Now that the holiday season is winding down, the countless company socials highlighting smooth jazz bands and cheap wine have left me yearning for something better.

Seeking some reception-room detox, I recently went to check out the last bastion of an almost forgotten era, and perhaps entertainment at its purest -- a cabaret show.

These shows draw from a colorful history, ranging from the cancan in Paris, decedent cabaret clubs during Germany's Weimar era, saloons in the American West and mobster speakeasies during Prohibition.

Le Scandal

I didn't know what to expect from New York's longest-running variety show, Le Scandal at The Cutting Room in New York City, owned by "Sex and the City" actor Chris Noth and musician Steve Walter. The show has been called everything from vaudeville to cabaret, and is now in its seventh year.

Once inside, I thought of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's sumptuous paintings of Paris' avant garde at the Moulin Rouge , the birthplace of the cancan.

I recalled Marilyn Monroe as a corseted saloon singer in River of No Return, New Orleans, jazz singers and Coney Island sideshows. The associations are endless and continue today on fashion runways worldwide and in popular movies such as Chicago and Idlewild.

And as I took my place in a buzzing audience, I understood Cabaret star Sally Bowles' question, "What good is sitting alone in your room?"

Then Bonnie Dunn, the producer and featured performer of Le Scandal, came on stage wearing a saucy evening gown. In a smoky voice, she told the ladies and gentlemen in the audience to sit back, enjoy the food and get to know each other (with a wink) while she launched into her first sultry jazz number.

If not for the state-of-the-art sound and light equipment, I would have expected to spot some WWII sailors on leave listening to "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't (My Baby)."

When Guinness Book of World Records holder Natasha Veruschka, a belly dancing sword-swallower, gallantly gulped five swords, a woman in the back fainted, but in the spirit of cabaret, awoke smiling.

Cabaret shows are not for the bashful, but for those seeking nostalgia, thrills and performance art all rolled into one spectacle, they won't disappoint. To live up to its name, Le Scandal has to be a tad sexy, but this new incarnation of cabaret has even been described as a post-feminist movement. "The show has more to do with freedom of expression and redefining what Madison Avenue calls sexy," explains Dunn.

The Good Ol' Days

Dunn says the main appeal of the Le Scandal show -- and cabaret in general -- is a campy innocence that harks back to the old days of entertainment. "It's funny and outrageous ... people want to see live performers again," she says.

Growing up in New Orleans, Dunn was inspired by what she refers to as the "burlesque sensibility" of the famous French Quarter. She recorded with New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint and has sung all over the world in jazz clubs and cabarets.

"Some of the women that danced in cabaret and jazz clubs in the 1920's had so much elegance and grace onstage," says Dunn.

"When people think of cabaret in New York, they think of a woman in a gown next to a piano. At the Moulin Rouge, they do a cancan routine," says Dunn, who explained that the entertainers' theatrical costumes reflect the different styles of performance.

Today, Dunn points out, cabaret has become mainstream, not only in cosmopolitan club shows, but in current fashion and movies.

To view Annika Mengisen's video take of today's Good Life segment, click here .

Le Scandal, put on every Saturday night, consists of three components: variety show acts, showgirls and live music, with Dunn as the reigning queen of the whole affair.

Dunn recommends the show for corporate parties or a night out with co-workers. There are special packages for corporate events; it's even possible to rent out The Cutting Room for larger events.

When hired for corporate events, Dunn takes care to customize each show to the demographic of a company, fine-tuning the risque factor to cater to the most liberal or conservative crowd.

She stresses that Le Scandal must maintain professional standards, often casting performers from professional backgrounds in theater, dance or acting. The quirky Dirty Martini, known for her classic burlesque dances, graduated from SUNY-Purchase with a B.F.A. in dance and sometimes does her routines in toeshoes.

The Art of Entertainment

Everything about Le Scandal is upfront and live, including the house band, the New York City Blues Devils, fronted by the gritty howls of lead singer Danny Biondo.

Dunn considers cabaret a folk art, because it's performed in an intimate setting where the success of the show depends on audience participation.

The new cabaret and vaudeville, says Dunn, are not just recreations of 1930s numbers. They have to have a punch and some humor thrown in -- after all, burlesque was originally meant as a parody of Italian opera.

Le Scandal revelers consist mostly of 20- and 30-somethings, but Dunn has seen senior citizens in walkers and parents with teenagers. "Europeans love it," she adds. "There's certainly not a stigma because the show is very theatrically based."

So instead of shelling out a hundred dollars for a ticket to a Broadway show, come to Le Scandal and pay $20 to the mysterious woman at the door, or $55 for the show and a prix fixe dinner prepared by Manhattan's famous Tavern on the Green restaurant.

The People's Theater

James Habacker, co-owner of The Slipper Room in New York City's Lower East Side, calls the venue the people's theater. Habacker studied sculpture at Bennington College before becoming intrigued with performance art.

Sit Back, and Enjoy the Show

" Artists use it The Slipper Room as a kind of workshop," says Habacker.

His Victorian Stage features variety-show characters from as far off as Norway, and showgirls whose routines are a little more risque. The crowd is expected to get involved.

"It's what it was like on the Bowery years ago," he says. "Rowdy and fun."

Like Le Scandal, his show has become much more mainstream and accepted. "Years ago people would be like, 'What the heck is this?' And now they are asking if there's a show tonight. It's hip enough that people are comfortable," Habacker explains.

After all, even that most famous entertainer William Shakespeare was first met with criticism -- his famous Globe Theatre was considered vulgar and intolerable by the Puritans, who shut it down, along with London's other theaters, in 1642.

So come and check out the show -- you might even catch Habacker and his wife playing an old burnt-out vaudeville couple.

Whether you're seeking a new spin on entertainment or a memorable spot for the next company celebration, do yourself and your co-workers a favor -- let a vaudeville show remind you that life is a cabaret.



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