Broadway performer Jim Caruso had no idea what was in store when he threw a random Christmas party at a New York City nightclub 15 years ago.
“Everyone on the Broadway and cabaret scenes showed up,” marvels Caruso, who also founded the nationally acclaimed Wise Guys Trio and has performed at Carnegie Hall. “We sang around the piano and entertained each other until the wee hours.”
The event was such a smash, the club owner asked if Caruso could organize the same kind of party every Monday night, when most Broadway productions are dark and performers would be free to attend.
Caruso agreed – and has been hosting a weekly open mic night for the best and brightest of the entertainment world ever since.
“It turned into a whole new career for me,” he says. “It seems that New York City needed a safe place for the wildly talented people to show off, to rub elbows and to sing for each other.”
That defines the overall theme of Caruso’s impromptu Cast Party at the legendary Birdland Jazz Club.
Co-hosted at the piano by Billy Stritch, a Grammy-winning musical director and Caruso’s longtime friend, the weekly event has become an entrenched part of New York City culture.
Any and all artists are welcome to simply show up and perform whatever moves them. Many renowned entertainers have taken the stage, including Liza Minnelli, Hugh Jackman and Natalie Cole, as well as up-and-coming talents looking to cut their teeth at the hottest show in town.
“I have great memories of kids like Ariana Grande and Charlie Puth singing for us, and then becoming superstars,” Caruso says.
The Cast Party remain fresh and fun because it’s fully unscripted, he adds, with no two nights the same.
“We never know who will come through the doors, what they’ll sing, or what they’ll say,” he says.
While he gives no promises on which artists will appear on stage, past Cast Party shows at The Smith Center have attracted the likes of Donny Osmond, Frankie Moreno, Susan Anton, plus a wide breadth of performers from hit shows on the Strip.
“Our audience is lucky to meet and be entertained by such a wild cross-section of show-biz,” Caruso says. “I never know who is joining us in Las Vegas, but trust me, this city has never let us down.”
Taking the Show on the Road
With the Cast Party delighting so many audiences in New York City, Caruso eventually realized the concept could be just as fun in other cities.
In recent years, he has taken his impromptu Cast Party to cities across the country and around the world, including Los Angeles, London, San Francisco and Las Vegas.
He easily finds talented artists at each location, he says, often through simple word-of-mouth and social media outreach.
“We have met and heard some shockingly brilliant singers,” Caruso says.
Many artists are eager to take the spotlight at the Cast Party because of Stritch as co-host, he adds.
Accompanying each performer on piano, Stritch has played in leading venues worldwide and collaborated with greats such as Liza Minnelli and Reba McEntire.
“(Stritch) has the uncanny ability to accompany the best singers in the world, and take them to a whole new level,” Caruso says. “On the flip side, he can elevate an up-and-comer by supporting them musically, highlighting their assets.”
Open Mic for Top Vegas Talent
Las Vegas offers some of the most “talented, smart and stylish” performers Caruso has seen on stage, he says.
“They understand what it is to entertain,” he explains. “The singers dance. The dancers sing. And they love to commune with each other, which is why Cast Party has been successful there.”
Previous Cast Party events at The Smith Center have showcased dazzling performances by headliners, showgirls, magicians, vocal groups and impersonators, he adds.
Caruso loves providing this opportunity for Vegas entertainers to let loose, he says – and for Vegas audiences to come along for the ride.
“It’s Vegas, baby,” he says. “Our nights at The Smith Center have been some of my all-time favorites.”
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