Club Helsinki Hudson taking a Broadway turn

Saturday September 29, 2012

HUDSON, N.Y.-- Since the eclectically minded Club Helsinki left its longtime home in Great Barrington, Mass., and moved into the spacious confines of a converted warehouse in Hudson, it has hosted everything from Americana to indie rock to swing dancing.

Even counting its long years in the Berkshires, though, it had never showcased Broad way tunes.

"We've done comedy, we've done literary talks, we've done poetry," says club founder and co-owner Deborah McDowell, noting that she comes from a family full of theater professionals. "The idea of finally doing something theatrical was appealing to me. I thought it would be a good fit for Hudson, too."

An infusion of show tunes has arrived with the newly launched Helsinki on Broad way series, a program of occasional Sunday night cabarets that began in late August with a performance by Jason Graae and Tony-winner Faith Prince.

Helsinki on Broadway continues with its third cabaret tomorrow, featuring another Tony-winning performer, Vic toria Clark.

Upcoming performers

Upcoming events include performances by Ann Hamp ton Callaway, Dee Hoty, Charles Busch with Tom Jud son, Liz Callaway, and Alan Cumming with Lance Horne.

Shows are booked through Dec. 2, but the idea is to continue the series as long as it attracts the public.

The series is the brainchild of Lee Tannen, who, along with partner Tom Wells, runs an event-planning and catering outfit called Showstoppers New York.

Tannen, who has also written a memoir chronicling his friendship with Lucille Ball in the last years of her life, developed a network of contacts in the Broadway world through his years of arranging corporate gigs and other events through Showstoppers. But this is his first foray into the world of promoting public shows. He's booking the talent, doing the promotion, and getting it off the ground.

Tannen says he aims to offer something for both the performers and the patrons: a low-pressure venue for established Broadway folk to work out new material, and an affordable evening out that won't put as much of a dent in the wallet as similarly themed venues in the City.

Makes ‘mercy calls'

"This is the first time I've been sort of an impresario. I've never worked harder in my life, but I love it," he says. "These are ‘mercy calls.' I say, we don't have a lot of money, but if you have a free night and have some new material you want to break in or something ... ‘ I'm asking them to do something in a really cool small town."

The idea came about after he and Wells, diehard New Yorkers, started spending about three-quarters of their time in the Hudson Valley. On an evening out, they discovered Helsinki Hudson, and the idea was born.

The club was immediately receptive to the idea of a Broadway-themed series, striking a deal, Tannen says, within 24 hours of an initial brainstorming session.

Can catch train home

The shows start early enough for attendees to catch the last Amtrak train back to New York City, if they wish.

"It's funny how, when you have a club like ours that does music almost every night of the week, every different performer brings a different audience," McDowell says. "We have people that are taking the train from New York and then taking the train back after the show, which is what we were hoping would happen [when we opened the club]."

The series is less about luring patrons based on big-name performers, Tannen says, and more about "branding" the series as dependably offering a quality evening of familiar Broadway-themed entertainment, in an intimate and informal setting.

Diehard fans from the city are welcome, but the hope is to also draw in local patrons who are curious about trying something new.

"You don't necessarily have to know who the person is, but the notion is they can come on Sunday night and hear some good music and mingle with the stars afterwards," Tannen says. "We'll have some headliners, and then we'll have some regular Broadway talent. People who go to New York and see Broadway shows might know them, but as long as it's quality entertainment, the food is great, and the price is right [it will succeed]," Tannen says.

"Tannen sings the familiar refrain of someone who once swore he'd never live outside of New York City, but became entranced by the lifestyle further afield. Helsinki on Broadway, he says, is connecting both worlds.

"It's brought me full circle. Now I'm ensconced in Broad way again, but I leave the club and go back to my river house instead of my New York City apartment."


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