A bottle of champagne on ice, the baby grand piano, little glowing lamps on tables, and the attention of servers like Angel and Fred are not smoky, Silver Screen daydreams. In fact, you can find them in Wilton Manors.
Torch, opened just a few weeks ago by Ted Goldstein brings a fresh, new form of entertainment to the Fort Lauderdale area. It was his dream to open a cabaret-style club, similar to their New York counterparts. Debi Benson, is the headliner, and chanteuse.
“I wanted to open the club before I met Debi. So, it was kismet when we got acquainted,” Goldstein added. “I had a built-in star.”
Benson has been singing since she was a child in her native New York, although she recalls belting out Garland’s “The Man that Got Away,” at age 7. At 11 she was invited to the renowned Julliard School to further the strength of her singing through operatic training, her mother Phyllis told me.
After Julliard, which Benson describes as a “passage,” as opera does not factor into her performances often, she began singing professionally as a teenager. Then came off-Broadway.
“I attended some random acting and dance classes in New York thinking that the education would serve me well. It just became more practical to just perform. I got a better education in those smoke-filled cafes than any of the classes I took,” Benson admitted.
Whenever people talk about artists there is always the desire to compare them to their celebrity counterparts. While one could easily compare Benson’s voice to Streisand’s range, or the joy in her voice to Ella Fitzgerald, it’s unnecessary. Her voice, performance, and energy are all uniquely hers.
The difference between stage singing and being a chanteuse in an intimate cabaret, is the performer’s ability to be conversational. Not only in terms of the between-set chats with the audience—which, the affable Benson excels at – but being able to hold rapport while performing.
The “torch song” is a perfect example of this ability, as the performer must impart their pain to the audience. In numbers like Sondheim’s “Being Alive,” it is necessary to act whilst singing and still capture the heart of each audience member.
Benson sang a few favorites of mine—purely by accident. “Dancing Cheek to Cheek,” “My Man,” and “All That Jazz,” took me back to Don’t Tell Mama’s or Marie’s Crisis—cabarets I frequented in Manhattan.
“Life is a Cabaret,” popularized by Liza Minnelli in “Cabaret” opened the second act. In the song, you’re implored to “come to the cabaret.” This is the best, and simplest advice about Torch.
While you may not have to put down the “knitting, the book, and the broom”—as the song suggests—I highly recommend breaking up your standard weekend jaunts for show time at Torch, “it’s time for a holiday!”
2155 N. Dixie Highway
Torch offers three shows, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:30, 10:00, and 11:00 PM. Tickets are $20.00 and includes hors d’ourves. Beer, wine, and champagne are featured on the menu. Reservations are highly encouraged.