"I think touring with Liza gave me a confidence I wouldn't have mustered on my own."
by Michael J. Roberts
Michael J. Roberts is theatre editor for the ChicagoPride.com covering Chicago's diverse arts and entertainment scene.
After recently touring and performing with the legendary Liza Minnelli, including her recent Tony winning Broadway show, the multi-talented Cortés Alexander is bringing his "Swell Show" to Davenport's Piano Bar for one night only on Thursday, December 15th at 8pm. I recently caught up with my friend Cortes who told me about his new cabaret show and how his friendship with Liza and shaped his career.
MJR: (Michael J. Roberts) First of all, I can't believe it has been over three years since I last saw you when you were here with Liza. How did "The Swell Show" come about?
CA: (Cortés Alexander) "The Swell Show" came about because after "Liza's At The Palace" ended, I had a real bad case of PTSD (post traumatic show disorder) & needed to figure out my next move. It seemed I was working so much with groups, that I needed to figure out if I was worth my salt alone. I'm still working on that. MJR: What do you like best about doing cabaret?
CA: I think the best thing about cabaret is the proximity of the audience. They are literally in your space, so it forces you to get comfortable & to make your audience feel like they're in your living room. I think all the salon nights at Liza's helped me with that one.
MJR: How has touring with Liza shaped you as an artist and what advice has she given you about the entertainment business?
CA: I think touring with Liza gave me a confidence I wouldn't have mustered on my own. In the beginning, I had to remind myself over & over, that she wouldn't share the stage with someone, unless she felt they could hold their own. So it was sink or swim. As for advice? The best piece of advice she gave me was to remain kind. You meet the same people on the way up, as you do on the way down
MJR: Tell me about your "Swell Girls".
CA: My "Swell Girls". I love them beyond words! Jennifer Rappo & Melissa Bailey. Jennifer I met at an open mic night & she was so beautiful & sang so great & just forced myself upon her (musically speaking, of course) & Melissa Bailey & I did our first B'way show together (Marilyn-An American Fable) with Kenny Ortega. She played Louella Parsons & stopped the show. Jennifer & Melissa stop my show too. At first I was just going to have them do some basic "ooh's & aah's", but they were so fast, that I had to integrate them more. In fact, I gave them a duet which they kill, thus making it even harder for me to come back on stage. But I like a challenge. [smiles]
MJR: Marketing and managing has changed a lot in the past decade. How has social media impacted your exposure?
CA: Social media is really all there is at my level. While I retain a publicist (Grapevine PR) thankfully, this is where I make no bones about my limitations. Facebook is about all I can handle & that's almost a full time job. So friend me.
MJR: What is happening with The Tonics?
CA: The Tonics & I keep talking about getting back & doing something. It'll happen, but everyone is so busy doing other projects, that scheduling is really a nightmare. But we want to do something, it's just not a priority right now.
MJR: Besides touring with The Swell Show, what else are you working on?
CA: . I am desperate to get The Swell Show" on an Atlantis or RSVP cruise. The Tonics did it years ago & we had a blast & I think the Swell Girls would LOVE. Until then, I flog away...
MJR: What do you want the audience to take away from your songs?
CA: What I want the audience to take away from my songs is really that, while I've had an extraordinary time in life thus far, everyone's life is extraordinary in their own way, & that's the beauty of getting older. It's never too late to dream & have aspirations, change a career or do the thing that scares you the most. It's our one shot, this life, so really truly make it count. Kay Thompson told me once how she doesn't believe in regret. I said to her "That's because you've done everything." She said, "Exactly, my darling."I hope my fans really can run with that. Thank you Michael, you, as always, are a dream!