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Cabaret Articles

Cabaret Diva Living Her Dream
Chicago Sun-Times, Aug 24, 2003 by Misha Davenport

It sounds like a Sondheim cliche, but Sharon Carlson is still here. Still, she'd rather people come see her perform based on the merit of her talents and not because she's still performing.

"At my age, if you don't have it, you should shut up and start weaving baskets," Carlson says.

She's not ready to sign up for arts and crafts classes just yet. Her current show, "Sharon the Nights Together," has been playing Davenport's all month long. The show, recently extended through September, features a mix of comedy, Broadway blues, pop and opera, including the bawdy songs of Sophie Tucker, Ruth Wallace and Francis Faye.

"Any 10-year-old who's gone to a Mike Myers movie has a better command of dirty vocabulary than I do," Carlson says with a chuckle. Nevertheless, if anyone can pull it off, Carlson can.

It's hard to believe that Carlson--a living landmark of the Chicago nightclub circuit who possesses a three-octave range--was once told she couldn't sing.

"My voice teacher at Northern Illinois University told me I didn't have a good voice, I should stop singing and marry [her future husband] Richard."

Carlson took it to heart and ended up putting her dreams on hold to teach sixth grade. She found a creative outlet by telling jokes in the teachers' lounge in between classes.

Years later, a piano teacher recommended a voice coach, who wasn't sure which way to steer Carlson.

"At my first lesson, she turned to me and said 'You're an old broad--too old for opera--what am I going to do with you?' "

Carlson suggested a stand-up act spoofing opera.

"She didn't believe there was anything funny about opera," Carlson says. "I came back the next week with a bit I had worked up. She laughed so hard, she fell out of her chair."

Before she knew it, Carlson was packing them in at places like the Playboy Club, the Blackstone and Opal Station, when Chicago nightclub entertainment was in its prime. She also worked several clubs in Las Vegas, which proved to be a bit demanding.

"I did the Sands, Hacienda and Caesars. People aren't up for opera satire at 3 a.m. They're drunk and don't want to be amused. You have to use blue language just to get their attention," she recalls.

She was ready to ditch the opera bit when Kingsley Day and Philip LaZebnick saw the show at the now defunct gay club His 'n' Hers. Impressed with her vocal range, the pair created the musical "Summer Stock Murder" for her in 1982. She played several roles.

"The first was a demented opera star beyond her prime, the second was an oversexed Jane Mansfield type and the third was an Elaine Stritch," she recalls.

The roles won her a Jefferson Citation Award for best actress. Additional work in the theater followed with star turns in Neil Simon's drama "Lost in Yonkers" and Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd."

TV came calling next. Carlson has been seen by millions of kids as Old Farmer MacDonald on the Disney Channel's "Out of the Box," on which she also served as talent director.

"The crew members used to ask me why I didn't perform anymore, and I told them I was in production now, but they finally convinced me to do another cabaret show."

Carlson made her return to singing in "Hot Flashes on the Road to Spandex," in both Chicago and New York. She's glad to be back in front of an audience singing.

"I can still belt a C or D," she says. "God, I'm so lucky to have the cello still working."

"Sharon the Nights Together--A Musical Romp in the Hay" is now playing at 8 p.m. Fridays in August and 10:30 p.m. Saturdays in September at Davenport's, 1383 N. Milwaukee. Cover charge is $15. Call (773) 278-1830.

Copyright The Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.