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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Deeper Dish with Beckie Menzie

Beckie Menzie is one of Chicago's prized possessions - and I don't think we'll be letting her go anytime soon. Although she's performed across the country in some of the best nightclubs and concert venues (including Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York), the singer/songwriter has made Chicago her home for many years - and if you love cabaret, then you've probably seen her playing at Gentry On State, Maxim's or Davenport's Piano Bar & Cabaret.

Hailed by Chicago's WGN Radio as "one of the city's finest cabaret performers," Beckie is a three-time winner of Chicago's After Dark Award for Outstanding Cabaret Artist. She was featured in Michael Feinstein's "Now & Then" Series for her Carnegie Hall debut, and she's released two acclaimed solo CDs, Real Emotional Girl and Heart & Soul, which are an eclectic mix of classic standards, jazz favorites and her own songs. Beckie also wrote - with Cheri Coons - the music and lyrics for the musical, Female Problems: An Unhelpful Guide (based on the book by cartoonist Nicole Hollander), which was produced by Chicago's Pegasus Players in 1998.

The lovely lady performs regularly with Tom Michael (with whom she's released an award-winning CD, Better Two-gether), and the Chicago Tribune has called them "one of the most compelling duos in cabaret."  Their shows have consistently been named among the year's best by After Dark Chicago and New York's Cabaret Scenes magazine - and now the talented twosome have a brand new show, That 60's Show, which they are performing at Davenport's every Saturday in April at 8 pm. Beckie and Tom are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the decade that forever revolutionized popular music as well as their own 10th anniversary as one of Chicago's most beloved concert duos. So I am delighted to feature the fabulous Ms. Menzie here on the Dish today to discuss her groovy new show and her career as well as answer a few pop culture questions.

Let's begin with That 60's Show. What inspired you to do this show?
Tom and I were doing many shows featuring the music of the Great American Songbook, but we were in a mood to put our spin on music that was a touch more contemporary, yet still fit in the area of cabaret. If we had our way, it would have been the music of 1965 to 1975. But the story of the Sixties was far more interesting to us - so Sixties, it was.

Can you share with us a few songs that you and Tom are planning to sing?
"Eleanor Rigby", "Me and Bobby McGee", "The Shadow of Your Smile", "I Hear a Symphony" and a whacked parody of a ton of 60's tunes that I call the 60's "Toke-n" Medley.

How did you and Tom first meet and begin your "musical marriage"?
I am embarrassed to say that I really did not like him after the first musical session we had. I thought he was a musical micro-manager. But it has been the mix of his attention to detail and my organic musical style that has complimented both of us.

If you had to choose your favorite song to sing from Real Emotional Girl and Heart & Soul, which ones would you select?
I love the title songs of both CDs, but it has been "Fascinating Rhythm" from CD number #2 that has been the song that most shows my style of performing.

What was your very first cabaret performance? And do your recall what you sang?
LORD - the whole word "cabaret" makes it hard to define when that first performance was, but my first cabaret show in Chicago was at the Royal George Theatre in 1997 and the first song in that was called "I'm Not Afraid of Anything." Obviously, a big fat lie. But I was doing cabaret most of the time since I moved to Chicago. I worked most of the great gay piano bar rooms in town and that was an AMAZING experience - just a blast. It taught me how to entertain an audience and brought me some of my best friends.

What is the most memorable and/or funniest moment you have had while performing?
The open mics have brought a corral of "interesting" characters. One lovely thing in drag - I think she was 73. Well, she came in with an itsy bitsy clutch and in it was the sheet music of "Wind Beneath My Wings" folded up 25 times. She unfolded, I played, she "sang" and by the time we got to "fly, fly..." I couldn't hold it in. She was 100% serious - and I felt badly for laughing, but friends still call my answering machine and sing "FLY, fly" into it.

How did you become involved with the musical, Female Problems: An Unhelpful Guide? And did you enjoy the experience?
I came in to the project because of my friendship and growing collaboration as a songwriter with Cheri. We have since written a ton of songs that have been sung around the country and here in Chicago. So THAT was the best thing about it. I enjoy writing songs more than shows. It's difficult to get a show produced - but I can hear fabulous singers singing my songs all the time. Immediate gratification. By the way, I have also written songs with Steve Wallem, whom you have interviewed. At one time Steve, Cheri, myself and Patrick Ziegler were working on a project, but that never was able to get very far and we decided to all move on.

Besides the cabaret community, what is your favorite thing about living in Chicago?
A million things. The people...the arts...the lakefront. I have had people often say that I would have a higher profile career if I had moved to NYC. I have a wonderful career and a WONDERFUL family of friends here in Chicago. I knew it was MY home the very first week that I moved here.

My favorite comfort food is:
Ruth Menzie's Hoosier Goulash (Ruth is my mom, who just died a few months ago). Whenever I would be sick or overwhelmed, she would take tomato juice, macaroni and beef and make a hot soupy thing that felt warm and wonderful. I think I may go make some tonight.

The last good book I read was:
Einstein's Dreams

When I was growing up, I never missed a television episode of:
The spring airing of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, The Carol Burnett Show, Soap, All in the Family, The Sonny & Cher Show

Today I never miss a television episode of:
OK, I have to admit to being a total reality TV whore. I know I am supposed to worry about my fellow actors, but I will not miss Project Runway, The Amazing Race and America's Next Top Model. I even watch Celebrity Fit Club.

The very first record album that I purchased with my own money was:
I am not sure - but I know my first album. I was five years old and my brother was headed off to college and taking my favorite album, the movie soundtrack of West Side Story. He gave it to me. And I still have it - just no turntable.

If I was stranded on a desert island for a year, I would want to listen to:
OK, I am gonna amend the question. I would take five actual performers. And I would take them because they make me laugh and think. Beth Nielsen Chapman Steve Wallem Bette Midler Tom Michael Amanda McBroom

The last good play or musical I saw was:
Ragtime - yesterday at Drury Lane Oakbrook. Breathtaking, with such talent and heart.

Three of my favorite movies are:
Sophie's Choice, Mary Poppins and Memento

If I could have anyone in the world--living or dead--be a guest at my dinner party, I would invite the following three people:
Oprah Winfrey, Bette Midler and a press photographer

What's next for Beckie Menzie?
In all honesty I don't know. In the past two years, I have lost my best friend, my husband and my mother. The whole process of grief and loss has been what last year was about. I think this year, hopefully soon, will be about journeys...and finding joy. Career-wise I just want to keep making music and entertaining people.

Thank you, Beckie, for getting Deeper with us here on the Dish.  To learn more about Beckie Menzie and her music, check out her website at, and for reservations to That 60's Show, call Davenport's (1383 N. Milwaukee Ave) at (773) 278-1830 or online at

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