Jimmy Kaplan and his friends light up Sunset Playhouse

The cabaret show, featuring Kaplan alongside Steve Koehler, Kay Stiefel, Lisa Gatewood and Katie Dahl, is usually staged in Door County in summer.

By - Feb 12th, 2013 03:04 pm
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Jimmy Kaplan has gathered his good friends Steve, Lisa, Katie and Kay for a house concert in a living room. They sit in comfortable chairs when not singing, while Jimmy plays at the grand piano. Between songs, they gently banter back and forth, giving the evening a familial tone. And when they sing their last tune, “Goodnight, Irene,” even the audience joins in.

This, you see, is no usual living room – it’s a stage, Sunset Playhouse’s to be precise. And this gathering is the latest installment of Jimmy & Friends, a cabaret show usually held during the summer in Door County. Kaplan’s brought the show to Elm Grove for a special winter edition, and it’s a treat to listen to these songs amid winter’s cold and snow while thinking about the warm summer nights ahead.

Jimmy’s brought quite a collection of friends together for the show. Steve Koehler and Kay Stiefel both recently shared the Skylight’s stage for The Sound of Music (he played Captain von Trapp; she Elsa Schrader). Lisa Gatewood and Katie Dahl are both Wisconsin-based singer-songwriters, the former from Milwaukee and the latter from Door County.

Together, they sang a set blending emotional folk music with pop songs, including songs by Randy Newman and George Gershwin. They performed some of Kaplan’s own music as well, including an instrumental piece written in honor of the birth of a friend’s daughter, and original songs by Gatewood and Dahl completed the repertoire.

Gatewood’s soothing voice was reminiscent of Rickie Lee Jones and Joni Mitchell, especially while she tackled their folk songs “On Saturday Afternoons in 1963” and “River.” Another treat was “Ain’t Nothing Beautiful,” from her own album Midway.

Dahl accompanied herself on guitar alongside Kaplan’s piano. She sang several of her own folk songs, including “County Line”, “Kathleen” and “Ghosts of Sheboygan Town” from her albums County Line and Leaky Boats and Paper Birds. For each, she gave a brief introduction of how she was inspired to write the song, always interesting stories to hear.

The show’s songs of love were well-suited for Stieflel’s cabaret style of singing; her highlights included takes on Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich’s “Out of Love”, Newman’s “Feels Like Love” and Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch over Me.”

Koehler had the honor of singing many of the Kaplan tunes constructed alongside his former lyricist partner, the late Fred Alley. Koehler, who previously played Lloyd in the Alley/Kaplan musical Guys on Ice at American Folklore Theatre, sang a glorious version of “The One That Got Away” with other music from the same team, bringing out the spiritual nature that is Alley’s trademark. By the time they get to the last Alley/Kaplan song, “Marvelous Sound” from Our Night in Frog Station, you can’t help but feel Fred was there in spirit, another of Jimmy’s friends.

Jimmy Kaplan & Friends: A Midwinter Vacation plays through Saturday, February 17th in the Studio Theater at Elm Grove’s Sunset Playhouse. Thursday, Friday & Saturday shows are at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday matinee is at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $20. Call 262-782-4430 or visit www.sunsetplayhouse.com

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