Come Here, Old Chum 

CenterStage tries to build new audiences with its cabaret series.

click to enlarge Love is the thing: Singer Lumiri Tubo brings her Nat King Cole tribute to CenterStage this week.
  • Love is the thing: Singer Lumiri Tubo brings her Nat King Cole tribute to CenterStage this week.

When the dynamic cabaret singer, Lumiri Tubo, kicks off her tribute to singer Nat King Cole at CenterStage's Rhythm Hall this weekend, it will be more than just the beginning of an entertaining evening. These shows will be the latest test for CenterStage Executive Director Richard Parison Jr., who launched the Life is a Cabaret series this fall in an effort to realize more of the downtown venue's potential.

Tubo's appearance will be the second in a series that is being sponsored by U.S. Trust and promoted as a Celebration of the Great American Song Book. Unlike a typical concert, these shows are organized more like nightclub appearances with Parison promising "an experience that is uniquely intimate and sophisticated." Tables and chairs replace rows of standard theater seats and patrons can partake of cocktail service and a limited cabaret food menu. Attendees are closer to the performer, who can mingle easily with the audience.

"This is one of the first things I wanted to do in terms of new programming here," says Parison, whose leadership at CenterStage began a year ago this month. "We're filling a niche that isn't currently being filled." CenterStage has several resident companies that offer theatrical and musical productions, but has only offered limited original programming since it opened in 2009. Tubo will be performing at Rhythm Hall, the smallest performance space in the complex, specifically designed to be reconfigured for a variety of different types of productions.

The cabaret series premiered last month with the appearance of KT Sullivan, a Broadway veteran who performed show tunes to smaller-than-hoped-for but appreciative audiences. Parison says that the Richmond community may have "difficulty sometimes embracing things that are new," but he feels the series is gaining traction. "With the [Sullivan appearance], tickets sales went up after every show," he explains. "We were getting great word of mouth, people telling their friends to come out and see this show. And we're getting great advance sales for the Lumiri Tubo shows."

Parison organized a similar series at one of his previous jobs, at the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia. It was there that he became aware of the circuit of cabaret performers that regularly appear at New York and Chicago venues. The series is built around classic American songs that provide the widest appeal and can bring new audiences downtown. Tubo will be singing Nat King Cole classics such as "Unforgettable" and "Mona Lisa," Parison says: "We're tapping into a legacy of the best songs ever written. These are iconic songs that have a resonance that spans generations."

After Tubo's appearance, the series will continue at the end of January with Richmond native Kathy Halenda offering the music of Judy Garland and Bette Midler. "I really wanted to book Kathy because she has a following in Richmond," Parison says. "It's important to bring in acts both from around the country and from around the corner." S

Lumiri Tubo will perform "A Tribute to Nat King Cole" at CenterStage from Nov. 17–20. Performances start at 7 p.m. and tickets prices range from $27 - $52. Call 592-3332 or go to richmondcenterstage.com for tickets and information.

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