Cabaret 313 keeps gaining speed.
Kelli Barrett and Jarrod Spector, known for their acclaimed musical theater roles on Broadway, clearly remember the Valentine’s Day they celebrated on their second dating anniversary.
Spector had a little band set up outside a restaurant, and he proposed marriage as the musicians played the couple’s song, “You Don’t Know Me,” made popular by a Ray Charles recording that was playing as they had their first kiss.
Valentine’s Day remains special as they reach their third year and third month of marriage, coordinating work schedules filled with roles on stage, screen and television. While she has been widely seen by New York audiences in Wicked and Doctor Zhivago, he is recognized for major parts in Jersey Boys and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.
The two, wed in a dramatic ceremony that honored the synagogue practices he has known and the church practices she has known, tell about their lives in song through an autobiographical cabaret show titled Funny How It Happens as they head off Valentine’s Day celebrations in Detroit.
The Detroit celebrations are presented by Cabaret 313 — a nonprofit performing arts initiative in its fifth season of bringing professional cabaret to Detroit — as Barrett and Spector, accompanied by piano, bass and drums, offer two performances on Feb. 10 at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Cabaret, wrote the New York Times, is an evening of song and storytelling in an intimate space that allows the “audience to participate in direct, emotional conversation with the artist.”
“With cabaret, we’re in control creatively, and we like the connection with the audience,” Barrett says. “It’s always remarkable how people want to hear our story.
“We meet people after shows, and they tell us about their romances and how the sharing of our struggles and successes uplifted them. It’s very meaningful how our lives have affected other people, and I think that’s the point of art.”
Allan Nachman demonstrates his dedication to the arts — and talent — by taking on volunteer responsibilities as Cabaret 313 president and executive director. He was a longtime musical theater fan before founding the entertainment initiative with Sandi Reitelman, now a board member serving with Nachman’s wife, Joy, as well as Larry Bluth, Irwin Elson, Larry Gardner, Paul Jacobs, Hazel Karbel, David Karp, Bruce Kridler and Jim Stout.
“I have a passion for Broadway and cabaret music, and I have a passion for the reimagining of Detroit,” says Nachman, who is transitioning into retirement after a specialized career as a real-estate and development attorney. “The fact that I can be involved with adding to the cultural enrichment of the city celebrates the city’s emergence. That’s what drives me to do this.”
Because of their commitment to the Metro Detroit area, Nachman and Reitelman decided to name the initiative after the telephone area code of the city. They sought supporters who also appreciated the arts and established their first season by identifying three people willing to host separate home concerts. Performances featured Christine Andreas, Carole J. Bufford and Louise Pitre.
About 90 guests attended individual shows and built momentum for opening the program to the general public in the upcoming years. A variety of venues were chosen, each featuring a small space to accommodate no more than 125 people at tables seating four to carry out the intimate essence of cabaret.
Audiences gather at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit Opera House and the Players Playhouse, among other destinations, during the five-show seasons. Once each season, when there is a performer with powerhouse renown, larger venues are sought. Alan Cumming and Megan Hilty, with extensive attention on television, fall into that larger-venue category.
“We call our audiences urban adventurers because they’re looking for something fresh, different and cutting edge,” says Nachman, who has been active with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, Jewish Foundation and Adat Shalom Synagogue as well as arts organizations supporting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Michigan Opera Theatre. “Part of the cabaret experience is going to new venues that perhaps our audiences haven’t seen.”
Nachman gives his time to choose the performers, negotiate the contracts, find venues and set up the venue pricing, With 60 percent of the revenue coming from ticket sales, he also handles development to get financial support from organizations and individuals. Alliant Insurance Co., Greenleaf Trust and Deloitte are current sponsors.
“We have a nonprofit group, ArtOps, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, that does what I call our ‘backroom work,’” explains Nachman, who enjoys giving visiting entertainers personalized tours of the city.
ArtOps staff members assist musical performance organizations in the area and have people with expertise in public relations and marketing, ticketing and event planning who can help for a fee.
To line up world-class performers, the Nachmans travel to cabaret performances in other cities.
“Because 313 performers have to be at the top of their game — seasoned and recognized — Joy and I go to New York about every six weeks,” says Nachman, who has witnessed loyal audiences that keep growing for what he foresees as a strong future.
“We go to 54 Below and Café Carlyle, the most preeminent café venues in the city. We’re hoping we’ll hear people who might be perfect for Detroit and become emissaries for the city.”
Being perfect involves a willingness to conduct master classes, sometimes at universities and other times before arts organizations. Barrett and Spector will be with students at the Mosaic Youth Theatre.
“We offer a multitude of classes that we teach around the country,” Barrett says. “Mosaic wants us to demonstrate acting songs. Also, students will be bringing in songs for auditions, and we’ll be working with them to act out the songs — figuring out what each one is about, musicalizing that and taking it even further.”
Spector, a Tony nominee, wants to add some offstage lessons.
“I feel that one thing usually lacking in theater education is the practical application of what was learned — handling the business of being an actor,” he says. “Getting survival jobs and being your own accountant are things that most people have to learn on the fly.”
With teenagers as their Detroit students, Barrett and Spector look back on their own early entries into performance lessons.
Barrett has been pursuing her career since age 11, when she saw her first musical, Merrily We Roll Along, in Virginia. She participated with the Hurrah Players in Norfolk and attended the Governor’s School for the Arts to fulfill high school requirements. The actress-singer left the University of the Arts in Philadelphia after her junior year to begin a professional mini-tour.
Spector began voice lessons at age 2½, after his parents heard him mimicking radio commercials. Appearances on a weekly variety show in Philadelphia led to a booking on Ed McMahon’s Star Search, which brought about his Broadway debut in Les Miserables at age 9.
Many personal revelations at Cabaret 313 will spotlight renditions of songs staged in more recent years by the couple.
“The trick is to make [performances appear] as if they’re happening for the very first time,” says Spector, in the third Cabaret 313 show of the 2017-2018 season. “Actually, we set up everything to be smooth and polished even though it sounds off the cuff.”
Kelli Barrett and Jarrod Spector will perform at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, at the Detroit Institute of Arts. $25-$125. Guests at the 9:30 p.m. performance can enjoy a three-course dinner in Kresge Court for an additional $55 per person. The season continues with “Coming Home: Alexandra Silber in Concert” on March 24 at the Detroit Opera House and “An Evening With John Pizzarelli & Jessica Molaskey” on May 19 at the Marjorie S. and Max M. Fisher Music Center. (313) 405-5061; cabaret313.org.