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VIP ACCESS: Broadway Gets Cool with 54 Below

March 28th, 2012

Every fourth Wednesday of the month, the “VIP Access” column will serve up advice on how to make your theater-going experiences cheaper, easier and more fulfilling with inside scoop from the experts. This month, we’re introducing you to the coolest new kid on the block…

54 Below Cabaret. Sketch by John Lee Beatty.

You know the scene. It’s a black and white film set in New York City. The impossibly urbane leading couple finds their way to the swankiest club in town for some delicious banter–all to the latest Broadway chanteuse singing from the stage. Heaven. Too bad a place like that doesn’t exist today, right?

Well, the glamor and pizzazz of a real Manhattan night club might be back–with a hip, young Broadway twist–at the June opening of 54 Below. Designed by Tony-winner John Lee Beatty and architect Richard Lewis, lit by Tony-winner Ken Billington, and with sound by Tony-nominee Peter Hylenski, the new lounge (tucked under the legendary Studio 54) promises to combine fine dining with a star-studded selection of performers.

54 Below Booths. Sketch by John Lee Beatty.

They’re kicking things off with the one and only Patti LuPone, and the rest of their current bookings are a who’s who of music theater and cabaret ranging from class acts like Liz Callawy, Jenifer Lewis and Rebecca Luker; to a sprinkling of Smash with Megan Hilty and Brian d’Arcy James; and on to artistically adventurous types the old fashioned supper clubs wouldn’t normally feature like songwriter Joe Iconis, downtown icon Mx Justin Bond and Lea DeLaria.

The Bottom Line: I know what you’re saying; cover charge and drink minimums make these places a money pit. I won’t lie, if you want to see Patti, you’re going to be paying upwards of $100 a person, however the cover/food charges for other artists come down significantly to a respectable special night out at $55 a seat for top-line entertainment. If you want to sample the atmosphere without breaking your budget, “The Green Room” offers after hours seating and live music with no cover or minimum.

Pick Hits: Glancing through the schedule, you can’t go wrong with almost any night you’re in town. But, if I had to create a package, I’d make a tour of next generation Broadway divas and catch:

Sherie Rene Scott: (Oct 16 – 27) If you were lucky enough to see her Broadway show Everyday Rapture, you know that girl can sing and is an engaging, tartly daffy stage presence. I can only imagine what she’ll do in a more intimate engagement but I hope it looks something like this smart-ass revision of the usually doe-eyed “Goodbye Until Tomorrow” from Last Five Years:

Julia Murney:  With an unmistakeable rafter-rattling sound and an underlying vulnerable ache, Murney is an insider favorite that hasn’t yet found the Tony role to put her in the pantheon–so don’t miss out on her sure to be thrilling set (and her penchant for telling the most raucously wrong anecdotes on the Broadway scene). Listen to her work her magic on the Kander & Ebb classic “Colored Lights”:

Laura Benanti:  A Tony-winner with a burgeoning TV career, Benanti is the bombshell next door with serious interpretive chops and a sweet, open hearted voice that can tackle modern pop as comfortably as American songbook standards. Watch her dig into one of her own compositions at a “Joe’s Pub” event:

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