Actress-singer Willis leads off philharmonic summer cabaret series

The Columbus Indiana Philharmonic’s summer Cabaret at the Commons season kicks off July 21 with nationally known actress and singer Rumer Willis, viewed as a strong draw for younger ticket buyers familiar with her “Dancing With the Stars” victory a year ago.

The orchestra that has scored one 400-seat sellout and nearly a second since it began the series in January 2015 will present two other shows — Aug. 25 with “Rent” stars Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp, and Sept. 29 with Broadway veteran and film actor Aaron Lazar.

The series of jazz, show tunes, pop-rock and other styles already has attracted a broad age range with typical attendance in excess of 220 per show, said Margaret Powers, the philharmonic’s executive director.

Cabaret leaders acknowledge that Willis boasts a special star power among those in their 20s.

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“We’re certainly trying to expand our audience, and we certainly think Rumer will help us do that,” Powers said.

The 27-year-old daughter of actors Bruce Willis and Demi Moore adds to the “top-notch entertainment that the Cabaret brings to town,” she said.

Through a talent-sharing arrangement, The Cabaret at The Columbia Club in Indianapolis, which seats a maximum of 130, allows many of its headline acts also to perform in Columbus.

Shannon Forsell, artistic director and CEO of the Columbia Club Cabaret series, who also headlined an April 7 show in Columbus, said she believes the summer lineup at The Commons will build on the series’ past success.

“Part of my theory about the success in Columbus is that it’s a really culturally diverse town,” Forsell said. “It’s definitely not a typical smaller town, with Cummins there and with the universities. I think it’s probably a little more artistically sophisticated than most towns its size, and the folks there are probably a lot more like a metropolitan audience.”

Regarding the selection of acts, Forsell said, “The truth is, actually, I book people that I want to see.”

She also gets feedback from her staff and polls audience members, too.

In Indianapolis, where the Columbia Club is in its seventh season of cabaret concerts, the audience retention rate stands at 95 percent from season to season. And she sees the Columbus audience as a growing one.

“I think it’s pretty amazing, though, that Columbus can have the size audiences it has had so quickly,” she said.

Forsell noted that while many audience members may not be immediately familiar with some Broadway performers’ names in the show lineups, “they often know them by the show they were in.”

The summer season
  • 7:30 p.m. July 21: Rumer Willis, praised for her interpretation of hits by Liza Minnelli, Billie Holiday, Fiona Apple, Amy Winehouse and others.
  • 7:30 p.m. Aug. 25: Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp, the two actors who created the roles of Roger and Mark in “Rent.”
  • 7:30 p.m. Sept. 29: Aaron Lazar, who has has led casts on Broadway in “The Light In The Piazza,” “A Little Night Music,” “Les Miserables,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Mamma Mia!”

Tickets: $20, $35 and $55, available at 812-376-2638 or thecip.org

Extras: Food and drink, including alcohol, available at the concerts.

For information: thecip.org

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.