My favourite thing about Gabi Epstein as a performer is that she is continually reinventing her repertoire. She refuses to be pigeonholed as a “musical theatre singer” or even as a “cabaret artist,” she is teeming with creative ideas and she will bravely tread into unchartered waters and will happily invite an audience along for the ride. This means that each Gabi Epstein experience is a truly unique one and Gabi’s High School Chill Mix, a cabaret I attended recently at the Bread and Circus, was certainly no exception.
According to Epstein, the idea for this cabaret was hatched while she was touring across the United States on a Children’s Theatre Tour, listening to her IPod for long periods of time. Each time that songs from her High School “chill mix” came up, she found herself becoming wistful for a time gone by that she had captured on CD nearly a decade ago. So, she decided to recreate this “chill mix” in a concert format so that she could bring this music from her past into the present and share it with an audience who may remember the late 90s fondly as well.
Clad in a skirt she made in High School constructed out of Compact Discs and Cassette Tapes strung together with twist-ties, Epstein’s Cabaret was inventive, nostalgic and characteristically hilarious straight from her entrance. She took us all back to 1995 with Alanis Morisette’s ode to “Mary Jane” and sang a beautiful rendition of Ben Harper’s “Another Lonely Day” which suited her voice with absolute loveliness. I am continually impressed with Epstein’s ability to choose songs, often those sung by male artists, which burst so unexpectedly from her and that are given fresh arrangements that she is able to bring so beautifully to life. She gave a particularly emotional performance singing Lisa Loeb’s “Stay” and was equally as successful in her rapping aptitude for her encore of “Waterfalls” (TLC) which brought down the house and generated a rousing Sing-Along.
Epstein was also joined onstage by a slew of her talented friends. Daniel Abrahamson played the piano for the evening, showing of some serious skill during Our Lady Peace’s “4am,” Trevor Campbell played the guitar and they both joined Epstein on a gorgeous three part harmony arrangement of “She Talks to Angels” (The Black Crowes). Abrahamson sang a poignant and beautiful “Homeward” by the Beatles, while Campbell played Hawksley Workman’s “You, Me and the Weather,” which is one of the most difficult songs ever written, to impressive effect. Raha accompanied Epstein in her rendition of the Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s “Other Side” on the violin with incredible skill and dynamism. She was absolutely mesmerizing. She also accompanied Epstein and guest Michael Hughes in their performance of “Kissing You” during which Epstein sang lower than Hughes and his falsetto was so incredibly out of control, I got goose bumps. Epstein also arranged a four part a cappella arrangement of Radiohead’s “Karma Police” for herself, Trevor Campbell, Jennifer Walls and Rachel Fischer.
One of the benefits to the Cabaret craze that has been sweeping through Toronto for the past year is that it provides opportunities for all the city’s young musical theatre future stars to sing in various genres and different pairings. This is an ideal occasion for giving prospective musical theatre producers and directors the ability to see how well these artists perform both separately and together. I would hope that these individuals are making the most of this unique opportunity and that each time these performer prove themselves to have star power and vocal prowess, a plethora of plans for musicals with Canadian casts are launched and swirl around in the minds of all the prospective producers in this city.
Other highlights of the evening included Late 90s Trivia and Michael Hughes doing his best John Stamos impression while singing the opening bars of “Forever.” Truly, Gabi’s High School Chill Mix was a night of nostalgia and frivolity that brilliantly captured a unique aspect of Epstein’s vibrant personality. I urge all Cabaret artists to take a page from Gabi’s book and to be brave and leap out of their comfort zones. It is certainly invigorating and inspiring to watch.