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Preparing An Intoxicating ‘Homebrew’ In Central Square

Cheo Bourne, Kami Smith, Jen Ellis, and Brian Richard Robinson, with guest diva Leigh Barrett, performing the Get Ready! cabaret at Central Square Theater last June.  (Courtesy of The Cabaret Series.)

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I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when Boston theater mainstays Kami Smith and De’Lon Grant were discussing the need in Boston for a traditional cabaret series. However the idea emerged to put some of Boston’s best singers together in a room with a piano and let them sing, it is solid gold. The latest offering from The Cabaret Series, now in its second season and in residence at Central Square Theater, showcases the work of the area’s talented performers, composers, and lyricists in a presentation called “Homebrew: A Celebration of New Music in Boston,” at 7 p.m. Monday night.

Well, actually we can be flies on the wall. Here they are performing their first original song from last June’s concert:

 

While their first season of shows included contemporary musical theater peppered with pop songs from the likes of Adele and Beyoncé, this year they wanted to create something that built upon the amazing resources and talent in the Boston area. The group put out a call for new work submissions on their website. “We were sure that we’d find a rich pool of musical theater songwriting talent,” says Smith, Cabaret Series cofounder and performer, “and sure enough, we were inundated with great new songs in response to our submission call. It’s very exciting to live in a community with such amazing talent.” Composers and lyricists selected for “Homebrew” all have some kind of tie to the Boston area, and most currently reside here.

As they worked their way through the 40-plus submissions, Smith says that their criteria to find eight songs to include was really simple. “I can hear one of us singing that song, I like what it has to say, and it makes me feel something.” Director Megan Sandberg-Zakian points out the diversity in the group, the songwriters hail from every corner of the globe, including Thailand, the Philippines, and even from the Ojibwe and Oneida tribes of Northern Wisconsin. Some of the writers in the current cabaret are known to local fans of Boston musical theater, like Deborah Henson-Conant and Michael Wartofsky, others we’ll be meeting for the first time.

“It was thrilling to look at the composers and see what a diverse group we ended up with,” she says. “It sometimes feels that women and people of color are even more underrepresented in the musical theater world than they are in the rest of the theater world, so it’s a joy to be able to present the work of so many talented artists from different backgrounds in one evening.”

But the work won’t stop here. The team hopes that bringing the best of Boston into a room will spark new collaborations. The suggested $12 donation at the door goes to cover The Cabaret Series’ costs for hosting the event, but if there is anything left over, it will go toward commissioning songs from composers for the next event.

The group of talented performers, represented in the above photo, are Kami Smith, Cheo Bourne, Timothy Maurice, Brian Richard Robinson, De’Lon Grant, and Jennifer Ellis. They have included special guest artists Zachary Hardy (drums), Dean Capper (cello), Emma Stapleton (cello), and Leigh Barrett (vocals). “Homebrew,” which will be selling beverages along with complimentary snacks, will be hosted by one of the area’s best comedians, Maureen Keiller.

Smith, by the way, will be making her directorial debut with Barrett’s cabaret, “Under the Influence,” March 16 at Riverside Theatre Works in Hyde Park, before taking on the title role in “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark,” at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston March 29-April 27. But for now, the focus is all on “Homebrew” at Central Square Theater.

Robin Allen LaPlante is a local arts administrator who is skilled in the mystical arts of social media, ballet, and arts marketing. When not writing, she is baking delicious goodies, camping with her family, or playing with the crazy theater-makers at New Exhibition Room.