Audrey Appleby Brings ‘Ladies Cheap Cocktails’ to Manhattan


Anne W. Semmes, Sentinel Columnist

Anne W. Semmes, Sentinel Columnist

By Anne W. Semmes
Sentinel Columnist

How many of us have dreamed of being a cabaret singer, holding a mike in the spotlight, pouring our heart out in song in a darkened room to strangers?

I confess I have—for a nanosecond. I enlisted the late pianist Stuart Hemingway to coach me through a collection of songs, had my home debut with friends, and promptly hung up my cabaret hat. But then I didn’t bring such talents to the table as our town’s multi-talented Audrey Appleby.

Forever young, Audrey is known now to two generations of students who’ve learned how to move with music from earliest ages thanks to her ongoing MagicDance classes, but all along she’s had a cabaret life. Tonight, Audrey will debut her very own “original songs and the stories behind the songs” (in four languages) in her curiously titled show, “‘Ladies Cheap Cocktails,” at the Café Noctambulo, an “intimate supper club” in the East Village in New York. She’ll be accompanied by the Daryl Kojak Quintet.

Parisians enjoyed Audrey’s “Ladies Cheap Cocktails” when Audrey performed it on a barge nightclub on the Seine a few years ago. Friends and fans have heard Audrey recently perform her cabaret magic where she gets everyone dancing (just like her students) in the bar at l’escale Restaurant. But now, finally, she brings “Ladies Cheap Cocktails” to Manhattan, and she tells just how it (and she) came to be.

“It started with a message I saw years ago scribbled on a blackboard outside a pub in Ibiza, Spain, ‘Ladies cheap cocktails all night long,’” she begins, laughing. “It made me angry—but it was also hilarious. I never forgot it. It always starts like that for me… anything that ignites my senses gets my attention, whether I’m writing these songs or I’m singing these songs, it’s the spark of creation.”

Audrey traces the origin of the songs she sings in “Ladies’ Cheap Cocktails” to an unpublished book of poetry “Salsa Your Soul” inspired by the death of her father 20-odd years ago. “Grief was pouring out of me as poetry,” she says. “The book is all about finding your passion, discovering who you are.” She plans to publish it, she says, “so these poems can help others discover their passion.”

While crafting her poetry, Audrey met just the musician to turn her poems into music. “I met Beledo, a Uruguayan musician—I’ve always loved Brazilian music, so he helped me put my poetry to Latin music—bossa nova, samba and salsa.” So out came her songs, “Paris Heart Rio Soul,” “Salsa My Soul” and “Miami Mosaic,” all now part of her “Ladies Cheap Cocktails” repertoire.

Audrey grew up in Florida near that Latin beat. “My parents always played music from Europe—Italian, French…” She composed her first song at age three, she recalls. “I made it up spontaneously about a butterfly.” As an entrepreneuring teenager in boarding school, she made money on the side teaching creative dancing to younger children.

As a college student at Tufts she taught faculty kids alongside the innovative New York dancer Art Bridgman who’s expected to attend tonight’s performance of his friend—and who’ll likely get to his feet as he has at l’escale to engage with anyone game enough to dance with him, if there’s room.

As college student, Audrey aspired to bring her magic to Broadway as singer, dancer, actress. Living in New York she was coached to sing songs written by other people and did a couple of gigs in Soho and elsewhere, but she wasn’t quite finding her milieu. She did find her man, Jim McNitt, who moved her to Greenwich, and soon daughter Eliza was born; and also born in her home was MagicDance. The year was 1982 and MagicDance took off. Audrey would find herself with 350 students, giving recitals at Central Middle School and at Roger Sherwin Baldwin Park.

Audrey was teaching with her usual passion but missing cabaret. She took songwriting lessons “to write words in the format of a song,” and she wanted to write music. She attended cabaret conferences, the first at Yale, where she created a show called “Spanish Affair,” writing her own songs, working with her Uruguayan musician.

She tells an incident there that would translate into one of her best songs. “A costume expert was advising us about our performance attire and lined each of us up in front of a mirror and critiqued our bodies—males and females—compared to the ideal Greek classic shape and proportion of face and body. When he came to me he criticized so much I walked out crying, and said to myself, ‘I guess I’m just a Picasso woman.’” Audrey shared her thought with the “lovely men and women leaving that class in tears,” she says, “to try to help us all, that we were all beautiful imperfection.”

Audrey’s angst became the song “Picasso Woman.” “It speaks to women,” she notes.

Post cabaret conferences, Audrey realized she definitely didn’t fit into the traditional cabaret role. “I didn’t want to sing the Broadway songs everyone else was singing. I was bursting out of my skin to do my own thing.”

“It’s been an interesting road,” she sums up, adding, “I’ve changed a lot since I started writing my songs.”  She’s learned that “It takes a lot of courage to do your own thing,” and finally that “We are all the perfect mélange of our own unique ingredients.”

For Audrey the entertainer, “It’s all about building a bridge of inspiration and communication to help people find the magic inside themselves.” As she will share with her audience tonight, “It’s in the singing and dancing and writing and being with you all. It’s the ability to be altered and seduced by magic, however that appears to you, and whether life stirs you or shakes you, like a cocktail. I’m like a kooky exotic foreign-spiced cocktail. One part Campari, two parts soda, one part Chambord, two parts Champagne. I’m one-part love affair, two parts creativity, with a huge splash of wild imagination.”

For reservations for Audrey Appleby’s “Ladies Cheap Cocktails” at Café Noctambulo, call 212-995-0900, or visit online at www.cafenoctambulo.com. Audrey’s websites are www.audreyappleby.com and www.magicdance.com.

About Author: Anne W. Semmes

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