Wearing winter jackets and stocking caps and looking slightly dazed, the pair climb the front stairs to Club Diversity, pull open the door, expecting a low-key Monday evening and respite from the chilly Columbus weather. They stand wordlessly for a moment, staring at the bedazzled music stand and the singer crooning Sondheim to applause from behind it. Quickly, they make their way to the back porch for a smoke, realizing that for tonight, this piano bar has become the property of Glee—a place where the vocally talented of Columbus find a break from the stresses of life and a community with each other.
Sing Out Louise! (named for a line in the musical Gypsy, in case you didn’t know), Club Diversity’s monthly live musical theater event, hosted by Stewart Bender, started in April 2004, shortly after the bar had moved to its current location in the downtown/German Village area. Bender started the event as a cabaret-style show with music prepared ahead of time, but eventually changed the format to an open mic and saw attendance grow.
“The people that keep coming—they keep bringing new people with them every time,” said Bender, who likes to start the evening with enough scotch to clear the cords, but not enough to forget lyrics. “People always just seem to have fun.”
Devin Judge, a relative newcomer to the Columbus theater scene, is now adding to his enviable list of shows (Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd) with the role of Munkustrap in the Columbus Children’s Theater production of Cats.
“I came here when I was in Sweeney Todd. [Members of the cast] were saying come to Sing Out Louise!,” he said while cradling an Inversion IPA. “I just started to get into the crowd.”
The crowd is indeed welcoming. But if you’re just looking for a place where a cocktail or two might help you temporarily overcome your stage fright or tone deafness, you’re not going to find it here, and the bartenders note that along with Club Diversity’s signature martinis, a fair amount of water is served, to preserve vocal stamina. Singers are serious.
“You get to try things out you may want to put in your audition repertoire, or try things out you’ve always wanted to sing—give it a shot—and see how it lands,” said Denae Sullivan, while taking time out for a drink after crushing “Suddenly Seymour” from Little Shop of Horrors.
Even for those who choose not to get behind the microphone, the evening is full of catching up with former castmates and meeting unfamiliar faces as well.
“You get a chance to network with people that you don’t know, but you hear them, and then when you see their name in shows or see them at auditions it makes a nice contact—that you’ve done something with them here at Sing Out Louise!” explained Amy Debevoise, while preparing to sing from Next to Normal.
“It’s gotten people together that wouldn’t necessarily end up in the same room. I can think of a lot of connections that have been made … and it’s really fascinating. It’s like my own little musical theater petri dish,” she said.
Do these self-acknowledged musical theater nerds see themselves in Glee’s Rachel Berry? Do any of them hashtag #thingsmusicalstaughtme on Twitter?
“I think the idea we’re willing to hang out with anybody and break into song at random is pretty true actually,” mused Courtney Riegler, currently in rehearsals for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with King Avenue Players.
“There’s two types of theater people,” explained Sullivan, who is currently playing in Guys and Dolls at Gallery Players. “There are the introverted theater people and the extroverted theater people. I’m more of the introverted. I do theater as a means of escaping from my real life … and then there’s the extroverted theater people [for whom] the whole world is a stage, and likes to be ‘on’ all the time and everything’s a performance. And both are awesome.”
At Sing Out Louise! you will find those who know the production history of every musical show for the past five decades, who own every original cast album, and who have their Playbills organized alphabetically. Yet behind the stereotypes, as always, are people—people who want to do or be something different from who they are. People who have themselves been inspired by performance. And people with a dedication to music who want to perform it with the greatest amount of integrity possible.
“We love the form. We love the music that’s written for musical theater,” said Bender. “There’s a great expression that can happen in musical theater. We’re passionate about it, and sometimes that passion can look a little crazy to an outsider.”
Despite a bit of crazy, quite a bit of loud, and several intermittent notes that go above the musical staff, Sing Out Louise! remains a fun and communal venue for performers of literally all ages, where even the occasional high-schooler (accompanied by a parent) can join in the entertainment.
“This is not the kind of establishment where you’ll see drunken bar brawls,” Bender said laughing. “Unless someone says something bad about Bernadette Peters, and then it’s on.”
Club Diversity is located at 865 S High St. Sing Out Louise! is held the last Monday of every month. For more, visit clubdiversity.biz.