With entertainment following the unholy path of burger joints and super-sizing almost everything, it's nice to find a place like Pleasanton's Firehouse Arts Center, where you can actually see the expressions on a performer's face.
My friends have grown tired of my grousing and grumbling about giant concert arenas, where you have to take the producer's word the person you're seeing waaaaaaaay down there, is the act you came to see. And the only proof offered is the giant TV screens, where you can see the person close-up whose name's on the ticket. That, of course, raises the question of why you don't just stay home and watch a video, avoiding drunken crowds and the high cost of parking.
There may be other factors coloring my feelings, since the first mega-concert I attended was the Altamont Rock Festival, which didn't turn out so well. With rare exceptions, that ended giant concerts for me, leaving my live concert viewing to places like the Boarding House, Freight and Salvage and the Rrazz Room. And now, the list includes the Firehouse Theater, which has hired the East Bay-based Esses Productions to create its cabaret series.
"The term has changed not to include much more than just singers," said Samantha Samuels, partner in the company with Steven Shore (which explains the esses). "Now, it includes things like the Motown tribute, the Billy Joel tribute, so it's flexible, but it still follows the tradition of cabaret as intimate
In one sense, the move to this cabaret-style entertainment is a positive offshoot of the poor economy, with people on tighter budgets looking for more economical entertainment. And often, said Shore, performers find ways of bringing their acts to a smaller venue.
When Melissa Manchester performs, it's usually with backup singers, a band and all that. But when she brought her acoustic show to the Firehouse, it was just Melissa and a grand piano.
"With Sally Struthers (who plays the Firehouse at 8 p.m. Aug. 18), it will be a different show for her," said Shore. "Lately, she's been all over the place -- she just closed in 'Hello, Dolly' and is currently in '9 to 5.' Here, it'll just be Sally and the piano."
But it will be a different sort of show for Struthers, who is an Emmy award-winner and probably best known for playing the role of Gloria in "All in the Family." Samuels said she will sing a bit, tell stories from her performing career, which included two Emmy wins, regular roles in several TV shows, numerous guest appearances and runs in a huge number of Broadway and touring plays including, "Annie," "Grease" and "The Odd Couple."
The cabaret performances have also given performers the opportunity to play in intimate environments that bring them close to their audience and connect in a way that is impossible in an outdoor venue, large concert hall or theater, said Samuels.
The show is in the Firehouse at 444 Railroad Ave., Pleasanton. Tickets, at $28-$38, may be reserved at 925-931-4848 or www.firehousearts.org.
Contact Pat Craig at email@example.com.