Under a dimmed chandelier, surrounded by a piano and chairs, hopeful students, faculty and alumni stepped onto a small stage to belt out adventurous songs in an effort to attract scholarship funds.
“An Evening of Cabaret: Journeys and New Beginnings” was the first fundraiser for the Betty Garrett Musical Theatre Scholarship held Feb. 4 in Studio 404 of the Theatre Building, 72 E. 11th St. The scholarship, established in 2000, annually awards $21,000 to theater majors concentrating in musical theater. This was the first year the funds were divided among three recipients: senior Rebecca Bradford, sophomore Nathan Cooper and alumnus Alex Newkirk.
The event was hosted by Board of Trustees Chair Allen Turner, who performed his own composition, “Pickety Packety” on the piano, and Chicago cabaret artist Beckie Menzie, three-time winner of Chicago’s After Dark “Outstanding Cabaret Artist” Award who performed “Fascinating Rhythm” from “Lady, Be Good.”
“This is an extraordinary example of what you can do when you graduate from Columbia,” Turner said after introducing Newkirk, who performed “Run Away with Me” from the musical “The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown.”
Newkirk is scheduled to perform “The March” at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company beginning April 5. The 15 cabaret performers picked a song that represented a journey in their lives. They had two days of rehearsal for the one-night performance, according to Cooper, the youngest scholarship recipient and cabaret performer, who performed “Go the Distance” from the film “Hercules.”
“There are so many people in the program, so it reassures me that I’m going in the right direction,” said Cooper, who referred to himself as a touring, “tap-dancing teddy bear” before he found his niche at Columbia. “Being asked to sing here is a really big honor. Not very many of us get to sing with the faculty.”
Along with motivating numbers, humor also played a part in the cabaret. Susannah Corrington, senior theatre major, performed “I Want Them … Bald,” running her hands over hairless men in the audience while singing, “I want them bald / Tall, dark, handsome and bald.”
Introductions also were lighthearted. John Green, chair of the Theatre Department, said, in an introduction to the audience, that he accepted his invitation because there was “nothing to do on a Saturday night since the college was closed.”
The theater holds 50 seats, and tickets were sold for $100, $50 and $35. Donations were also accepted from those unable to attend. In addition to faculty and students, President Warrick L. Carter, Louise Love, interim provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, and Eliza Nichols, dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts, also attended the show, according to Ashton Byrum, associate professor and a coordinator of the musical theatre program.
A total of 70 seats were sold, said Albert Williams, senior theatre lecturer. Fundraiser totals were unavailable as of press time.
The musical theatre program has 800 students and is recruiting “go-getters” from high schools in the area, Byrum said. The scholarship, intended to pay for headshots, resumes and college tuition, used to be available only to juniors, but it was recently expanded to sophomores and seniors, he said.
Depending on the success of the event, the fundraiser may be in the form of a cabaret again next year, which is a traditional way to raise money in theater, he said.
The Theatre Department is focusing on the “Rent” performance opening April 18, in which most of the student cabaret performers will perform, Byrum said.
“It helps us keep our best, most talented students,” Byrum said. “It doesn’t end up being a ton of money, but it’s helpful.”