Yes, toronto brims with many breeds of live music, as this magazine makes crystal clear. But truth be told, this question bears reflection: Can our city, recently named the planet’s ninth most expensive city to live in, sustain a venue devoted exclusively to cabaret? And is it really the ticket price, usually comparable to catching a flick, that keeps audiences away? Or, is it that listening rooms require listening patrons? Whatever the reasons, thankfully, presenters keep trying. The brand new Green Door Cabaret at the Lower Ossington Theatre is hoping to be around for a long time. Robert Missen, artistic director, is working hard to preserve, celebrate and cultivate an audience for this unique art form.

“Cabaret has an intimacy,” says Missen, “and there’s an element of story-telling to the singing which is different from a regular concert. And of course, if you look at the various historical forms of cabaret, you can make the argument that it can be a very interesting tool for political satire or the promotion of certain kinds of humour or music. Since my background training is as a classical singer, I liken it to singing lieder, which is another endangered species of live performance.”

On the challenges of this new venture, Missen is quick to acknowledge the financial limitations on all sides of the equation:

“This is a very bare bones operation … I am not getting paid any salary for this, I get a small slip of the door. The theatre also takes a share, but most of the money goes to the artists, so it behooves the artists to try to get people in. That is really the main challenge. I’ll tell you though, one area that doesn’t have any challenges whatsoever is in the quality of the talent we are presenting. We could be doing shows every night of the week from now until Christmas and we wouldn’t run out of talent worth showcasing.”

To readers who have yet to attend a cabaret performance, what can they expect to experience?

“Come with an open mind and an expectation that whatever you see and hear will be of the highest quality, whether it’s German-style or New York-style or musical theatre or jazz … open your ears and open your heart. From my perspective it’s all about trust. Audiences will have to take a leap of faith, but that leap should be tempered by the reality that what they will hear will be extraordinary. And another important thing: there is no talking during the performances. This is definitely a listening room. The focus is the stage, and artists will not be competing for your attention.”

While booking veterans such as Louise Pitre of Mamma Mia, Order of Canada recipient Joe Sealy and Jersey Boys star Jeff Madden, Missen is also extremely supportive of emerging artists. Last month, one of the first shows to grace the Green Door’s fall lineup was “Liza Live: a Tribute to Liza Minnelli & Friends.” The directorial debut by singer, actor, dancer and performance artist Ryan Graham Hinds featured musical direction by Mark Selby and starred a pair of greatly gifted 20-something comediennes: Jennifer Walls, who zestfully impersonated Liza with a Z and Gabi Epstein, who channelled Barbra Streisand to a tee. Visit our website to taste a video sample of this cabaret!

Performances of special note at the Green Door this month will include Bremner Duthie’s “33: A Weimar Kabarett” (October 15), which will feature songs by Kurt Weill and his contemporaries in the context of Germany’s being taken over by the Nazis, as well as Ray Jessel (October 29), a brilliant Welsh-born composer, lyricist and performer now in his 80s who saw his start in cabaret here in Toronto back in the mid-1950s as part of Dora Mavor Moore’s illustrious “Spring Thaw” revue.

Missen calls Koller Michels (October 22) “among the best jazzers in the country, frankly!” Bassist George Koller and vocalist Julie Michels “… share a unique rapport, like two peas in a pod. The synergy between them is very special. These two are unsung heroes in this country. I mean, a core group of people know them and how great they are, but I think they are deserving of a higher exposure.”

Tickets to all shows at the Green Door Cabaret ( are priced as follows: $30 for reserved seating, $25 at the door or $20 for students and industry people with appropriate identification.

In related cabaret news, Toronto’s jazz radio station JAZZ.FM91 presents the Kronenbourg 1664 Cabaret Series, starting with a performance by critically acclaimed American jazz vocalist, pianist and composer Ann Hampton Calloway on Tuesday October 11 at Hugh’s Room. “We are excited about this venture into cabaret, as it will allow us to expand our horizons and to engage and delight a diverse calibre of audiences,” says Ross Porter, President and CEO of the radio station. Between December and March of next year, three additional cabaret evenings will feature international guests at Hugh’s Room. Tickets are $45, $40 in advance or $135 for a series pass. Tickets can be purchased at

In even more related cabaret news, October 28–30 marks the fourth annual Global Cabaret Festival, this year featuring 150 musicians in 44 performances and taking place over three days. Returning this year will be festival favourites Jackie Richardson, Molly Johnson and Patricia O’Callaghan, as well as performances by a diverse array of artists. To name a mere few, these will include celebrated countertenor Daniel Taylor, eternal hipster Don Francks, enchanting jazz vocalist and broadcaster Heather Bambrick and one of this city’s most outrageously entertaining cabaret artists, Sharron Matthews. All performances take place at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Distillery District. Tickets are $25, $20 in advance and $15 for students with valid ID. The full schedule is available at

If you have read to this point, perhaps you will consider putting down the knitting, the book and the broom! As Missen himself said after the Liza Minnelli tribute, “you are now a part of the Toronto underground cabaret movement. Please spread the word!” So by all means, invite your loved ones, your liked ones, your friends and your Facebook friends. But only if they will listen …

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz vocalist, voice actor and entertainment journalist. He can be contacted

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