Sue’s Views

A Blog by Sue Matsuki

What is Cabaret?

by | Nov 9, 2018 | Sue's Views | 0 comments


Cabaret – cab·a·ret/ˌkabəˈrāt/Noun – is defined by Wikipedia as: 

“Entertainment held in a nightclub or restaurant while the audience eats or drinks at tables.”

“A nightclub or restaurant where such entertainment is performed.”

If you really want to know the history of Cabaret and the “how to’s” of Cabaret, buy our book, “So You Want to Sing Cabaret” available right here on CabU! But also…

For those of you who do not have Bob Harrington’s “The Cabaret Artist’s Handbook” (edited by Sherry Eaker) you MUST get a copy. It is available at  There is an entire chapter called, “Qu’est-ce Que C’est Cabaret?” This book is a must read. Basically, he says:

“People who don’t know (what Cabaret is) are easier to handle than people who think they do know and yet refuse to believe that cabaret really is an independent and identifiable art form separate from musical theater, concert, lounge, or recital performances.”

He admits that a concise and accurate description of cabaret has always eluded even him. He says that, “It’s an awesomely all-encompassing genre, welcoming with equally open arms singing styles from jazz to country-western, magicians, comics, book shows, revues, variety acts, and people who just stand there and tell stories.” He mentions that all Webster (and now Wikipedia) know is that, “you can drink or each during a cabaret show.”

When comparing theater with cabaret, Mr. Harrington says, “…there are certainly gray areas but…essentially, theater and musical theater are voyeuristic pursuits. You watch the action through an invisible fourth wall. Success in cabaret is measured by how well you break down that fourth wall entirely. If theater is voyeuristic, cabaret is participational.” He states, “Audience energy affects cabaret far more than it does any other art form. Audience rapport is the bottom line. A cabaret performer who ignores an audience will get hell, period.”

Isn’t he great? I urge you to get this book. He goes on to further discuss the differences between a rock concert (concerts in general) which require the audience’s mass adoration and the differences between theater performances as a character vs. as an adopted persona a cabaret performer would appear as on stage. It all boils down to how the audience relates to, toward and with the performer on stage. It’s SO much more than 14 songs in order with a theme or thread.

Ultimately, Mr. Harrington says that when asked just tell people, “…It’s a unique performance style designed to engage the audience intimately in the performance itself.” He then just tells us all, “Or better yet, tell them to go see it.”

This is where WE, as social networkers, have to be our own advertisers. WE are responsible for letting people know what in the hell it is that we do. When I am asked, “What IS cabaret?” I usually say that it is a less expensive alternative to theater (not to us, but to the viewer) where pretty much anything goes. Then I take the time to describe some of the kinds of shows that I have seen, and I always recommend singers and shows.

Want to build an audience? I usually go up to someone at Don’t Tell Mama’s bar and chat them up to see if they are from out of town. I then invite them to have their cocktails in my Cabaret show and I comp their covers. I have now made two new fans if they come to town and I have given then a good experience of attending a Cabaret show.

A while ago, as an experiment for a report I was making to the MAC Board, I went to the TKTS booth and every 15th person in line I asked, “What do you think Cabaret is?”  The answers I got were mostly from out of towners there to see a Broadway show (wanting cheaper tickets should be noted as they were all in line for this purpose). The responses included comments like: “Like the movie Cabaret.” Or “It’s guys in drag.” Many thought it was dirty dancing like in a Gentleman’s Club. Very few knew what it was and the few who did go, had caught a bad show and the comments were, “We did that once. It’s like middle age ladies singing show tunes, right?” (Hey, I resemble that remark!)

Yikes, people, we have an image problem here which makes this a marketing issue. How does one market in today’s day and age? How does one market a genre that has such a big umbrella in varying styles of shows and, let’s admit it, on any given night, one could walk into the “middle aged lady singing show tunes” show (which is what I call a“friends and family” show) so there is a quality control issue at play here as well. Bottomline…the more WE describe the shows and the events we see, the more “others” will know what it is we do here. Each of us doing our best work always when repping our genre is the best advertising for us all.







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Sue Matsuki

Sue Matsuki

Co-Editor & Instructor, Cabaret HotSpot and Cab U

Sue Matsuki is the co-author, along with David Sabella, of So You Want To Sing Cabaret (Rowman & Littlefield, June 2020). Sue is the Managing Partner, Co-Editor, Reviewer, Vloger and a Columnist (Sue’s Views) for an on-line entertainment magazine: www.Cabaret She taught Cabaret classes at: The Ridgefield Theater Barn and UCONN in CT, MAC-to-School and Cabaret Hotspot in NY and for the Canadian School of Performing Arts. She has served as Treasurer on the Board of Directors for MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs). She, along with Gregory Toroian, her long time Music Director, now host a monthly Jazz Brunch Open Mic at Pangea. Matsuki also produces benefits and corporate events and is the Producing Manager for Urban Stages’ Winter Rhythms series where she also hosts a Vlog called Urban Stages’ Artists Chat.

Matsuki’s most cherished awards come from winning the 2020 Bistro Award for Outstanding Collaboration celebrating her 25th year of working with Music Director, Gregory Toroian; getting her poster up on Don’t Tell Mama’s “Wall of Fame” for her show How’s That for Openers? celebrating the 33rd Anniversary of singing at the club and being selected personally by the late Julie Wilson as the very first 2004 Julie Wilson Award Recipient, given by the Mabel Mercer Foundation.

Matsuki is an 11-time MAC Award Nominee and a 3-time Winner (in seven different categories), mostly recently she was nominated for Major Female Vocalist. Her MAC history includes: 2002 MAC Award Winner for Female Jazz/Pop/R&B Vocalist; 2002 Nominee for Best Female Recording for her first Jazz CD, A New Take; 2004 Nominee for Duo/Group (with Marcus Simeone); 2006 MAC Award Winner for Special Productions for her sold out 7 week run of 10 Years in the Making with her Musical Director Gregory Toroian; 2007 & 2010 Nominee for Female Vocalist; 2008, 2011 & 2012 Nominee for Duo/Group (with Edd Clark); the 2008 MAC Award Winner for Specialty Song (“One Stop Shopping” by Page/Matsuki/Toroian); and the 2020 Nominee for Major Female Vocalist.

This Jazz/Cabaret/Comedy veteran has played every NYC Cabaret room including: Feinstein’s at the Regency, Feinstein’s 54 Below, The Metropolitan Room, Arci’s Place, Town Hall, Don’t Tell Mama, Pangea, The Algonquin, The Beach Café, The Laurie Beechman Theater, 88’s, and has even played Carnegie Hall along with several legendary Jazz Clubs including: The Village Gate, Birdland, The Iridium and Sweet Rhythm. She has performed in Alaska, Los Angeles, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, Nyack, Maine, Fire Island, Florida, Providence and Las Vegas!

Her jazz CD, A New Take, was nominated for the 2002 MAC Award for Best Recording and her Christmas CD, Sue & Edds FABULOUS Christmas both receive air play across the country and internationally. She is also featured on folk singing legend Christine Lavin’s original music Christmas compilation CD, Just One Angel with a song that she co-wrote with Paul Stephan called “Christmas Angel”.

Matsuki was a Super and “Diva Double” at the Metropolitan Opera where she has been featured in Moses und Aaron; Tristan und Isolde; Norma; and Il Travatore.

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