Local talent and B’way stars at Midwest Arts Conference

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Wondering why downtown seemed swankified last night?

It could be the fact that the Midwest Arts Conference is in town. An annual opportunity for programmers from around the county to sample live entertainment from around the world, the conference brings in talent ranging from Presidio Brass to the Juggernaut Jug Band, from Squonk Opera to a one-man Albert Einstein show. Most of these are being presented in short showcases with some open to the public.

The festivities kicked off with Indiana artists in the spotlight. Following an opening night reception at the gasp-inducing Indiana Roof Ballroom (it's fun when out-of-towners are impressed) where Minetti's Tangamente, the Steve Allee Quartet, singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer, and improvisational guitarist Michael Kelsey were featured–in hopes of finding bookings. All were shown in a great light, with Kelsey being an attention-getting standout.

From there, the group spread out to what will grow to 14 different venues over the course of the four-day event. I hustled to the Cabaret at the Columbia Club to see Karen Mason–between stints in Broadway's "Mamma Mia" and the upcoming Frank Wildhorn musical "Wonderland." She brought her A-game, offering what she called "the Karen Mason Bulletpoints," boldly conquering a set of songs connected to better-known Broadway icons–including "All that Jazz," "People," "The Impossible Dream," and "Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend."

Also on the bill was Steve Ross, who I missed when he played a full set in a previous engagement at the Cabaret. My loss. The introduction labeled him a "Park Avenue dandy" and that was right on the money, as Ross offered charm-without-smarm versions of "I Get a Kick out of You/Anything Goes," "If Ever I Would Leave You," and a lovely instrumental medley of songs made famous by Edith Piaf.

Four-time Tony nominee Gregg Edelman played a late set, bringing Midwest everyman quality (He's a Chicagoland native) and outstanding pipes to the program.

If you didn't know Edelman from Broadway's "City of Angels" or "Passion," you might recognize him from "Spider-Man 2" or "Little Children." (He'd be perfect should anyone ever write "Bart Peterson: The Musical') His program focused on Great American Songbook tunes that he grew up loving, including "In the Still of the Night," Cy Coleman's "You Fascinate Me So," "Round Midnight" and a playful, strong duet with pianist Christopher Denny on "Somebody Else" that made the audience feel like it was on the set of "The Dean Martin Show." Here's hoping Edelmann–and Denny–return for a full show soon.

Tonight, the Cabaret is hosting free-to-the-public showcases including Sally Mayes (B'way's "She Loves Me" and "Urban Cowboy") and MAC-Award-winning Best Jazz Artist Spider Saloff (FYI: MAC is the Manhattan Association of Cabarets).

More info on the conference here.

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