Cabaret’s Jewish Accent
From a profile in New York Jewish Week, November 29, 2002
Christmas is coming, and it’s time for Gerta Grunen to dust off her dreidels and warm up her vocal cords.
The dreidels decorate a miniature evergreen, topped by a miniature bagel: a prop Grunen uses when telling audiences her tale of growing up Jewish in Portland, Ore. A bubbly entertainer with a physical resemblance to Judy Garland, Grunen is performing her semi-annual “Jewish Girl’s Christmas” this month at Danny’s Skylight Room, one of the city’s remaining venues dedicated to the intimate art of cabaret.
“It’s a loving story about being a Jew and loving your heritage,” Grunen says of her show of songs and soliloquies (what she calls “kooky stories” about how “people deal with being Jewish at Christmas time”) ornamented with a Chanukah medley and a bit of holiday history. “It’s kind of like Judaism 101,” Grunen says in an airy voice that seems spiked with helium.
With its small-scale performance settings and emphasis on lyrics, rather than vocal acrobatics, cabaret is a storyteller’s medium. To the uninitiated, the term “cabaret” may bring to mind the titillating Teutons of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s musical about Weimar-era decadence in Berlin. But for devotees of the art form, cabaret offers a platform for baring souls, not legs.
“You’re not telling lines to a big house,” Grunen says. “You see the people and have to relate to your audience. There is no fourth wall in cabaret,” she adds, referring to the invisible barrier said to separate stage actors from audiences. “Many, many people do this because they love being able to create that kind of atmosphere with people.”
|Actor||Becoming Garcia||1983-84 Season|