Maluso and Blackson in cabaret performance


Staff report

YOUNGSTOWN

The cabaret duo of Mary Jo Maluso and Rick Blackson will present a cabaret show Friday that will combine Broadway favorites and selected musical gems. Part of Easy Street’s cabaret series, the show will be at Overture restaurant and the adjacent Flad Pavilion, in the DeYor Performing Arts Center, 260 W. Federal St., downtown.

The space will be transformed into an intimate atmosphere that will recall the golden age of cabaret clubs. A wide variety of beer, wine and cocktails will be available, as will a small plate menu prepared by Chef Jeff Chrystal.

Maluso and Blackson will mix trivia, humor and nostalgia into their show. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. Table seating is $25 per person; for reservations, call 330-744-0264 or go to youngstownsymphony.com.

Maluso and Blackson, who have performed nationwide, discussed their long career in this exchange:

Q. When did you first begin performing together?

Blackson: We first met in the summer of 1989 on a song recording project for the city of Youngstown that Mary Jo’s mom, Claire Maluso, was handling. Claire wanted Mary Jo to do the vocals. They needed a pianist/arranger for the project, and they had heard that Easy Street Productions, who were occupying the old Uptown Theater at that time, had a pianist who might be able to help. I ended up arranging the song and producing the song which included backing vocals by Todd Hancock. We didn’t see each other again until Mary Jo came to an Easy Street show in January of ’90. She went out with the cast after the show, and later I dropped her home and we talked for hours. On the drive home that night I knew I was in love. The next evening I wrote a song from her point of view based on our first conversation. That song, “I Can Start All Over,” became an important part of our getting together. Knowing how much it meant to me, and knowing what a true pro Mary Jo is, Todd and [Easy Street co-founder] Maureen Collins invited her to perform that song in one of their shows. She soon became a regular in the Easy Street cast. It wasn’t long until the two of us were planning a duet act together, and after a couple of really fun years with Easy Street, we decided to pursue our career as a duo act.

Maluso: I had done Equity shows at Carousel and concert openers for headliners prior to meeting Rick, and had taken a couple years off from performing. As he shared, we met having a studio project to work on. I was nervous after not singing for a while, and he made the entire experience so fun and effortless that I remember telling my mom that if I ever got back into performing that I would love to work with him. Our words and intentions are powerful things! He remains, to this day, the most gifted musician I have worked with.

Q. Rick, you have written a number of original compositions. Which are you most proud of? Can we look forward to hearing any at the cabaret?

Blackson: The most important one is “I Can Start All Over,” because it played a role in getting MJ and I together in the first place. I’m proudest of “Canine Therapy” because I think it represents the best crafted lyrics that I’ve done, and lyrics are much harder for me than the music. Musically, “When I Sing,” combines melody, harmony, rhythm and carefully constructed piano solos in a very satisfying way. We will be performing both at the DeYor show.

Q. Mary Jo, are there any songs that you will be performing in the concert that are particularly dear to your heart?

Maluso: “When I Sing,” written by Rick, is from my heart and explains my passion for singing. Also, “Roses” from “Gypsy.” We are doing an arrangement written for me by the late Colin Romoff, my vocal coach from New York who worked with Ethel Merman in “Gypsy” and taught her to sing the score. It was one of the finest experiences of my life, and when I had completed the summer of vocal training, he presented me with a musical score from “Gypsy” and an arrangement of roses. Thrilling!

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