Spotlight on Cabaret: This Lady’s Talent Is No Joke

By Tracy Adams


The line between jazz singing and cabaret singing is often fine, blurred, and crossed—with frequently spectacular results that delight Chicagoland listeners. Chicago Jazz Magazine is thrilled to partner with Chicago Cabaret Professionals via the monthly column/calendar, “Spotlight on Cabaret.”


Carla Gordon (photo credit: Rachael Wish, Euphoria Studio)

That she creates great comedy material is well known in the cabaret community, and the current national condition is providing plenty of inspiration. But to pigeonhole Carla Gordon as a writer of parodies is like saying Lin-Manuel Miranda writes some music. This Chicago Cabaret Professional’s Gold Coast Award winner is also a producer, director, reviewer, inspirational lyricist, and entertainer extraordinaire. She was certainly entertaining during a recent socially distant phone interview.

She started her cabaret life with Don’t Bring the Kids, a risqué, if not over-the-edge naughty show. While it was a great success, she had to bring it to a close because her name quickly became associated with blue material, and there was more, so much more, that she wanted to do.

For instance, creating Blacklisted—Songs McCarthy Didn’t Want You to Hear, a review of music created by those targeted by McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee in the ’40s and ’50s. Originally written for performance at the Illinois Holocaust Museum, the show has toured the Midwest and launched “Prayer for America,” a song she wrote with composing partner Wayne Richards, that, though not the intention, draws comparisons between the political atmosphere of those days and these.

It is not unusual that a person who is known for a particular area of expertise has strong opinions about it. Gordon is not an exception in this. “When you write a parody, it doesn’t all have to be funny, but 90 percent of it does. Save the funniest bit for last. Make sure your rhymes are true rhymes, and keep the scan [the way syllables and accents align with the music] of the original tune.” Who does she look up to as parody writers? Allan Sherman and Al Yankovich.

Though a Carla Gordon performance is one of a kind, she doesn’t keep all of her great material for herself. Her work is sought after across the cabaret world, and Howard Reich highlighted one of her originals about plastic surgery in a review of Beckie Menzie and Tom Michael. Recently, her “Social Distance Blues,” with music by Michele Brourman, made the airwaves on WFMT—bemoaning the limitations the pandemic has brought to some love lives, but concluding that we can still make love . . . on the phone. Her risqué side may be downplayed but clearly never forgotten.

Want to see Gordon in action? Check her out performing a timely original written with Michele Brourman, “Alternative Facts,” on YouTube.

Keep up with the latest in Chicago cabaret news: www.chicagocabaret.org.

Tracy Adams has spent more than four decades on stages of every kind, from intimate cabarets to large auditoriums, hotel restaurants to European cathedrals. For seven years, he was the restaurant writer for Gay Chicago Magazine. He spends his days as a training manager for an accounting firm. All of these endeavors reflect his personal mission in life, which is to help people grow.

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