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Cabaret Reviews



Glenn Sumi and John Kaplan

Top Bananas -- a review of "Bruce Dow goes Bananas"

Caught Stratford actor Bruce Dow ’s late-night cabaret show Bruce Dow Goes Bananas a week or so ago, part of the Stratford Summer Music series. And while we expected that he might throw some of the yellow fruit to the audience or show off a Carmen Miranda hat, instead we got an evening of songs delivered by the second bananas in musical productions, those secondary figures who have some great tunes but never take the final bow.

This summer Dow’s playing the Baker in Stephen Sondheim ’s Into The Woods , so it’s no surprise that the cabaret included Sondheim melodies from Follies, Company and Merrily We Roll Along. In these and other pieces – from Chicago, Cabaret, The Most Happy Fella, Titanic and his own show, Hard Hats – Dow proves he can turn a song into an emotion-filled story and give it real personality.

Amazing that after five shows in three days and this midnight concert he still had the energy to end the evening with the skyrocketing Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat, the Guys And Dolls song he performed onstage at the festival last summer. It’s worth checking out Dow’s new CD, Lucky To Be Me, for some memorable singing.


John Terauds 


Slice of life and courage in cabaret -- an article on "Bruce Dow, Manhattan After Dark"

Bruce Dow serves a combo platter of songs, stories in his one-man show

Last season at Stratford, he played Luther Billis and Honeybun in South Pacific and Mr. Bumble in Oliver!. He was the Baker in Stephen Sondheim's fairy tale Into the Woods the season before, and Nicely-Nicely Johnson in the festival's 2004 production of Guys & Dolls.

Bruce Dow may not have been playing lead characters, but he wowed audiences and critics.

The energetic, sweet-voiced showman has a way with comedy. He is also an accomplished dramatic stage actor, director and composer. It's a combination of aptitudes that lends itself well to the world of cabaret.

The cabaret artform isn't a popular one in Canada, partly because it's such a challenge: strip away scenery, costume and character and you have no one to rely on but yourself – and your accompanist.

But Dow is fearless.

In recent seasons, visitors to Stratford have been able to catch the performer in action at a local after-hours venue. Thanks to next season's rehearsals being a couple of weeks off, the Stratford resident arrives at the Berkeley Street Theatre on Monday to give Torontonians a one-night taste of his musical and theatrical craft.

"Most people think of cabaret as a variety show," says Dow, 43, during a recent interview. He points out it's something much more focused than that. "It's an intimate communication of stories through song."

He says some performers sing show tunes. Others perform "a whole repertoire of songs written for an intimate setting."

It may seem like nothing to walk on to a bare stage to sing a few numbers for a small crowd. But, as is so often the case, the simpler a piece looks, the more complicated it is in making it look (and sound) good.

"You have to be as prepared as you'd be for a full show," says Dow, who is currently reading James Gavin's book Intimate Nights: The Golden Age of New York Cabaret. 

The Big Apple has nurtured performers big and small in a still-thriving cabaret culture.

It's a broad form encompassing New York City legends like Bobby Short and Mabel Mercer, dabblers Phyllis Diller and Barbra Streisand, Broadway mainstays like Peter Allen and Barbara Cook, and foreign guests such as Ute Lemper.

"I like the vulnerability of it," says Dow of the close proximity of audience and performer. He says the key to making a show work is in finding a theme: "The best ones tie into something personal."

The actor's last Stratford cabaret was Bruce Dow Goes Bananas. "They were songs by second bananas in shows," says Dow of the nice neighbour, the guy who doesn't get the girl or the melancholy clown.

Monday night's theme is "impromptu retirement party."

"No, I'm not leaving show business," he laughs. "I just decided it was time to retire some of my songs – some of which I've been singing for a long, long time."

Dow says he still loves every one of the pieces he will present with piano accompanist Marilyn Dallman, but he has decided that "it might be time to move on and learn some new songs."

The singer promises Stephen Sondheim chestnuts – from Merrily We Roll Along ("Good Thing Going" and "Not a Day Goes By") and Into the Woods ("Children Will Listen" and "No More") – in the 45- to 50-minute presentation. "There will also be some Peggy Lee and Jacques Brel," he says.

Dow may also read a couple of stories and letters in what he calls his "combo platter." He promises it won't get maudlin.

One of the stories might be about "Lonely House," the Kurt Weill song he used in a Toronto audition two decades ago. "It was a Phantom (of the Opera) replacement call and I was doing Les Misrables at the time," Dow recalls. "Everyone was there, the music director, Mr. Drabinsky. It seemed like there were 17 people behind the big table.

"The accompanist started playing at a different tempo from the one I had practised, and I was not experienced enough to know how to speed it up or to simply tell him to stop so we could start again."

So Dow bravely kept singing. "Then I heard the music director yell, `I think he's flat – does anyone else think he's flat?' while I was singing and I just wished the ground would open up so I could disappear."

Dow is now a seasoned pro who has acted, sung, directed and written for Canadian and American stages. It's all been grist for the cabaret mill.

© Bruce Dow 2014