Spotlight On: The Cabaret's Shannon Forsell

The Cabaret at The Columbia Club's singer-performer-director Shannon Forsell gives us a peek into her cabaret nights and her city of Indianapolis

At The Cabaret at The Columbia Club, Shannon Forsell embodies a twist on the classic "triple threat": she sings! She artistic directs! And she even executive directs! All in the cozy confines of Indy's own intimate performance venue, The Cabaret, which turns 5 this year. She gives us a glimpse into her cabaret nights, and Indianapolis.

How did a nice gal like you get drawn into cabaret?

One of my very first jobs out of college was with American Cabaret Theatre (ACT) here in Indianapolis. I was hired as a leading lady in their repertory company and performed in nearly every show for over two decades.  While their shows were much larger in scale, it was here that I began my love affair with the cabaret art form. Whenever I could, I also went to New York to see cabaret in such great rooms as The Café Carlyle and The Oak Room at the Algonquin. I always thought that Indy needed an intimate cabaret venue. In 2009, when the economy tanked and ACT needed new direction in order to survive, I was asked to come on board to help reinvent ACT. Modeled after these great cabaret rooms, The Cabaret was born. We are celebrating our 5th anniversary this year. 

Give us the perks (and a few of the downsides, so we won’t be too jealous) of your job.

Well, obviously I love cabaret, so the major perk is getting to bring the “best of the best” cabaret performers from around the world right here to Indianapolis. Also, to see them in a room that only seats 130 people. There is something really special about seeing amazing talent up close and personal. Imagine having a Broadway star singing at an intimate dinner part in your living room with a group of friends. That is what it is like at The Cabaret. I also love it that the stars hang out with the audience after the show, signing CDs, talking and sharing stories. It is also great to get to know the performers, have a drink with them after the show, and share stories about life as a musician. There are very few downsides. One is that I work a lot of weekends, so it leaves little time for me to be able to take in all of the other great cultural happenings in Indy. 

Who have been some of your favorite performers at The Cabaret, whether for musical or personal reasons?

My all time favorite is Stephanie J. Block ("Wicked," "Anything Goes," "9 to 5 The Musical"). She was also voted as the performer our audience most wanted to see again. So, she will be back at The Cabaret on March 7 and 8. She is a mesmerizing performer able to really wring the emotion out of a song. Other favorites include German chanteuse, Ute Lemper; France’s Paris Combo; Broadway’s Megan Hilty ("Wicked", NBC’s "SMASH"); Christine Andreas; and Valerie Pettiford ("Fosse," "Chicago"). 

Any secrets or lore about The Columbia Club?

The Columbia Club has a rich history, and many, many presidents and famous people have visited and stayed overnight The Columbia Club over the years. As it relates to music, the great jazz composer Hoagy Carmichael, who wrote such jazz standards as Stardust, The Nearness of You, Skylark, and Georgia On My Mind—to name a few, played regularly at The Columbia Club in the late 1920’s, in the very room that now houses The Cabaret. He was actually fired for playing too much “hot” jazz! The grand piano he played while at The Columbia Club was recently restored and now sits in the Grand Lobby. 

You also regularly perform at The Cabaret: what have you learned and added to your own shows as a result of getting to see so many professionals do their thing?

One of the things that really set a great cabaret performance apart from a great concert performance is audience engagement—what they call in the theater "breaking the fourth wall” between you and the audience. People who come to the cabaret like to feel that they are getting to know the performer—getting a glimpse into the real person, not just their persona. So I’ve learned a lot about how to talk and share with an audience in a way that makes an evening much more intimate. I’ve also learned how to loosen up and not take myself too seriously—have a little fun, as well as how to “live” a song vs. performing a song.

Shannon Forsell on-stage at The Cabaret
Shannon Forsell onstage at The Cabaret

What is on your Indy must list for visiting performers?  

Taking a walk around Monument Circle and all of the monuments in Military Park; taking in our world-class Indianapolis Museum of Art; and perusing the shops, galleries and great local restaurants on Mass Ave or in Fountain Square. We also recommend a visit to Midland Antiques Market to check out and take advantage the great prices on vintage jewelry at much better prices than in New York City!

Preview one show from the upcoming season that you are really excited about.

One of our most unique shows will be on April 11 & 12th with international cabaret sensation, “Meow, Meow” in her show “Feline Intimate.” Audiences can expect nothing less than sequins and satire; witty wicked Weimar; ‘60s French pop; Brel, Brecht and Kitt; mayhem and magnificence.

What’s the best place to see the stars outside of the show while they are in town?   

Our performers are on a pretty tight schedule when they are here, so you are most likely to see them around the Monument Circle area—grabbing a coffee before rehearsal at Starbucks, indulging in chocolate at South Bend Chocolate Company; getting coiffed at Studio 2000 Salon & Spa; or having late-night, after-show food and libations at the Harrsion Grille in The Columbia Club.    

Can you recommend a restaurant where folks can find a healthy on-the-road meal…and one where you’d send them to indulge?

My go to place for a healthy, yet extremely tasty breakfast or lunch with a great atmosphere, is Café Patachou on Washington Street. They make all of their food with fresh ingredients. The Indiana chicken is antibiotic and hormone free, naturally fed and free to roam. They roast their turkey fresh daily and use no “deli” meats with added preservatives, coloring agents or chemicals. The bread is to die for-- made from hand-milled flour, and baked locally.  (Gluten-free bread is also available.)  Greens for the salads are locally sourced (often organic) and salad dressings are made from scratch and gluten free. To indulge, check out the cozy neighborhood Black Market on Mass Ave. which serves comfort food with a modern update, along eccentric beer, wine and cocktail offerings.