Looking for an adventure worthy of one of my more musically inclined friend’s birthdays, I dragged a small crew to Under St. Mark’s for the October 14th “Cabaret Showdown.” The monthly contest, featuring a game that can only be described as a mix of American Idol and Jeopardy, has a different theme each time. Fittingly, as 2/3 of our party was from the south, October’s flavor was country–thus the aptly named “Hoedown Showdown.”
At 7 p.m. we found the large “Under St. Marks” sign and walked down a dark flight of steps to a small basement with a stage, seats, and a cooler filled with beer. Ten contestants had signed up prior to the show; we knew that by the end of the ensuing two hours of musical frenzy, one was destined to emerge as the winner, and the feature of an hour long show at Under St. Mark’s the following month. The song choices were posted on the wall under different categories and amounts of money (i.e. “Country classics for $200 was “I hope you dance”). Once selected, the player had 30 seconds to go over the song before the lights would dim and the fun would start. Josh, a talented pianist, accompanied the contestants as they sang, stumbled, danced and mumbled through their blindly selected songs. Three judges, who tended to offer more support than criticism, gave each contestant feedback after the performance and then announced the winner who would advance to the next round. If a contestant was unlucky enough to draw a song that they didn’t know, flagrant improvisation was encouraged, and interpretive dancing was always rewarded favorably.
October 14th featured a group of lively participants who belted their way through well-known classics like “Breathe,” “You Turn My Brown Eyes Blue,” and “Stand By Your Man.” The evening culminated in a stand-out performance by a hilarious, talented young woman who sang a simultaneously comic and beautiful version of “God Bless the U.S.A.”
If you’re a singer who deserves some recognition, a musical connoisseur looking for a new haunt, or a a New Yorker who loves to laugh and cheer, circle the second Sunday night of the month on your calendar and head down to Under St. Mark’s. Cabaret Showdown is bound to deliver a wild night—and what more could you ask for from a $10 entrance fee?