Don't call The Whit's 'Songs of Love' a Valentine's Day cabaret

"Songs of Love"

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PITTSFIELD — "Songs of Love" may be the early bird cabaret scheduled for Feb. 13 at Pittsfield's Whitney Center for the Arts, but that doesn't mean the event is exclusively for older valentines.

"I don't want to just encourage people who are going on dates to come. Groups can come. Single people can come," said Monica Bliss, the organization's director of performing arts.

What about the age implication?

"I think that it goes beyond an older crowd," she said.

If the two vocalists' song choices are telling, there's a good chance that the show, which begins at 6 p.m., will make that claim ring true. Vocalists Steve Hassmer and Kimberly Gritman will play both classics and contemporary songs with Jeff Hunt accompanying on the piano. Though it's not a Valentine's Day event, per se — the early bird cabaret will be a monthly occurrence, one of the Whitney's new contributions to the city's nightlife — the performance will certainly have a high level of intimacy.

"It's a variety show of love songs in a bistro setting," Bliss said.

The numbers will be a concoction of jazz standards, Broadway hits and pop tracks. Hassmer's tunes tend to have greater vintages. He chose songs by Irving Berlin and Duke Ellington, among others.

"One of the nice things about doing a cabaret show is that you get to pick all of your own music," said Hassmer, who has performed in productions of "My Fair Lady" and "South Pacific" at the Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham, N.Y. "They tend to show you off really well."

"A Chorus Line," "Little Shop of Horrors" and "Jesus Christ Superstar" will provide some of the more modern material. Bliss also noted that Gritman will pay homage to singer-songwriter Carole King at some point during the evening. Though Hassmer and Gritman don't have much experience working together, Hassmer said he enjoys performing with Gritman.

"She's got just a really beautiful natural voice," he said.

The two will team up for a duet, "Perhaps Love," which singer-songwriter John Denver and operatic tenor Pl cido Domingo made famous a few decades ago.

While they listen to Hassmer and Gritman, audience members can munch on a three-course meal (garden salad, pasta with meat sauce or cheese tortellini with tomato basil sauce, and dessert) and sip on coffee or soda. The food and beverage are included in the price of the ticket.

The event is part of the Whitney's bolstered lineup of nightlife programming in the coming months. In addition to the monthly cabarets, the Pittsfield institution will begin hosting (in partnership with Rock On!) monthly teen open mic nights, the first of which is slated for Feb. 28. Monthly "Opera Notte" shows will return on Feb. 17 as part of the 10x10 Upstreet Arts Festival. And a concert series is also in the works to go along with a lineup of theatrical productions such as "The Last Flapper" (March), "The Old Maid and the Thief" (April) and "The Vagina Monologues" (September).

"The vision is to create a vibrant performing arts center in addition to the vibrant visual arts activity [already at the Whitney]," said Bliss, who was appointed as director of performing arts in December.

"I think they've made a conscious decision to step up their game a bit as far as the programming," said Hassmer, noting that the organization's events are often cheaper than some surrounding institutions'. "... I think it's filling a niche."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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