When life is a cabaret

“A warhorse. A consummate performer.” This is how Christine Ebersole remembers Carol Channing. The same, however, could be said of Ebersole herself, who brings her cabaret act to Caramoor in Katonah on May 4.

Actress and singer Christine Ebersole has had the kind of professional career most performers only dream about.

A regular presence on the big screen (“The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Tootsie,” “Amadeus” and the upcoming “Starbright”); the small screen (the 1981-82 season of “Saturday Night Live” as well as “American Horror Story,” “Madam Secretary,” “Royal Pains” and “Ryan’s Hope)” and the stage (her recent Tony Award-nominated performance in “War Paint” and her Tony Award-winning turns in “Grey Gardens’ and “42nd Street,” among others); Ebersole can seemingly do it all. 

She has also made a name for herself in the world of cabaret and will be bringing her cabaret stylings to the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts in Katonah for its May 4 benefit. Christine was kind enough to answer a few questions in advance of her performance:

Christine, you are going to be performing a cabaret evening in The Music Room at the Caramoor. What can you tell the readers about the process of putting together a cabaret show?

“At this point, it’s just drawing on the body of work that I’ve done over the last 45 years. What the evening will be about just naturally emerges.”

There’s a Playbill.com clip online from one of your cabaret shows in which you’re singing “Alfie.” In the interview portion, you talk about the theme of the show being “What eternal force can we hold onto that will get us through troubled times?” — something that resonates now. What role does music play in times like these?

“Music can be a great healing balm. Of course, it can also work the other way, as a destructive force. When the intention behind it is to evoke the source, which is our Creator, that has a different, healing effect.”

As an actress, what are the challenges and rewards of portraying real people, such as Elizabeth Arden in “War Paint” and both Big Edie and Little Edie Beale in “Grey Gardens”?

“‘Grey Gardens’ was unique in that there was a documentary out about them (for reference), so that made it a different category. There are photographs of Elizabeth Arden, but not a lot of things on film. It was much more of an interpretation. They’re all interpretive, but one required a technical aspect, as well, in getting the manner of speech, movement and all that down.”

Did portraying Arden have any effect on your personal attitude toward  cosmetics?

“No. I certainly appreciate good skin products. I find that Elizabeth Arden is really top drawer, A1, in terms of quality. I use their products. I don’t know that I’ve used them in the same way that I do now, just because of being introduced to them in a very special way. I think mostly it’s about good skin. After that the rest is just fine-tuning. If you don’t have good skin, it doesn’t matter how much makeup you put on.”

Is there a real person on your bucket list that you would like to portray onstage or on screen?

“No. I like to be in this discovery mode, where things will come to me.”

You worked with Doug Wright, Scott Frankel and Michael Korie on both “War Paint” and “Grey Gardens.” What makes that working relationship one that you’d want to repeat?

“We have a history. I really appreciate their artistry and their collaboration. We all discover, together, what needs to happen and where it needs to go.”

Movie musicals have become increasingly popular in this new century. If there was a movie version of “War Paint,” what would it mean to you to reprise your role as Elizabeth Arden on screen?

“Wouldn’t it go to Meryl Streep?”

I hope not.

“I don’t think it would be me.” 

You recently lent your voice to the characters of White Pearl and White Diamond on Cartoon Network’s “Steven Universe.” What is the appeal of those  characters and voicing an animated character on such a popular show?

“It was a lot of fun doing that. I’m not young and I don’t follow those (shows). I think it has a very young following, doesn’t it?”

Actually, I think it’s a mix.

“I think it’s kind of a phenomenon. Do you know why?”

Maybe because, in addition to being kind of campy, it has powerful messages. I think a cartoon can get away with saying things that a live-action show might not be able to say.

“That’s true.”

Are there other upcoming film or stage projects that you’d like to mention?

“Yes, I have a new television show that I’m shooting in April. It’s a pilot that Chuck Lorre of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ has produced. It stars Billy Gardell, the Mike from ‘Mike & Molly.’ It’s called ‘Bob Hearts Abishola,’ about a salesman who falls in love with a Nigerian nurse. I play Bob’s mother. I’m really excited about that.”

Finally, we recently lost Carol Channing, one of the greatest and most celebrated performers in modern entertainment history. Would you care to share any thoughts about her?

“She was an iconic performer and person. She really encapsulated what it is to be a Broadway performer. I don’t think she ever missed a show. A warhorse. A consummate performer.” 

Christine Ebersole performs at Caramoor May 4. For more, visit caramoor.org/events/christine-ebersole/.

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