Serving up songs and reflections

Written by Gregg Shapiro

Greenwich singer-dancer Audrey Appleby hopes you’ll be “shaken, stirred and swept away” by her cabaret act at Café Noctambulo at Pangea in Manhattan March 3 and April 21.

“Ladies Cheap Cocktails: Concoctions and Confessions” features Appleby offering original songs and stories with the Darryl Kojak Sextet. It’s an act that’s been a lifetime in the making for the Boston-born, Florida-reared Appleby, who made up her first song (about a butterfly) at age 5, sang and danced in high school musicals and then embarked on a cabaret career after graduating from Tufts University. 

A world traveler, Appleby has been living in Greenwich, Connecticut, where she and her husband raised their daughter, for 35 years. When it comes to singing the praises of Greenwich, she doesn’t hold back. 

“It was an incredible place for my businesses,” she says. “First, I started a dance school in my house. It was different from what everybody else in dance does. I was welcoming people who didn’t feel any confidence, but they wanted to enjoy dance.” 

Offering classes in a nurturing environment, Appleby incorporated live drummers and other creative ideas.

She finds Greenwich to be a beautiful, cultured place with quick access to New York City and her work in various venues there. 

Recently, she took time from her “Ladies Cheap Cocktails” preparations to talk with WAG:

When did you start writing your own songs?

“I didn’t start writing my own songs until the death of my father in 1993. There was all this grief that was pouring out of me. For the first time in my life, I started writing poetry. I wrote 100 poems. I looked at them and wondered if someone could help me put them to music. I don’t read music, but I have this ability to hear a song and be able to sing it….I found a person from Uruguay and he wrote music with all of these different Latin rhythms to my poems.”

We’re glad you mentioned your songwriting collaboration, because your recent album, “Ladies Cheap Cocktails,” has songs written by you, as well as a number that you co-wrote with others. What do you look for in a collaborator?

“The first album I ever did was all Latin music — cha-cha, samba, merengue. (For that album) I was looking for someone who could take my lyrics and make them into a song. (For the song) ‘Rue Blondell’ (on ‘Ladies Cheap Cocktails’) I actually got a French songwriter (Xavier Ferrain) and he did an incredible job. It’s very complicated musically. The lyrics for ‘Picasso Woman’ came out of a cabaret class I was taking about how to costume yourself. I was being made to feel terrible. I walked out of that class feeling depressed about my body, because it’s not a stick and it’s not a perfect Renaissance proportion. Another of my teachers (Shelly Markham) said he wanted to write the music to it. I said to that teacher, ‘I guess I’m just a Picasso woman.’ It’s a cabaret-style song. It’s an unusual piece of music, kooky and off-balance, like a Picasso.”

Your 2012 documentary “Tiny Miracles: Awakening Memory And Emotion In An Alzheimer’s World” is a powerful short film about the effect of music and dance on Koogie, a woman with Alzheimer’s. What compelled you to make it?

“Since I started my dance school 30-something years ago, I’ve always felt that I have so much to share with people and to help people, to make them feel better and inspired about themselves. My daughter was in film school at Tisch (New York University) and she didn’t know what to do for her documentary class. I had just started working at this Alzheimer’s facility. The mother of a friend, who knew me through dance, had Alzheimer’s. (My friend) asked me if I would work with her mother. I had done everything else with dance and music, but I had never done that. 

“I found that it’s like teaching anything. I saw that they were remembering the words to songs even though they couldn’t remember their names or anything else. It was awakening a part of their brain, their memory….”

Audrey Appleby performs at 7 p.m. March 3 and April 21 at Café Noctambulo at Pangea, 178 Second Ave., between 11th and 12th streets, in Manhattan. There is a $20 cover/$20 minimum. For reservations, call 212-995-0900.

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