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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Groovy Guy of the Month: Jim Caruso

"Intelligence and talent are always chic, and Jim Caruso is the chicest person I know" - Liza Minnelli

This month's Groovy Guy is Jim Caruso, who has had one amazing career so far. Some of his many accomplishments include:
  • Winning six MAC Awards and two BackStage Bistro Awards for his cabaret shows.
  • Releasing two CDs, Caruso Live and In Person and The Swing Set.
  • Performing at President Clinton’s First State Dinner at the White House as a member of the jazz vocal and comedy trio, Wiseguys. 
  • Making his Broadway debut in the Tony Award-winning 2008 show, Liza's at the Palace....
  • Hosting - since 2003 - Jim Caruso's Cast Party, a weekly Monday night open mic at NYC's Birdland that has brought him two BroadwayWorld Awards, a MAC Award, a Bistro Award and a Nightlife Award.
  • And producing a weekly Broadway at Birdland series that has featured concerts by Liza, Chita Rivera, Sam Harris, Michele Lee, Linda Lavin, Cheyenne Jackson and many more.
I am delighted to have the fabulous Mr. Caruso here on the Dish to answer a few questions about his career and, of course, pop culture.

What inspired you to create your Cast Party?
I was doing PR for a now-defunct nightclub and writing press releases for drink specials - it was as exciting as it sounds. Out of boredom, I threw my own party one Monday since it’s the dark night on Broadway. Everyone showed up, ate, drank and sang around the piano until the wee hours. The next day, the manager of the club called and asked me to do it every Monday. I said “No” but, of course, I did it. It became an open mic, got great press and turned into the place to sing and be seen. That was 10½ years ago, and it’s still going strong, and we’re taking it all over the country.

What has been the most memorable and/or funniest moment you have had while hosting Cast Party?
I’ve hosted almost 700 Cast Parties, if you can even imagine, so you know some crazy shit has gone down. Carol Channing discussed Arts Education, then launched into "Before The Parade Passes By". Liza announced her divorce. Al Sharpton reminisced about Michael Jackson. Donny Osmond harmonized with me and Billy Stritch. We had a complete wedding party in the house. There was a hula dancer. A four-year-old sang from Les Mis. A contortionist sat on his own face. Shall I continue…?

Did you always want to be an actor/singer? And what was your very first performance in front of an audience?
It was never my intent to be a serious actor or singer. I wanted to be an entertainer. Carol Burnett and Dick Van Dyke floated my boat at a very young age, and the TV variety shows had my attention. My dream was, if I may quote the late Chuckles the Clown, “A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.” It’s interesting that Cast Party has become like a traveling Ed Sullivan Show, complete with singers, plate spinners and hula hoopists. My first performance was in a community theater production of The King and I because who looks more Siamese than me?

Do you have a favorite Liza Minnelli story from working with her in Liza's at the Palace....?
Liza has been a force in my life for over 20 years. There is not enough room on the interwebs to tell you how she has impacted my life. Her love of show business, coupled with her absolute joy in performing, is breathtaking. To share the stage with her is like duetting with a comet - the light literally bounces off her face. We toured the Palace show for almost three years before coming to Broadway, and they were three happy, hysterical years. We opened in Antwerp, for God’s sake. It sounds like a set-up for a joke, but as she said on the plane back to New York, “Well…we killed ‘em in Antwerp!”

If you could go back in time and see any Broadway show, which one would you choose and why?
I can’t pick just one. I would have loved to bear witness to the Merman phenomenon because, frankly, I’ve never gotten the appeal and I feel bad about it. So let’s say Gypsy. Of course, to be at the Winter Garden watching Funny Girl would have been the ultimate. To hear that 22-year-old genius sing my favorite Jule Styne score at the beginning of her career would have been a good thing to brag about.

What have been the three most memorable evenings (or matinees) that you've experienced as a theatergoer?
In the 1980s, my friend Kevin Chinn was plucked from a Dallas dance call to play Richie in the Broadway company of A Chorus Line. He was the first of our Texas crowd to 'make it', so I flew myself to New York to see the show. If I live to be a hundred, I will never forget the thrill of seeing him dance on the Shubert stage. It seemed magical, impossible, yet real. I saw the original Dreamgirls when it was in previews, and few productions have matched that excitement to me. We were standing on our chairs cheering at the end of Act I. Then, seeing my bff Stephanie J. Block star as Elphaba in Wicked was a thrill for so many reasons. To watch her command a huge stage with such power - in the role she helped create – I’ve never been so proud.

What are your three favorite TV shows of all time?
The Carol Burnett Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Friends. In my eyes, all three shows could get right to the center of the funny. If I could talk to those casts, I’d have to quote Lou Grant, “I treasure you people.”

What are three of your favorite films?
I love Funny Face, if only to watch Astaire, Hepburn and Kay Thompson cavort under the Eiffel Tower singing "Bonjour, Paris". I’m obsessed with Streisand’s extraordinary performance in Funny Girl. The voice…the style…the Sassoon cut! And not shockingly, I love Cabaret. The lightening-in-a-bottle combination of Liza, Kander, Ebb and Fosse was a miracle.

If you were asked to choose the Sexiest Man Alive, whom would you select?
Rob Lowe. Now and forever. He’s smart, completely hilarious and looks like…Rob Lowe.

If you could have anyone in the world - living or dead - be a guest at your dinner party, what three people would you invite?
Fred Astaire for the chic, Oprah for the conversation, and James Taylor to serenade us.

If you could go back and give your 19-year-old self a wise piece of advice, what would it be?
“Relax. You’ll keep your hair.”

What's next for Jim Caruso?
Cast Party and the Broadway at Birdland concert series continues every single Monday at Birdland, the best music room on the planet. We’ll also be schlepping the Party all over the country celebrating talent. And Billy Stritch and I continue our residency at Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle Hotel every Sunday in April, May, September and December.

Thank you, Jim, for being such a groovy guy!

To learn more about Mr. Caruso, go to or follow him on Twitter and Facebook. For more information about Cast Party and Broadway at Birdland, go to And the photo of Jim is by Bill Westmoreland.

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