Sing us a song, Cabaret man, sing us a song tonight!
For West New York resident Armando Riverol, life really is a cabaret. In his hometown, Riverol is better known as the Board of Education's supervisor of grants, federal programs and public relations. Not many of the town's residents know that the lifelong educator moonlights as a key player in one of New York City's oldest entertainment venues.
"I believe that everything fits into either the right or left hemisphere [of your brain]," said Riverol, who is an educator and an entertainer. Riverol explained that he uses cabaret and theater to satisfy the right side of his brain while teaching satisfies the left. "I tried to do a little of both. Everyone should be able to dabble in everything the world has to offer."
Riverol, a cabaret singer since the 1980s, opened his spring cabaret show at Judy's Chelsea, located on Eighth Avenue between 18th and 19th streets, on May 17, and will perform again on June 2 at 3 p.m. at Judy's Chelsea.
The show, titled "Journeys: Songs of Life's Travels," focuses on the often bumpy road taken toward love and other adventures throughout one's life. The show features songs from Broadway, Disney classics and some contemporary classics such as Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots are Made for Walking."
One man show
At 8:30 p.m., the lights in Judy's Chelsea's back room began to dim, and a curtain that had covered the glass windows separating the room from the restaurant and bar area began to fall.
Riverol, on stage with only David Lahm, his piano player, and Ratzo B. Harris, the bass player, opened his show with "Corner of the Sky," a song written by Stephen Schwartz.
The art of Cabaret first emerged in Paris in the early part of the 20th century and quickly spread throughout Europe and into the United States.
In the 1930s, pre-World War II, cabaret was used as a way to slyly give out political information through satire, song and humor.
This style of cabaret show is depicted in Cabaret, the musical, currently revived on Broadway. The musical is set in pre-World War II Berlin and depicts the cabaret scene typical of the 1930s.
While Riverol did not reveal any secret political information in his new spring show, he did keep the tradition of adding humor to one of life's biggest obstacles, falling in love.
"You are metaphorically naked," said Riverol about performing as a one-man show on stage. "All of your emotions are exposed." During the show, Riverol also performs "Does Anybody Out There (Know How Lonesome I have Been)," a song he wrote himself.
Riverol said that some songs that he has performed have taken on new meaning each time he sings them.
"Sometimes the meaning of words that you have sung over and over again take on a new clarity," said Riverol remembering a show he performed at Judy's Chelsea one week after the tragedy of Sept. 11.
"I was singing 'The Impossible Dream' for the first time with the context of Sept. 11," said Riverol remembering that members of the audience began to cry during the song. "Then it kind of all came together."
However, through the years, Riverol has been able to have fun on stage and describes most of his performances as upbeat.
During the show, Riverol makes light of a person's first love and then having to break up with his rendition of "Leaving on a Jet Plane" followed directly by "Come Back to Me" by Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane.
"I'm having fun so that the audience can have fun," said Riverol. "The years of experience have made me relax a little."
Riverol began his cabaret career at Jan Wallman's on Cornelia Street in New York in the early eighties. Wallman, who still comes to see Riverol perform, has been credited with launching the careers of many entertainers including Barbara Streisand.
"It becomes a bug," said Riverol, who has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Speech and Theater from Montclair State University. "It's a good obsession. I have always been a performer." However, even Roverol's experience can't prepare him for the unexpected events that may effect his performance.
"One time I was on stage thinking that I was all glamorous, and my zipper was open," said Riverol laughing at the experience.
Since then, Riverol has played in New York venues such as Rose's Turn and Don't Tell Mama's as well as The Learning Annex's Just Gotta Sing.
Although the entertainment genre waned in popularity in the late '70s and early '80s, cabaret has given life to many careers, including Bette Midler and Barbara Streisand.
Since the early 1980s, cabaret entertainment has expanded again, beginning in the 1990s and continuing to grow in popularity. Today, a cabaret show can be seen on any night of the week and popular entertainment magazines such as "Time Out New York" have a special section devoted to cabaret. However, most cabaret venues today are located in New York. Only two venues are still active in New Jersey.
"There are still a lot of cabaret performers and venues," said Riverol. "And each performer has their own following."
Although Riverol performs by himself on stage, he did have some help putting together his new spring show.
Frank Stephen Sciallo, an educator in the North Bergen public school system, directed the show.
Sciallo previously directed many off-Broadway and New York City cabaret shows.
Riverol was also asked to perform at President Jimmy Carter's White House and in productions performed at Lincoln Center. In theater, Riverol has played in many productions including the King and I, Godspell and the Fantastiks.
Riverol has also appeared on episodes of One Life to Live and Law and Order. He was also a contestant on the $20,000 Pyramid with Dick Clark, where he won the jackpot.
Teachers are performers too
Before becoming the district supervisor of grants, federal programs and public relations in West New York last year, Riverol taught at both the secondary and college level.
"Teaching is performing also," said Riverol, who taught English as a Second Language in West New York. "You are in front of an audience everyday."
Riverol has a Master of Arts in Urban Education from New Jersey City University and a Ph.D. in Communications from New York University.
Riverol also designed the Program for Academic, Social, Survival and English Skills (PASSES) in West New York. The PASSES program was created to help struggling students.
Riverol has also traveled as far as San Juan and San Francisco to conduct professional lectures and workshops on multilingual and multicultural education, speech, theater and media studies.
Riverol has also published three books, The Action Reporter, Live from Atlantic City: The History of the Miss America Pageant Before, After and in Spite of Television and Crowning Glory.
"You only have one go around in life," said Riverol, who has been successful in many different areas including educator, entertainer and author. "You have to go for it all."
Reservations are recommended for anyone wishing to see Riverol perform at Judy's Chelsea. To make reservations call (212) 929-5410. There is a $15 cover charge for the show and a $10 minimum. q