NYC3: Hoosier-hosted cabaret

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Third in a series of reports from my recent NYC trek.

I swear I wasn’t looking for an Indiana connection when I set out to find out where Broadway show folk hang out — and perform — after the curtains come down.

But when I learned about After Party at the West Bank Cafe’s Laurie Beechman Theatre, I was happy to find, at the center of the madness, Indiana’s own Brandon Cutrell.

An open mic where Broadway talent sings what they want to sing, the After Party it featured a talent level almost disturbingly high. Alysha Umphress, soon to appear in the new Green Day musical “American Idiot” was an early-in-the-evening highlight.  Nick Adams from the Broadway casts of “A Chorus Line” and “Guys and Dolls” anchored a short set with “On the Street Where You Live.” Susan Mosher, from the B’way “Hairspray,” brought the house down with a hilariously improvised number, based on her most recent audition, comedian Kevin Meaney was pulled up from the crowd to give away some prizes (his tablemates included actress Kathy Najimy) and it went on like that for a wonderful anything-can-happen evening.

I stayed until about 2 a.m. (and would have happily hung out longer if friends didn’t need to get back to Brooklyn and Long Island). Host and ringleader Brandon Cutrell says he keeps things going until people stop buying drinks, which can mean four in the morning.

Cutrell has deep roots in Indiana. Born and raised here (with parents still in Greenwood), he appeared in Young Artist productions at Indianapolis Civic Theatre, studied opera at IU Bloomington — although he kept getting cast in the theater department’s musicals — and he sometimes comes back to work at Brown County Playhouse (He starred in the musical “Suds” last summer).

He probably gets sick of the work puckish, but the adjective describes both his look and his spirit. Not afraid to (playfully) insult his guests or push them to do something they might otherwise not (such as getting the aforementioned Nick Adams –who also works as an underwear model — to take off his shirt), Cutrell says he tries to hold the rauchiness until after midnight. On my visit, he wasn’t terribly successfull at that — not that anyone in the enthusiastic audience seemed to care. And it helps that Cutrell himself is a wonderful singer, setting the bar high early in the evening with a rendition of “That’s When I Miss You.” In all, a fabulous host.

Before the show on Friday, Cutrell noted that a number of Indiana-rooted folks are on B’Way now, including fellow IU student Nicole Parker starring in “Wicked” and Carey Anderson doing the same at “Avenue Q”. Whenever he has a visit from IU alumni, he’ll make sure that the school fight song is part of the mix. And one of the show’s few rules is that anyone who sings a Sandy Patti song earns four free shot.

The After Party has been running for three years with no end in sight. Talent scouts and casting directors are regulat attendees. And newcomers are welcome, whether to watch or to perform (although first-timers may find themselves with a late, late slot). There’s no cover and no minimum, which help make this, in my mind, the best entertainment bargain in the city.

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