Once a month, a member of the theater community will pull up a chair to our cyber table and join us for a little conversation. I’ll edit the transcripts (removing the truly libelous parts) and post the results here every second Wednesday. Without further ado, let me introduce…
Jim Caruso knows how to handle a mic. Part bon vivant and crooner, cheerleader and coach, Caruso champions the Great American Songbook and the best singers in town as host of the weekly star-studded, open-mic spectacular Jim Caruso’s Cast Party at Birdland. I caught up with the six-time MAC Award winner at a midtown diner and over a laugh-filled, dish-clattering lunch we chatted about his weekly gig, his dreams (hint: purple socks) and the life-changing influence of Liza with a Z.
What was the genesis of Cast Party?
I was doing press for a nightclub, which was as interesting as it sounds. It was a nightclub where nothing was happening so I was doing press releases for drink specials.
Your favorite being…
I couldn’t have cared less. It was painfully dull. The nightclub happened to have a piano in the corner so I decided to throw a Christmas party so at least something would be happening. Everybody came and everybody stayed until 4 in the morning and sang around the piano. The next day, the club called and asked, “Would you do that every Monday?” And I said, “No.” And here we are.
Do you remember who was there that first night?
Billy Stritch took to the piano.
Hack. No talent. Amanda Green. Natalie Douglas, the jazz singer. Dave Koz on sax.
These were just people you called up and said “Hey.”
Well, they are all people that I hang with… It was just like 30 people and it was so much fun. And frankly, I learned from watching Liza [Minnelli] doing these parties every Saturday night. She’d throw a party and people like Madonna and Streisand and Cy Coleman and Comden & Green…
Oh my gosh…
Me and Billy, Ann Hampton Calloway and our set. Plus Tony Bennett and Barbara Cook. And everybody ended up around the piano and it was so magical. It was never about showing off or singing a medley of their hits, it was just like Liza would say, “Tony, sing ‘It Had to Be You.’” “Well, I don’t know that song.” “Well, sing it anyway.” So Billy would be at the piano and these magical things would happen. So I’d watch that and that’s kind of how this night went.