Nina Gabianelli to perform in Thunder River Theatre Company’s debut Diva Cabaret | PostIndependent.com

Nina Gabianelli to perform in Thunder River Theatre Company’s debut Diva Cabaret

Songs are stories. And when Nina Gabianelli takes the stage at Thunder River Theatre Company Monday, she'll link a series of songs to tell her own story.

"A lot of people in this valley know me as who I am today. But there's a lot of years to back that up," Gabianelli said with a smile.

"Here I Am," a one-night, sold-out show, will introduce viewers to the rest of her story. As a 17-year resident of the Roaring Fork Valley, Gabianelli is a familiar face to many. She served as both hostess and a performer at Aspen's Crystal Palace until its 2008 closing, and has since performed in both professional and community theater throughout the valley. She's also a part of the Consenual Improv troupe, which performs at Thunder River. But as Gabianelli noted, many people know only the story of who she is today: a singer, an actor and vice president of education and programming at Aspen Historical Society.

"Her style up until starting with improv was really much more about, I know what I'm supposed to do. It's scripted. That's very safe and maybe, in some ways, a little less personal," said Thunder River Executive Artistic Director Corey Simpson. "So I think for her, this process of rehearsing and performing with the improv group has also pushed her in some exciting direction where she's becoming more and more comfortable with putting herself out there."

In her final six years as an actor in New York City, Gabianelli spent much of her time on the cabaret stage. It's a perfect venue for storytelling, she said. But when she left the city in the late '90s, the story she'll tell Monday wasn't yet complete.

A significant portion of it is Gabianelli's recovery from alcoholism. She has been sober for 15-and-a-half years.

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"People need to know there's hope," she said.

Part of the challenge in preparing "Here I Am" was selecting the right music to communicate that tale and the others that comprise her life to date. Gabianelli worked on arrangements with David Dyer, a former Crystal Palace colleague, who will accompany her on piano. Dyer will perform afterward, transforming the theater into a piano-bar atmosphere.

Cabaret is a perfect venue for sharing a story, Gabianelli said, because it's more than a performance. The audience isn't being performed to, but rather their emotions should be part of the experience.

"It's different from vaudeville. It's different from a show. It's an intimate sharing of information," she said. Gabianelli has long hoped to create such a show, but it took the right space and a healthy dose of inspiration. The latter came from a cabaret symposium she attended in Mykonos, Greece, in fall 2015. The former? That's from Corey Simpson and Thunder River.

"(Cabaret) requires the right space. It can't be a 400-seat theater, it can't be a 40-seat theater. It needs a grand piano, not a keyboard," she said. The theater will be transformed into a nightclub-like atmosphere, including a bar.

The Monday performance kicks off a new series for the theater, which has filled its calendar with a variety of offerings in recent months. Diva Cabaret will continue with at least two shows this summer. July 24 and Aug. 8 dates are already booked, although the performers are to be determined. Monday nights will allow performers and other industry folks to participate, since it's traditionally a night off.

Gabianelli hopes others will step up to create shows, as well. Seeing others' work is a source of inspiration, and the Roaring Fork Valley offers opportunity to try new things.

"When I started as executive artistic director here, I just felt that there were ways we could expand our offerings for our community beyond the four-production season that people know us for," Simpson said. Thunder River now hosts regular improv comedy shows, of which Gabianelli is part, and will debut a children's show in April.

"It's nice to be a big fish in a small pond," said Gabianelli, who said the level of competition in New York bred self doubt. "There's still challenges. There's still competition. But there's also room for everyone to shine."

IF YOU GO

Diva Cabaret: “Here I Am” by Nina Gabianelli, with David Dyer

Monday, 7:30 p.m.

Thunder River Theatre, 67 Promenade, Carbondale

Sold out, but future dates (performers to be determined) are in the works.

thunderrivertheatre.com, 970-963-8200

Consensual Improv

March 24, 8 p.m.

Thunder River Theatre, 67 Promenade, Carbondale

$10

thunderrivertheatre.com, 970-963-8200

WHAT TO EXPECT

Nina Gabianelli said Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Bonnie Raitt, Angela Lansbury and Audra McDonald are among her favorite performers. “Strong female singers inspire me,” she said. Gabianelli offered a sampling of songs Monday’s guests will hear:

“Listen to My Heart” by David Friedman

“The Worst Pies in London” from “Sweeney Todd”

“I’ve Got Just About Everything” as performed by Tuck & Patti

“The Glow” by Bonnie Raitt

And two songs by famed composer Alan Menken, who is perhaps best known for his Disney soundtracks.

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