Backstage With... Lonny Smith

Q. Lonny, how did you come to join the DC Cabaret Network?

A.Through a carefully orchestrated ambush. I was first led down the garden path by Judy Simmons and George Fulginiti-Shakar in their Theatre Lab cabaret class. On the last day of class, Judy told me that I had to go the Yale Cabaret Conference. Who was I to argue? Michael Miyazaki arranged a send-off for that year's DC -area participants from those who had gone before, including Bev Cosham and Emily Everson-Gleichenhaus. The conference was intense, but was the first time I ever experienced connecting to a song as Lonny Smith rather than as a character someone else imagined. When Judy asked me to sing at a DCCN event at the Kennedy Center as a follow-up, I was corralled by Terri Allen, who refused to let me stop singing with her or the Network. Who was I to argue?

Q. Your songs always suit you so well -- both in content and musicality. How do you choose material? Do you have any tricks for re-imagining a song that has potential but needs work


A.It's important to be able to say "no" to a song. It may be a great song, people may laugh uproariously, and it may sounds great when Audra McDonald records...but it's important to avoid singing songs where the real motivation is other people's responses. This is especially dangerous with unpublished or rare or new songs, where the temptation to impress people with a song they've never heard is hard to resists. However, a standard that speaks on a personal level is often the far better choice.

When I choose a song, there is a specific fragment that latches on to me - an ironic lyric, an unexpected musical phrase, the surprising place where the song ends up. It's something very short that I catch myself muttering over and over again on the street. That fragment is usually just an abbreviation for what is great about the whole song. The song will organize itself and grow around that connection.
When the material is chosen for me, I try to work in the reverse - find something in my life that I can't shake, then translate that into the song. The loftier and nobler and headier the idea, the harder it is to make it work. Authentically petty usually paves the way! You can't connect to a song through brute force. That's when the song will say "no" to you.



Q. Where will we see and hear you next?

A. I will be singing in the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington's cabaret "The S* Show," first at the Kennedy Center Jazz Club on November 7 and then at the Atlas on November 14. The "S" is for the music of Sondheim, Sinatra, and Streisand.