Published August 01. 2013 4:00AM Updated August 02. 2013 7:20PM
For his first year as artistic director of the Cabaret & Performance Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, John McDaniel has put together a diverse line-up of top-tier talent.
The conference showcases performances by the legendary Tommy Tune, whose many Broadway credits include starring in and choreographing "My One and Only" and directing and choreographing "The Will Rogers Follies," as well as Donna McKechnie, who won a Tony for her portrayal of Cassie in "A Chorus Line."
But it also offers performers who are less familiar to audiences here but who are quite acclaimed, like Barb Jungr, who is coming in from Great Britain to perform.
McDaniel, of course, led the band on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," but his career expands far beyond that. He's a conductor, composer, pianist, orchestrator, record producer. He has long been a fan of cabaret, too, and happily signed on to lead this conference, which features stars of the genre performing and working with cabaret fellows - young performers learning their way.
"I just hope to turn a lot of people on to a bunch of different kinds of music performance, to cultivate in these fellows the idea that everyone is unique and individual ...," McDaniel says.
"What's so fantastic about cabaret is you can really be yourself, telling your story, singing your song, however you do. I like to accentuate the peformer so that it's not a generic song but actually has a personal touch or something that makes that individual unique and special."
A lot of the conference performers are people whose shows McDaniel has seen - and loved. He recalls seeing Barb Jungr in the Metropolitan Room in New York.
"Her show just floored me. She's a unique talent," McDaniel says. "I called her earlier this year and said, 'I know this is a long shot, but I'm booking this cabaret series at the O'Neill, and I would love to have you be a part of it.' She worked it out to get some other gigs over here during this period, so it made sense for her to hop across the pond and be with us. I'm so excited about that."
So she'll be performing "Stockport to Memphis," with songs associated with Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, tonight at the O'Neill.
Friday features a new revue, "Come Fly With Me," focusing on the songs of Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen. It stars Jeff Harnar, Jennifer Sheehan, Nicholas King, and Linda Hart.
On Saturday, Ben Rimalower performs "Patti Issues," about his years growing up obsessed with Patti LuPone. The New York Times gave it a rave review, and Rimalower regularly sells out his shows in New York City.
Singer Wesla Whitfield and pianist Mike Greensill are coming in from San Franscisco for a Sunday performance at the O'Neill. McDaniel, who says he's been a huge fan of theirs for years, used to bring friends to see the duo during the holidays when they played the Algonquin's Oak Room.
Tuesday boasts Donna McKechnie's performance. (She's also one of the conference teachers.) She's doing a show titled "Same Place, Another Time" that she and McDaniel put together and staged at 54 Below in January. It pulls a good deal from they time she was starring in "A Chorus Line."
"When she was in 'A Chorus Line' in 1975, and they were the darlings of Broadway, she used to go up to Studio 54 and hang with Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger and Halston and that whole group," McDaniel says. "So she has some great stories and songs from the '70s that we put together for this show. ... There's a very personal story about 'A Chorus Line' that she tells - I don't want to give it away, but it's remarkable. She's in great voice, and she's still dancing, and she's such an inspiration."
On Wednesday, the junior fellows perform, followed by the cabaret fellows on Aug. 8.
On Aug. 9, Tommy Tune takes the stage with a piece that he premiered last year. He'll be accompanied just by a piano. McDaniel says he and Tune have been friends for years and have done shows together.
"He's such a great showman," McDaniel says, referencing his Broadway credits and nine Tony Awards.
"His show been sold out for weeks and weeks and weeks. So I'll be hanging from the rafters in the back just to see that one," McDaniel says with a laugh.
The conference wraps up with a grand finale on Aug. 10.
"I'm so excited about each one of these nights," McDaniel says.