Confidential Cabaret arts benefit for GCTC and Ottawa Arts Council is full of laughs and surprises

Cast members are put to the test as they take to the stage together for their first time, without prior group rehearsals

There was plenty of intrigue in the air Wednesday night as theatre lovers arrived to the Great Canadian Theatre Company for an arts benefit show that presented several unknown factors, like who was going to be performing, what were they going to be performing, and would they even be any good?

Confidential Cabaret, a fundraiser for the GCTC and Ottawa Arts Council, saw a cast of Ottawa-based musical theatre dynamos sing for their first time together, without any prior group rehearsals. They'd previously been asked to keep their involvement a secret. That means they only learned who else would be joining them on stage about an hour before curtain time.

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Confidential Cabaret, an arts benefit for the Great Canadian Theatre Company and Ottawa Arts Council, took place at the GCTC on Wednesday, February 12, 2020. Photo by Jennifer Scrivens

“Please feel free to applaud loudly and cheer these actors and singers along,” Nicole Milne, Ottawa Arts Council executive director, encouraged the audience at the start of the show. “They’re all a little bit nervous because they all are going to be trying this out for the first time, out here in front of you. We need your love, we need your show of support.”

As is often the case, magical things happen when you have artists who are talented, creative and trusting of one another. The performers belted out duets, trios and group numbers from well-known musicals such as Fiddler on the Roof, Dear Evan Hansen, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Jersey Boys, among many others. Accompanying them on piano was Wendy Berkelaar, who was both the producer and musical director. She's also on the board of the GCTC. 

Eric Coates, artistic director of the GCTC, had an acting part in the show. Also in the cast was Milne, who's got serious singing chops. She worked at the GCTC as its director of marketing and development, until recently. In June, she took over from the retiring Peter Honeywell as head of the Ottawa Arts Council. The non-profit, membership-based organization is dedicated to encouraging and developing an appreciation for the arts in the Ottawa region. 

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Eric Coates, artistic director of the GCTC, with Nicole Milne, executive director of the Ottawa Arts Council, at the Confidential Cabaret arts benefit that took place at the GCTC on Wednesday, February 12, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips

"The Ottawa Arts Council is going to be working on opening its doors to greater audiences so that we can serve the artists in our community with a lot of authenticity and meaning," Milne told the audience during the show. "We're trying very hard to be an organization that represents all the artists in our community."

The cast included silky smooth singer Stefan Keyes, weekend news anchor for CTV News Ottawa. 

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Confidential Cabaret, an arts benefit for the Great Canadian Theatre Company and Ottawa Arts Council, took place at the GCTC on Wednesday, February 12, 2020. Photo by Jennifer Scrivens
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Confidential Cabaret, an arts benefit for the Great Canadian Theatre Company and Ottawa Arts Council, took place at the GCTC on Wednesday, February 12, 2020. Photo by Jennifer Scrivens
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Eric Coates, artistic director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company, speaking at the Confidential Cabaret arts benefit for the GCTC and Ottawa Arts Council, on Wednesday, February 12, 2020. Photo by Jennifer Scrivens
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Confidential Cabaret, an arts benefit for the Great Canadian Theatre Company and Ottawa Arts Council, took place at the GCTC on Wednesday, February 12, 2020. Photo by Jennifer Scrivens
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Producer Wendy Berkelaar, on the far left, with the cast of Confidential Cabaret, an arts benefit for the Great Canadian Theatre Company and Ottawa Arts Council, that took place at the GCTC on Wednesday, February 12, 2020. Photo by Jennifer Scrivens

Afterward, guests were invited into the lobby for a reception sponsored by Thyme & Again Creative Catering & Take Home Food Shop. 

Spotted were long-time arts patrons Glen McInnes and Barbara McInnes, retired president and CEO of the Ottawa Community Foundation. Also there were Ottawa Arts Council board president Julia Johnston, a realtor with RE/MAX Affiliates Realty, and board vice-president Stefani Truant, artistic administrator with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, and the GCTC's board chair, Sharon Peake, who works for Global Affairs Canada.

Sharon Diamond, who is the development officer for the Ottawa Arts Council, returned to her roots by doubling that night as a stage manager. 

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Arts patrons Glenn McInnes and Barbara McInnes at the Confidential Cabaret arts benefit that took place at the GCTC on Wednesday, February 12, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Ottawa artist Anna Williams with her wife, Sharon Peake, chair of board for the Great Canadian Theatre Company, and Hugh Neilson, managing director of the GCTC, at the Confidential Cabaret arts benefit, held Wednesday, February 12, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Julia Johnston, president of the board for the Ottawa Arts Council, with board vice-president Stefani Truant, and Allison Russell, law partner at Kelly Santini LLP, at the Confidential Cabaret arts benefit, held Wednesday, February 12, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, community volunteer Joseph Cull and his husband, Ian Engelberg were out to support the Confidential Cabaret arts benefit, held Wednesday, February 12, 2020 at the Great Canadian Theatre Company. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Sharon Diamond and Nicole Milne from the Ottawa Arts Council at the Confidential Cabaret arts benefit, held Wednesday, February 12, 2020 at the Great Canadian Theatre Company. Photo by Caroline Phillips

— caroline@obj.ca