Dallas — Entertainer and educator Cynthia Scott has performed her cabaret "One Raelette’s Journey" around the country, including where it began at WaterTower Theatre’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival in 2014, and at Fort Worth’s Jubilee Theatre in 2016. That show told of her experience as a back-up singer with the late, great Ray Charles.
This week, she returns to town (she lives between here and New York) for a new show,"All About Love," which opens Denise Lee’s second annual Dallas Cabaret Festival on Thursday night.
We caught up with her to chat about the show and her career.
TheaterJones: What are a few of the most important lessons/tips you learned from Ray Charles, or your experience as a Raelette, about show business?
Cynthia Scott: First let me say, I would not be the person I am today if Ray Charles had not called me and gave me the opportunity to work with him and to see fame up close at a very early young age. Ray played a big part but he was only a part. He was such a talented and troubled man. He didn’t have an easy life as we all know but when you go from nothing to everything, including being a blind person with a big private plane and more money than you will ever spend, you are a changed person. You have to be able to handle that change.
I wrote a one-woman play “One Raelette’s Journey” that I first presented here in Dallas at the 2014 WaterTower Theatre Out of the Loop Festival in which I shared my journey with Ray and more. (You can see more about that show in a video here.)
A friend gave me a plague that I still have to this day on my wall in NYC “Watch what you ask for because you just might get it.” I guess I mention all this to say, I was not always sure of what I wanted but I was dead sure of what I didn’t want. As an older person now (lol), I am still cautious about that. I was never one to say “just jump.” I would have to see how deep is the jump, how much bullshit is involved in the jump, etc. Some people call that being too cautious but I think I am alive today because of that cautiousness. I could tell you some stories about some of my foreign travels and it was only my cautiousness that made it possible for me to still be doing what I am doing today. I was truly blessed with parents who taught me that cautiousness.
And let me say this about Ray. If anyone was a cabaret singer it was Ray with all his gumbo singing. A performer has to bring who they are and all their influences to the table in cabaret and Ray did that. I hope I do and still working on it.
One of my favorite quotes from Ray when I look at the world and what is going on: “I am not blind; I just can’t see.” There is a difference. Yes Lord.
Tell me about the show you'll be doing at the Cabaret Festival. What's the format, what kinds of stories and songs?
I studied the art of cabaret at a Cabaret Symposium at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre camp in Connecticut many, many years ago. A woman by the name of Ellie Ellsworth is responsible for this journey. I really didn’t know what cabaret was all about. I was given a full scholarship and probably would not have gone if this were not the case. We had many teachers at the symposium such as Margaret Whiting, Julie Wilson and so many more. Also your fellow students judged and wrote down comments about your performance along with the teachers. Tovah Feldshuh was one of the students in my group and we became good friends.
Margaret Whiting and her husband Jack hired me after that symposium to sing in the “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” tours [in Savannah, Georgia], which gave me my first performance at the Kennedy Center. I was Lady Chablis’ alter ego, and sang duets with Julia La Rosa, Claiborne Cary, John Pitzarelli, Margaret and more along with my solo performance of opening the show walking down a beautiful staircase in a flowing gown singing “Midnight Sun” and joining Julia LaRosa singing “Any Place I Hang My Heart is Home.” Are you kidding? Oh and Bill Charlap was the musical conductor. Seeing these performers in action, I got it. When I look back now, I was so blessed to be included in this journey. Because it became a part of who I am today and what I share with an audience and why.
I told Ellie that I considered myself a jazz singer and she said, “that is what is needed in cabaret—someone like you who can bring the cabaret to the jazz or the jazz to the cabaret.” I saw her about a year later after the symposium and I broke down crying telling her that I had been using what I learned at the symposium and I thanked her for the gift of knowledge.
Oh and when I am putting a show together, the questions that I would always ask myself, "now that you have said that, what do you want to say next and why?” The focus for this show is “All About Love” and just about every song has love in it, or is about love. Be it, good love, painful love etc. so that wasn’t too hard. So just take the journey with me. You might see yourself in a song.
You also studied acting, and with Uta Hagen no less? What do audiences need to know about the art of telling stories through song, and through spoken dialogue?
If you have studied acting with Uta Hagen, you are very fortunate. In my opinion she was the best. I had so much fun with her because she got me. She could see me deep. I once had an acting scene with a boy in class where we were suppose to kiss. He was gay and I couldn’t get it out of my mind, this boy does not want to be kissing me. And Uta let me have it because she knew my focus was off but so was his. In other words, Cynthia you have to go there.
When I told her I had to get back to singing and would not be able to continue with that semester of classes…she always welcomed me back. She got me…She was a mentor.
You are from small-town Arkansas. What advice do you have for youngsters trying to break out of those environs and into show business?
Hopefully that they can find a great mentor who can help them with their road map. Learn the true foundation of your art not just the cream on top. You can’t build a house without a strong foundation because the first storm that comes along might knock your house down. Strong foundation. Know your stuff and be well rounded.
If you weren't an entertainer, what would you be doing?
I started teaching some years back, which I thought I would never do. I was approached to teach private students at City College and The New School because of being referred. I thought, “oh I am going to dread this”; but it was quite the opposite. As I got to know each student thru teaching, I learned so much more about myself.
I only teach privately now in my studio in New York City but I don’t search out students, they find me or are referred because I am still using so much energy performing/writing myself. I just arrived back from Bangkok after an almost 24-hour travel trip and I had Japanese students the very next day because they waited for me to return and insisted that they wanted to study with me. Teaching with jet lag is no fun so I won’t do that any more. I will give myself time to recover physically and mentally so I can give my best. I also teach by Skpe because many of my Japanese students want to continue. I had lessons last night while here in Dallas on Skype and was grateful that the Internet in my condo here in Dallas was pretty dang good, even better than New York.
You didn’t ask about the future but looking to get back to presenting my play all over the country, if you know somebody that knows somebody…holla.
Denise Lee's second annual Dallas Cabaret Festival is performed at the Women's Building in Fair Park. The schedule is:
- 7 p.m. Thursday, July 27: Cynthia Scott, "All About Love"
- 7 p.m. Friday, July 28: Simone Gundy, "My Voice," with opening performance from Tarnecia Durham
- 7 p.m. Saturday, July 29: "It's All About the Blues" with blues guitarist Samuel James and vocalists Denise Lee, Kevin Haliburton, Willie Welch, Calvin Scott Roberts and Stephanie Brehm
General admission to the festival and parking is free. Because we are expecting large crowds, reservations are STRONGLY encouraged to guarantee a seat. You can make a reservation on Eventbrite under Dallas Cabaret Festival.