to change you, but I want to focus on your voice. Be wild, be provocative, but no genitalia, please.’”
“I’m excited to have my singing be the focus for a night,” beamed Everett, arguably the most outrageous performer of the lineup, who shares her Feb. 19 engagement with powerhouse vocalist Amber Martin. “I’m going to keep it low and loose. It’s hard to say how much of my usual show I’ll bring, but with some wine, dim lights and new friends, who knows? The good news is that Feinstein’s has my favorite chardonnay by the glass. I looked it up online.”
In addition to its excellent wine list, Feinstein’s is also associated with expensive ticket prices; however, the producers have significantly lowered admission for the series, which includes a two-drink minimum. “We had to make it a little cheaper so all our friends would still come,” Gapay said. As for a more casual dress code? “I like to say, ‘More Sharon Stone, less Sharon Gless,’” Nardicio laughed. “It is still Feinstein’s, after all.”
Our Town, February 2012; extended online version.