Typically karaoke conjures up snapshots of terrible wailing sounds, cringe worthy dancing and awkward mishaps in an attempt to keep up with the virtual cue cards.
But this is New York City and I didn’t account for the fact that the residents here are either successful or failed theatre performers (or in finance) and inevitably are not only comfortable with a microphone but annoyingly capable with it to boot! So here I am itching to get on that stage (of course any stage would do) sitting in the famous Stonewall Inn, watching time and again punters taking to the stage, attempting and succeeding at some show tune or highly challenging ballad. Usually it doesn’t take much for me to volunteer my services as ‘destroyer of all songs’ but I tend to find that in previous karaoke experiences I am in good company. Now the nerves are setting in.
But since I am never shy for long, and I feel the stage is urging me to jump aboard, I am soon to extinguish any thoughts of remaining as the sensible swaying wallflower and I keenly jog/run to the compere and offer my ‘skills’. He is more than dubious I can tell. Maybe it is because I announce immediately that I can’t sing but yet still want to fill the room with my amplified warbling. But seeing that now he has no choice and as is custom, once I open my mouth and my nationality is revealed (i.e. not from the US), I am prime target as an object of ridicule.
“Pick a number. 3,4 or 5. And I will choose a song for you”
“Oh no sir. I am without talent in the singing department and it is probably best for all involved if I choose the song so that at least I know the words and can dance a bit to distract you all?”
“Get on that stage NOW.”
And so it began. The intro to an American cult song that I barely know but have heard enough times that I feel I can wing it yet strain my vocal chords enough to thoroughly distress the quietly beer-sipping crowd. Indeed I struggle throughout and feel quite relieved that the amps are pointing away from me so I don’t feel the brunt of my own curse.
“Should she stay for an encore or GET OFF”, he roared as I made my way off the raised platform.
“STAY STAY STAY” they screamed against their better judgement it seems.
“Well,” I announced on the mic, “If I am to sing another track I will have to pick my own. If you don’t mind?”
“Go on then”
“Don’t Rain on my Parade please”.
Oh no, I thought, why did I say that? Oh Beth you silly girl you just picked a BARBARA STREISAND show tune. You couldn’t sing the last one and that was easy enough. Now you want to go ahead and hazard a singalong to one of the greatest voices of all time? And WHERE is your fur hat and orange dress? WHERE is the train platform and WHERE, might I ask, is Mr Arnstein? One definitely needs a studio set to do this one justice. I just can’t get a break.
Michael the host laughs heartily. His tone is somewhat surprised. In truth he is baffled and cannot hide it. How rude. Seemingly (from his tuneful and quite lovely voice) he is one of the failed theatre NYC residents and is quite bemused by my choice of song after already hearing what I can and definitely CANNOT do.
“You went from that track to DON’T RAIN ON MY PARADE? You REALLY went there?”
Yeah OK don’t rub it in. My ambition is clearly unfathomable to YOU. YOU who would obviously nail this number!
Intro starts. My blood is rushing in my veins. My heart is beating so fast that I think it might be visible through my H&M summer day dress ($12.95 for a WHOLE dress in this city? I bought it for the novelty factor). I chose the song for the simple fact that in my panic I can only recall show tunes as for the last hour all I have heard from this talented crowd is a musicals medley. It is also an obvious choice in my naive head as I often click on that Funny Girl clip on Youtube and strut around in my room. March actually, as if on a railway platform. I sing at the top of my lungs and noone criticises me. Noone mocks me, and I am always free to perform the whole piece in its dramatic entirety. To my utter pleasure. Plus the unhighlighted words have appeared on the screen now so there is no turning back. So sit still everyone I also have actions to this!
I march a bit. I gesticulate enthusiastically. I sing horrendously. In fact I feel my voice disappearing as I falter at the bit where she is “beating that drum”. I gave it everything I had. My heart was truly “a drum-a” as I saw the flamboyant members of the crowd (typically all of them) marching, with a variety of improvised props, up and down the bar, wishing so desperately they too were Fannie Brice and Mr Arnstein was just around the corner.
I would love to say I got a standing ovation. But I can’t since that would be a lie. Instead I got a free shot (maybe they didn’t have any chocolate?) and I was eagerly guided offstage and back to my seat. One man did shake my hand though, “Very brave young lady. Incredibly brave.” And that my friends is all the encouragement I needed.
Next stop. Broadway!