Deborah Zecher's second act is filled with 'learning and delight'

Former rabbi Deborah Zecher, who spent 22 years as spiritual leader at Hevreh of Southern Berkshire in Great Barrington, has found a second act in llfe as a cabaret entertainer. She brings her act to Berkshire Music School in Pittsfield Saturday evening.

PITTSFIELD — It was F. Scott Fitzgerald who famously wrote "There are no second acts in American life."

Don't tell that to Deborah Zecher — wife, mother, rabbi — who, at age 61, has found her second act.

After 37 years as a congregational rabbi — 22 of them at Hevreh of Southern Berkshire in Great Barrington — Zecher is living her dream — cabaret entertainer.

She left Hevreh, where she is rabbi emerita, in 2014 and divided her time between training and studying cabaret performance, honing her craft, and working as a rabbi with small congregations in the south, one in particular in New Orleans, where she went monthly for about four years.

In 2017, she was selected as one of six senior cabaret fellows at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in New London, Conn., where she studied under and performed with Judy Kuhn, Tonya Pinkins, Barb Junger, among others.

Then, in 2018, she decided she was ready, she said in a telephone interview from the Upper West Side New York apartment she shares with her husband, Rabbi Dennis Ross, to pursue her "passion to do this and do it all the time."

"I loved my work as a rabbi. I loved my time at Hevreh," she said. "I just felt this was my time."

She made her solo cabaret debut at Don't Tell Mama in New York in 2018, for which she received a nomination for best debut. Now, she is taking her act, "Deborah Zecher: On Purpose," on the road and bringing it to Berkshire Music School, 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Appearing with her will be her music director and piano accompanist Tracy Stark.

Zecher said she is thankful to the music school "for doing this. It's where I began." Indeed. Zecher was a student in Sherri Buxton's first Adult Cabaret Workshop at the school. She participated for six years. In addition, her now adult children — Adam, Miriam and Joshua, who is forging his own career as a music director, arranger and accompanist — all took classes at the 30 Wendell Ave. building.

This is one cabaret show that is not built around the Great American Songbook and its rich trove of material, much of which is drawn from Broadway, another of Zecher's passions.

"One of the first lessons I learned," she said, "was that cabaret is about singing the truth; about using other people's music to speak your truth."

She got some help in forming her act from an appeal she sent out on Facebook to women rabbis asking what songs they go to at certain tucked-away moments

"I got over 70 songs but I realized in looking at them that they were not my story. But it helped me shape my story," she said; a story about a woman who became a rabbi, who married, who had children

Among the better-known songwriters and/or songwriting teams on her setlist are Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire; Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx of "Avenue Q" fame; Jule Styne; Stephen Sondheim; Stephen Schwartz; and a song by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller with new lyrics by Lennie Watts and Zecher. But also on the setlist is material by Julie Gold; Rona Siddiqui; Zecher's accompanist, Tarcy Stark; Layng Martune, Jr. and Kent Robbins; Susan Werner; Meg Flather. Zecher's show concludes with a piece featuring words by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner set to music by Cantor Benjie-Ellen Schiller.

Zecher sings as often as she can. She frequents open mics around the city and nearby. She takes classes. She attends cabaret boot camp in Manhattan during which, she said, "you learn a couple of songs, deconstruct them and then put them back together trying out a completely different style or tempo. I did my first disco song last summer. It got my adrenalin going. I surprised myself."

Is there a third act?

"I am working at this all the time," she said. "It's not something tucked away in a corner anymore.

"A lot of learning; a lot of delight."

If you go ...

What: "Deborah Zecher — On Purpose." A cabaret evening of song. Tracy Stark, piano accompanist

Where: Berkshire Music School, Taft Recital Hall, 30 Wendell Ave.

When: Saturday evening at 7:30

Tickets: $30 (adults); $10 (students 18 and under) — seating is limited

Reservations/Information; (413) 442-1411

Note: wine and beer will be available for purchase