New York cabaret stars Jim Caruso and Billy Stritch are having a South Beach Cast Party, and you’re invited. Bring your sheet music. Leave your sad songs at home.
“We really encourage people to do upbeat, fun material. We try to really not have people do ballads because once we start with that, of course everybody wants to do a ballad, and it doesn’t make for a very fun and upbeat and energetic evening,” says Stritch, longtime music director and pianist for Liza Minnelli. “Save the ballads for your own show.”
Stritch and Caruso, pals for more than 30 years, both started early in show business. Stritch played piano in church and at a country club in Sugar Land, Texas. Caruso, originally from Pittsburgh, moved to Texas as a young man and started his singing career accompanied on piano by his mother, in an act titled “Son of a Bitch.”
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“It was a very — truly — strange act,” Caruso says. “She was a wonderful piano player, and she let me be the singing sensation. She was the accompanist. We annoyed people in happy hours all across Dallas.”
Caruso and Stritch became friends in Texas. Years later in New York, they met Minnelli just before her famed Radio City Music Hall concert engagement in 1992. Nearly two decades later, both co-starred in her Tony-winning 2008 Broadway comeback Liza’s At the Palace.
Every week, Caruso and Stritch perform Cast Party at Birdland, a legendary Manhattan jazz club. Thursday night, they bring the show to South Florida, where they’ll perform at 8 p.m. at Edison Farrow’s 120-seat The Cabaret South Beach nightclub.
“We’re never quite sure what to expect, but we do this every Monday in New York. Jim’s been doing this 13 years almost, I’ve been with him for 10 of those years, at least,” Stritch says. “We always have in New York wonderful Broadway singers, people who want to be on Broadway. We have a really nice mix of jazz singers. Also, some variety type of talent sometimes. Occasionally we get plate spinners — people who twirl — those kinds of acts, but mainly it’s singers.”
Stritch, Caruso and entertainer Cortes Alexander, also a Liza’s At the Palace co-star, are preparing to appear July 24 with Minnelli as she returns to the concert stage in Biloxi, Mississippi, after recent back surgery and rehab.
Minnelli has been known to show up at Cast Party, as have “Natalie Cole, Carol Channing, Donny Osmond, Tony Bennett, Michael Feinstein, Jon Bon Jovi,” according to Caruso. “Most of the Broadway people have been there. Chita, Christine Ebersole, Cheyenne Jackson, Ricki Lake, strangely. Or maybe not so strangely because she loves to sing. The list is fairly endless.”
New York’s musical standard bearers may not be in house Thursday at The Cabaret, but Farrow says South Florida stalwarts including Nicole Henry, EnVee, Avery Sommers and Matthew Farmer will perform.
You don’t need to plan far in advance to sing in Cast Party. “It would be good if I knew about it, maybe, ahead of time, but it’s not necessary. Whoever reads this can email me (Caruso212@aol.com) or just show up at the club and I put you on the list. It is truly an open-mic night. There’s no rehearsing. Just bring a chart or sheet music for a song that you do, in a correct key, and we’re off and running.”
Of course, not everyone at Cast Party sings as well as Tony Bennett, but Stritch assures audiences not to worry.
“I always tell people, if they don’t particularly love somebody who’s singing at the moment, if they wait three minutes someone else will be up there,” he says. “Everyone just does a song and it moves fast. People with all varying degrees of talent. We’re lucky when we go to Vegas or L.A. or different cities, we really get some incredible singers. There’s a bunch of great talent wherever we go, and I’m sure Miami will be no different.”
If you go
What: Jim Caruso's ‘Cast Party’ with Billy Stritch at the piano.
Where: The Cabaret South Beach, 233 12th St., Miami Beach.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday.
Cost: $26.87 to $47.57 including service fees, plus a two-drink minimum.
To perform: Email Caruso212@aol.com.