By Tom Alvarez, Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner
November 5, 2013
Not only does Shannon Forsell manage what has become one of Indianapolis’ most successful entertainment venues, she also excels as a performer in an art form that has made the Cabaret at the Columbia Club one of Indy’s most distinctive. Evidence of her effectiveness in both areas was aplenty at “Shannon Forsell: By Request,” the Cabaret’s annual fundraiser which was held Saturday at the voguish Monument Circle nightspot.
The Crystal Terrace Room was filled to the rafters with sponsors, donors and fans who were all there to support Forsell and the Cabaret, which has presented world-class performers ever since it morphed from the former American Cabaret Theatre into the present organization which began in 2008.
Prior to Forsell’s performance, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres were served and a silent auction was held during which attendees were also able to bid on songs that eventually ended up in her program.
The performance portion began with an introduction by Bryan Payne, president and CEO of the Central Indiana Community Foundation, who also thanked major donors. His comments were followed by Forsell, entering from the rear of the room while singing “Big Spender,” as she headed for the stage, where she sang “Love for Sale.” Both songs set a lighthearted tone for the event, held to raise money for the Cabaret, which is a not-for-profit, and for which ticket sales account for only 35% of its operating expenses.
Forsell is beloved not only for her talent but also for her wise-cracking yet affectionate sense of humor. Tickling the audience with the first, in an evening filled with one liner jokes, she remarked that all the songs for the show chosen by the winning bidders were “about hookers and loose women,” to which she added, “I don’t know whether that reflects something about you or about me. In a way though, I guess you could say I am kind of a hooker because you are paying for a service (her singing) and I am providing it.”
Due to the fact that bidders chose the songs, Forsell’s program was heavy on ballads. Accompanied by her music director, Ray Lahrman on piano, Rob Dixon on saxophone and Frank Smith on bass, Forsell performed a 75 minute set that included “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Without a Sound,” a lovely song about lost love, written by Lynn Lupold who was in attendance, “My Funny Valentine,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “The Nearness of You” and others.
Demonstrating her formidable dramatic talent, she also sang a compelling rendition of “I Dream a Dream” from “Les Misérables.” For the conclusion of the show, Forsell chose, “I’m Speechless,” which perfectly expressed her gratitude for those who came out to support her and the Cabaret. For an encore Forsell sang Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You,” before which she shared an anecdote about how the Indiana native once worked for the Columbia Club but was fired for playing music that was too peppy.
As a way of acknowledging and promoting the Cabaret’s educational programs, Saturday’s event also included stellar performances by two young singers who Forsell introduced as “stars of tomorrow.”
Keirsten Hodges, who is currently studying at Ball State University, sang “I Know Where I’ve Been,” from “Hairspray.” She was chosen by Eden Espinosa to sing a duet with her during the Broadway star’s July appearance at the Cabaret.
Matthew Bettencourt, also a student at BSU, sang “Cry for Me,” from “Jersey Boys.” Bettencourt performed at a master class with “Smash” and Broadway star Leslie Odom Jr. who appeared at the Cabaret in February.
Based on comments gathered at intermission and after the show, it became clear that there is no lack of devotion to Forsell and the organizations she leads. Peter Fulgenzi, who has seen every Cabaret show for the last two years, said Forsell’s show “was fantastic. It was sincere, it was interesting, and had a lot of purpose to it. She is so quick and her ad libs were very clever. She can get away with a lot, like joking about Republicans, because in an intimate setting like that you can relate to people pretty easily.”
As far as the Cabaret itself, Fulgenzi said, “I think it is a jewel in Indianapolis. It’s another very special thing that we have and I am happy to support it. I like this form of entertainment and when it is available in other cities, it is pricier and I think we have a superior product. I think the Cabaret’s not for profit business model with its educational component is also amazing because it is actually sustainable. It’s very rare that an arts group has the foresight to think of a business model that works instead of a business model that is always begging.”
Nancy Thompson, another Forsell and Cabaret devotee, said, “I have been a big fan of Shannon’s for many, many years. I think the first time I saw her was when she played Evita at the old American Cabaret Theatre. I just knew that this was a young woman destined for a long career and I am glad that she chose Indianapolis to follow that star and is still here.”
As far as her show, Thompson said “I thought it was a lot of fun and she did a great job. She knows her audiences and when she patters she always reminds you that ‘I am always a little bit naughty but I am always very nice.’ Summing up Forsell’s performance, Thompson said, “Someone at my table said, ‘I don’t know why they bothered to bring in those more well- known cabaret singers for the past several benefits. I am glad they realized we have the most talented woman right here in our own backyard.’ Shannon is as good as or better than anybody who has graced that stage. You don’t have to look too far for a world class talent. She’s right here.”
Cabaret board member Ruell Fiant agreed with Thompson about Forsell’s gifts and said “I thought her performance was brilliant. There’s something about her singing style and her personality that just radiates. It just fills the room with joy, laughter and tears.”
Regarding Forsell the arts manager, Fiant said. “I always tell people that every arts organization should have Shannon Forsell. That’s probably not something I want quoted because I don’t want them going after her. (laughs) She has an amazing talent when it comes to dealing with people, not only within the community but also with her office staff. I find that she is exceptional. I’ve been on a number of boards throughout my life. I find her to be one of the most talented in her craft that I have ever encountered. She is the Cabaret.”
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