By Tom Alvarez, Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner
April 23, 2012
Ada “Bricktop” Smith was a legendary singer and self-described “saloon keeper” who ran a famously chic nightclub called Chez Bricktop during the 1920s in Paris. It was a popular spot frequented by people like Cole Porter and other “swells” in Parisian café society who came to see performances by such entertainers as Mabel Mercer, Duke Ellington and Josephine Baker.
Carrying on that storied tradition is Shannon Forsell, who is not only artistic director of the Cabaret at the Columbia Club but also a legend in her own right as a celebrated local chanteuse.
Primarily responsible for bringing some of the entertainment world’s biggest names to Indianapolis during her 3 1/2 year stint running the Cabaret, Forsell showed off her own impressive talents performing there Saturday in Shannon Forsell: Songs I’ve Never Sung on Broadway.
Accompanied by Ray Lahrman, her splendid longtime pianist, music director and friend whom she calls “her music husband,” Forsell played to a full house of what was clearly a crowd of loyal and dedicated fans.
Treasured for her wit and self-deprecating humor, Forsell weaved the story of her career, answering the question “Why didn’t you ever leave Indianapolis for the big time?” throughout a uniquely varied program that showcased both her vivacious personality and style, and also the versatility of her distinctive voice.
Before Forsell took the stage, Anne Miller and Mackenzie Travers, two fine young singers (who also happen to be employees of the Cabaret) performed Let Me Be Your Star, from Smash, the hit NBC TV show. The performances of the talented pair were meant to illustrate part of the mission of the Cabaret, which is to educate and promote young singers. Displaying strong vocals, presence and showmanship, the two were promising examples of what discerning audiences of the future might expect.
Establishing her show’s theme, Forsell opened with a bouncy tune titled Wouldn’t You Like to Be on Broadway?, by Kurt Weill, from the 1946 musical Street Scene.
An integral part of Forsell’s career is the 10 years she spent at the American Cabaret Theatre (the forerunner to the present organization) performing in musicals – a genre in which she excelled. Throughout the show, Forsell sang songs from shows in which she starred at ACT. An accomplished actress, she transformed into Sally Bowles from Cabaret when she sang Maybe This Time, and became Evita Peron during Don’t Cry for Me Argentina from Evita.
Forsell, whose wide vocal range allows her to shift effortlessly from softly gentle to bold and brassy, also sang lovely ballads during her program which included He Amazes Me (dedicated to her husband David), Life on Earth and Susan’s Song.
David Friedman’s My Simple Wish, with lyrics like, “I want to be rich, famous and powerful,” and I Forgot to Have Children, by Lorraine Feather, were perfect vehicles for Forsell to demonstrate her celebrated flair for comedy.
Forsell closed her show with As If We Never Said Goodbye, from Sunset Boulevard, prior to sharing her joy in finding a purpose and following her passion at the same time through her association with the Cabaret.
“No complaints and no regrets/I still believe in chasing dreams and placing bets/For I have learned that all you give is all you get/So give it all you’ve got,” are lyrics from Shirley Horn’s poignant Here’s To Love, which Forsell sang during her encore and which encapsulates the philosophy of a vital entertainer and host who says she has found her true calling.
For tickets and information about upcoming shows at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club, call (317) 275-1169 or visit www.thecabaret.org.
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"One of Indianapolis' most fashionable downtown nightspots..."Tom Alvarez, Examiner.com