Late-Nite Cabaret: Charlie Reese
- By gentleguide
- On Sat 18 Aug 2018
Almost exactly two years ago, Noce Jazz/Cabaret started their Late-Nite Cabaret series. Once every month or so, they feature a cabaret evening with one of Des Moines best theatre performers in a setting reminiscent of New York’s 54 Below and other intimate concert spaces. Their first choice for this experiment was local favorite Charlie Reese, who returns to the Noce stage next week for another musical visit, full of laughter, music, and fun.
It really was an experiment for Noce back in 2016, reaching out to the Des Moines theatre crowd in a new way. Reese was a pretty good first choice, as he was well known as an actor with various stage organizations around town. He’s performed with the DM Playhouse since he was 16, and been in front of central Iowa spotlights for more than half his life. He won a Cloris Award for Best Actor in a Musical last year for his lead role in Young Frankenstein, and had starring turns in Avenue Q, Company, and many others. But a cabaret set is a wholly unique thing, and Reese got to set the standard for how they might be done at Noce.
He just had to figure out what he was going to do in the first place....
“I knew that 2 hours of singing would be a monstrous task,” he says, “especially since I was in a play (Hand to God at StageWest) at the same time, and would need to run from the show to the cabaret. I wanted to choose songs that I enjoyed singing in the car or at auditions, since those would be some easier options, but then mix in a few non-Musical numbers to spice it up. For me, I wanted to sing some songs that had an impact on me, would help me tell my story, and allow the audience to get to know me a little better. It was the first time I’d ever been given the stage and a microphone and no script, so I wanted to make it a little bit of an introduction to who I am.”
“With the first cabaret, I found out the hard way that you really need to take care of your voice going into a 2 hour show. There aren’t many of us outside of the professional singing world used to that type of marathon performance, so it was a definite eye-opener. I would definitely NOT recommend doing a cabaret immediately after a show, since I felt wrecked after the second number!
Lessons learned, and Noce continued the Late-Nite Cabaret series. So last year, Reese got another chance to share with the audience and change things up a bit.
“With the second cabaret, I wanted to try a fun and different idea with singing songs that would be total miscast opportunities for me. I knew with the first cabaret that my voice struggled to hit normally easy notes for me, so I also dropped the keys of the songs to a more comfortable level. I may have dropped them a little too much since I ended up in a baritone range the entire evening, but it helped to feel a little more vocally healthy the entire night.”
“For this cabaret, I’m going to mix it up again. I’ll have a few duets again, and a few surprises. You won’t hear a full evening of musical numbers; I’m adding some jazz standards (I’m singing in a jazz club, after all) and some personal favorites. There may be a few games throughout the evening as well, but you have to be there to see what happens!”
Reese has obviously been successful, and helped pave the way for the numerous other performers Noce has featured over the last couple of years. Various shows have featured everything from opera pieces to over-the-top comedy numbers, and one duet number even resulted in an on-stage proposal and engagement! So while a sense of spontaneity is important, there is an element of planning that needs to take place.
Reese acknowledges this, but he also has a secret weapon for such a thing... his fiancée, Megan Helmers. She is one of the best directors and choreographers in town, having just been nominated for a number of Cloris Awards for her own work this past season. So they are both well aware of how to create a great show.
“When you’re dealing with a two-hour show,” says Reese, “you really have to focus on the audience’s reception of your layout. Pacing and content make a huge difference when you think through the flow of the entire evening. Thankfully, Megan has been my manager-of-sorts in putting the lineup together after we decide the songs to include. I honestly don’t know that I would be able to survive these events without her input!”
Of course, that input will also include planning out their upcoming wedding for later this year, but their theatre adventures together will continue next spring. “Even though I’m enjoying a little time off from the theater scene to get married, I’m thrilled to be performing in Tallgrass Theatre Company’s next Dream project, Ordinary Days, but what I’m most excited about is working with Megan on our third show. It’s going to be an exciting opportunity for audiences to see a small 4-person cast performing such an honest and funny piece about relationships and connections. It’ll be the first time Des Moines audience members will get a chance to experience this show, and I can’t wait to see what we can create!”
Reese is passing on the knowledge he’s gained through his years onstage in other ways, as he also works with students in the Iowa High School Speech Association, and also with young performers at Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre. “Working with students in IHSSA and at DMYAT is such a rewarding experience because it allows me to give back to the community I’ve loved my entire life, but it also allows me to look at performing from a completely different lens. I’ve noticed that since I started coaching students in IHSSA that I’m able to objectively be looking at my own performances and question my choices. It’s really a symbiotic relationship; I can impart some of my experience with the students and they help me understand some of my own struggles as a performer.”
The next couple of Late-Nite Cabaret shows after Reese feature performers new to the Noce stage (Michael Howland, who has performed in numerous productions at the Playhouse and elsewhere, and Stephanie Schneider, who was featured in the cast of A Chorus Line at the Playhouse, which Helmers directed). I asked Reese about what advice he might have for these first-timers.
“I will say that the biggest piece of advice I can give to someone considering a cabaret is to just have fun with it. Grab some friends and do a few duets to keep it interesting, select songs that you’ve never performed but love, and enjoy every moment onstage. It’s not an easy task surviving 2 hours of singing, but at the end of the day, perfect notes or not, everyone is there to have a good time.”
And a good time is exactly what will happen if you join Charlie Reese at Noce’s Late-Nite Cabaret. His performance is Saturday, August 25 starting at 10:30pm. There is no cover charge, a cash bar, and plenty of good friends. Plus great music brought to you by one of the best theatre performers in town, so don’t miss it!!