By Melissa Griegel . . .

David Sabella’s 54 Below show on November 6th was a lesson in how to do a cabaret show. Not surprising from the man who co-authored the only text book on how to do cabaret (So You Want to Sing Cabaret with Sue Matsuki). His show was the perfect mix of storytelling and songs, with the set list perfectly matched to the anecdotes. Best known for playing Mary Sunshine in Chicago, Sabella’s show was a veritable wealth of the history of Chicago and incorporated songs from the musical, as well as other pieces by Kander and Ebb.

Sabella is a chameleon with such a wide range of vocals from baritone to high soprano (his specialty), that he was able to sing songs from every character in Chicago—the deep resonance of Matron Mama Morton, the long-held vocals of Billy Flynn, the airiness of Roxie Hart, the sultriness of Velma Kelly, and the sad wispiness of Amos Hart. He seamlessly wove these characters’ songs throughout the show, intertwining them with historical bits about Chicago, his own journey with the show, and his path in life. Chicago songs included favorites “All That Jazz”, “When You’re Good to Mama”, “All I Care About is Love,” “We Both Reached for the Gun”, “My Own Best Friend”, “Mister Cellophane”, “Razzle Dazzle” and “Nowadays.”

David Sabella with original Mary Sunshine costume

As a young man, Sabella said he prayed for a Chicago revival and his wish came true when City Center Encores decided to bring the show back in 1995 for four days. “Being a male soprano, I knew I wanted to play Mary Sunshine. I was up against the likes of Sam Harris and Billy Porter.” One the most memorable moments in his life was when he pressed play on the answering machine to hear “Is this the home of Mary Sunshine? Because we would like to offer you the part.” The show was transferred to Broadway and is currently the longest running American musical on Broadway. He was part of the 1996 Broadway cast that included Ann Reinking, Bebe Neuwirth, Joel Grey, James Naughton, and Marcia Lewis.  “We were the Hamilton of the ‘90s,” Sabella laughed. “We were the front page of the New York Times…above the fold! We won Six Tony Awards—the most ever for a revival. I couldn’t dream bigger than that.”

David Maiocco
Mike Lunoe, Sean Murphy

Along with a magnificent band: music director and pianist David Maiocco, percussionist Mike Lunoe, and bassist, Sean Murphy, the sounds and rhythms of Chicago accentuated Sabella’s masterful storytelling. He told the audience of his continued history with the show, including performing in Las Vegas alongside his brother who played Amos Hart, and told us about falling in love, getting married as soon as same-sex marriages became legal in Massachusetts, along with the struggles and joys of adopting. He is now the proud father of two girls, but the path wasn’t easy as he had tried twice to adopt 3 boys early on in the process, who were taken away by relatives after he had already bonded with them.

Other Kander and Ebb songs that were included in the evening’s show were “Married” from Cabaret, “Love and Love Alone” sung by Chita Rivera in the short-lived show The Visit, as well as songs from Curtains, Flora the Red Menace, and The Act. A few stars were in the audience to cheer Sabella on, some of whom have also starred in Chicago. Friends in attendance included Haley Swindal, Jana Robbins, and Lorna Davis. Sabella’s show was cabaret at its best, and I would happily go see it again if he adds more shows. Sabella has a CD out called Time Heals that you can also stream online. Keep your eyes out for The Razzle Dazzle of Chicago when Sabella revisits this show. You will be happy you did.

Photos by Melissa Griegel Photography