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Cabaret has its origins in 19th-century Paris, at Le Chat Noir, where musicians and poets performed in a casual atmosphere where people felt free to eat and drink. The word and descriptions of cabaret are derived from the French word meaning "wine cellar" to describe the small room where this form of entertainment was born. Over time, European cabaret evolved into a number of forms, including comedy, burlesque and sociopolitical satire.
In America, cabaret was performed in speakeasies and other intimate nightclub venues and evolved into a much more jazz-infused style of performance. New York City nightclubs, like the Cafe Carlyle, feature singers associated with music from a genre known as the Great American Songbook.
Today, cabaret is its own, identifiable art form, distinctive from musical theatre, nightclub singing, or a concert. The most essential elements of cabaret are simple: a performer in a small room with an audience at close range, seated around cozy tables, with the performer mere feet from the audience.
"...An evening of song and stories in an intimate space that shatters the "fourth wall." Part stand-up comic, part balladeer, part evangelist; today's performer often has a theme that unifies the evening, knows a great deal about the music they're singing, and share that information in witty and inventive ways. At its best, cabaret can amuse, entertain, and inform...it can dazzle you, catch you unawares and make you weep... The audience participates in a direct, emotional conversation with the artist..."
~ Andrea Marcovicci, in the New York Times