Elizabeth “Betsy” Parrish performing at Pangea.

By Fay Simpson

Occasionally one encounters, while sitting in the audience, a performer who is so fearless and unselfconscious that one can truly relax and let the messages being expressed on stage run through your senses and re-invigorate your life. Such was the effect of Elizabeth Parrish’s Cabaret show, Every Soul’s a Cabaret at The Pangea on a cozy winter Sunday evening.

A true veteran of the stage, “Betsy” is both wise and vulnerable, sassy and heart-wrenching, generously offering us gifts from a well-sculpted theatre life. Quoting John Keats and Bette Midler in the same breath, the songs sprung seamlessly from stories, and quotes from beloved poets, like a complex tapestry. The lonely and sickly John Keats kept writing because “he wants to be heard,” and advice is given to the ballerina whose lover wants her to give up her career: “Ignore the empty chair in the second row, and dance, dance, dance!” 

Performed as a beautiful duet with music director Mark Fifer on the piano, the show was a testament to the beauty of live theatre; all of it brought to life by the attentive music, which at times tip-toed in and underscored the voice, while at other times thundered in like another character, to start the mood and demand attention. We witnessed player and performer in communication, deciding together when the music would start or end, perhaps now… or maybe just a bit later… after the sigh. This Intimacy on stage opened our hearts to the darker elements of the repertoire, sung with tragic pathos: “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Hello Darkness, My Old Friend,” and “Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night.”

Elizabeth “Betsy” Parrish performing at Pangea.

Skillfully directed by Paola Styron, the material entertained us, complete with a hat and cane bravado at the start, before sending us into an abyss of despair— and then thankfully lifting us out of the mire with a slap from a drum and a rap (“Can you hear it? Can you Hear it?”). And then the words of Emily Dickinson were dropped on us like a salve: “ It’s not where you start, it is where you finish.” Words offered to us to lift and embolden our spirits. 

Clearly devoted to a life in the theatre, Elizabeth Parrish is a founding member of the groundbreaking Harold Clurman Laboratory Theatre Company, having performed in Uncle Vanya, Hot L Baltimore, and Macbeth. On Broadway, she was in the original cast of La Cage aux Folles and Deathtrap. She was more recently co-creator and performer with the stunningly expressive Margie Gillis in an exploration of poetry by Emily Dickinson. Every Soul’s a Cabaret is a shout-out to all performers struggling in the night with the why do I do it, and how can I continue, and who am I anyway? She acknowledges the struggle, but affirms the need for artists to continue to document our world, and express the entire caveat of experiences.

“Who would ever know that this happened?” asks a writer deported by Stalin. We will, when we write it, and sing it and act it. “A Diamond is just a chunk of coal that did well under pressure,” says Bette Midler. Well, Elizabeth Parrish is a diamond, who glitters with humanity and reminds us of who we are, and who we can strive to become as artists and as humans. 

Currently, Betsy is sharing her wealth as a Master Teacher at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York City. 


Every Soul’s a Cabaret

Sun Jan 12, 7pm at Pangea — 178 Second Ave. NYC

Musical Director: Mark Fifer
Director: Paola Styron

Runtime:  one hour