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Curtain Down at Le Chat Noir 

Will Coviello on the elegant cabaret theater that's closing this weekend with several star-packed shows

click to enlarge Anna Bergman is one of seven national cabaret stars performing this week at Le Chat Noir.
  • Anna Bergman is one of seven national cabaret stars performing this week at Le Chat Noir.

July 7-9

8 p.m. Thu.-Sat.

Le Chat Noir, 715 St. Charles Ave., 581-5812; www.cabaretlechatnoir.com

Tickets $35-$45 (includes $5 drink credit)

Le Chat Noir presents three blockbuster nights of cabaret and musical performances Thursday through Saturday, after which the venue's future is unclear. Proprietor Barbara Motley has put the building up for sale, and any new programming likely will have to be worked out with new ownership. But the three separate programs now on the boards show how far cabaret performance has come locally and how big a part Le Chat has played in developing the local theater scene.

  "Before Le Chat happened, I did cabaret in other cities," says Jeffery Roberson, aka Varla Jean Merman. "I thought I'd never be able to do my shows in New Orleans. I had done drag in gay bars, but that's not an audience that's listening to a show."

  Roberson presented many solo shows at Le Chat, performed often in small-cast musical productions (Scrooge in Rouge, The Mystery of Irma Vep), and he also rehearsed and created new productions in Le Chat's space.

  "Before that, I used to go to Hartford (Conn.) to workshop new shows," he says. "It was great to be able to shoot film at Le Chat and work with Su (Gonczy) and (costume designer) Cecile Casey Covert."

  Thursday evening's showcase features national cabaret performers who have visited Le Chat in between bouncing back and forth from New York to Los Angeles. They include Andrea Marcovicci, Anna Bergman, Jason Graae, Shelly Markham, Alex Rybeck and Todd Murray.

  On Friday, a variety show reprises songs and scenes from musical theater productions, ranging from A Cocktail Party in the Ladies Lounge to Running with Scissors' salacious parodies and Ricky Graham and Harry Mayronne productions.

  The final evening presents local cabaret performers, many of whom presented their first cabaret-style shows at Le Chat. Jefferson Turner, Amy Alvarez, Lisa Picone and Anais St. John all studied at the Yale Cabaret Conference, many with the encouragement of Motley.

  "(Learning cabaret) was a huge adjustment for me," Picone says. "I am known as a comedic actress. I always performed in a persona. In cabaret, you aren't playing a character anymore, you're you."

  When Picone left for Yale, Motley told her she wanted her to come back and do a show. Picone chose to sing the music of Peggy Lee, and the show won the 2011 Big Easy Award for Best Cabaret.

  Dorian Rush won the 2010 Big Easy for Cabaret for her show about Janis Joplin.

  "I never would have done it without Barbara," Rush says. "She approached me and told me she wanted me to do something fresh and new about Janis Joplin."

  Motley always believed she could build a home for cabaret in New Orleans.

  "I loved New York cabaret shows," she says. "I was wowed by the glamour and the intimacy. ... I thought 'There's retro music, glamorous singers draped over pianos, and cocktails.' It seemed like a no-brainer for New Orleans."

  Since opening in 1999, Le Chat has featured a mix of cabaret, musical comedy and theater. This final weekend showcase revives some of the many highlights.

  "This is my present to myself and the city," Motley says. "I would love to have had it go on for six weeks and have everyone back."

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