In his book Cabaret Secrets, Gary Williams’ promises to reveal to the reader exactly how to “create your own show, travel the world and get paid to do what you love.” The well-travelled performer has used his own story to produce this guide to building a career in the world of cabaret. Williams himself began as a singer on the northern Working Men’s Club circuit before making his London debut. A varied career followed, as a cruise ship singer, appearing in the West End run of Rat Pack and soloist with leading big bands and concert orchestras throughout the world.
The book doesn’t pretend to be a technical manual in terms of developing specific performance skills, though it includes a useful section about voice health and safe vocal warm-up ideas. Instead,Cabaret Secrets aims to offer a range of tips from an experienced professional in the business, to help aspiring performers put their first show together.
Many of the secrets could be thought of as obvious to anyone with some experience as a performer; I’m assuming that most artists are aware of the importance of preparation (memorising song lyrics, rehearsing thoroughly). Williams’ tips about travelling light when touring, in a chapter entitled “The Best Piece of Travel Advice Ever”, would be impossible for most female cabaret performers (and many a male artist too). The author acknowledges this point, but when he describes his own fail-safe stage wardrobe of two black suits and a couple of formal shirts, this is one of many references to the very specific branch of the cabaret world that Williams works in.
Throughout the book, whether analysing the structure of Michael Bublé’s stage show, referencing The Great American Songbook or advising on the best between-song patter for a cruise ship audience, the author’s main expertise clearly comes from the mainstream cabaret cruise ship genre. The vibrant, exciting, controversial and colourful underground cabaret scene does not really feature here. Authors should of course always write about what they know, and Williams’ book certainly covers many aspects of the songbook-based cabaret world that he knows well. If the reader is more alternative than the average crooner of showtunes, many of these Cabaret Secrets will feel irrelevant.
His suggestions about getting the best out of sound and light technicians and respecting your band are helpful, as too many artists forget how important those techies and supporting musicians are. A section breaking down the process of how Williams puts a show together – choosing a theme, selecting songs and creating a good running order – is a very useful reference for all performers, whatever their genre.
The book also includes a glossary of handy showbiz terms and web links for further information or contacts. Williams also quotes from a variety of well-known cabaret performers and promoters from the London and New York scenes. For any performer wanting to hone their craft, develop something new or analyse their current work more deeply, this book would be an interesting read.