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Barbershop and harmony fit well in cabaret at The Shop

Cabaret entertainment arrived last week at The Shop in Cape St. Claire, a beauty shop by day that becomes a cozy coffeehouse and entertainment center by night.

A capacity audience on a recent night not only cheered its opening cabaret performance, but also the efforts of teacher and singer-songwriter Laura Brino, now in her eighth year as hairstylist and her first month as shop owner.

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Soon after taking over as owner of the Main Street Hair Company in January, the 32-year-old Brino began a remodeling project to transform the 800-square-foot space into a combination hair salon and performance venue. This required renovations — such as installing tracking for the black theater curtain that hides along one wall the six remaining work stations, complete with hair styling tools.

Former Standing O Productions artistic director Ron Giddings, 31, who met Brino when they both taught at Bates Middle School, is in charge of The Shop's entertainment.

Giddings also assisted in readying the venue for the Jan. 30 opening, arranging for construction and delivery of about 20 tables to accommodate a 40-person audience, and he was on hand to mop the floor while transitioning from beauty salon to theater for the next night's performance. The crew transforms the venue from theater to a fully functional beauty shop almost instantly.

The opening cabaret show was offered by Bob Brewer, a Glen Burnie resident and retired Northrop Grumman engineer who demonstrated his skill in this unique art. Cabaret requires vocal artistry, acting skill and courage in presenting music without hiding behind a stage character.

Unlike concert performances, cabaret breaks down the fourth wall between performer and audience with the goal of making an emotional connection.

A 2009 participant in the International Cabaret Conference at Yale University, Brewer has created two shows with music arranger Rick Jensen. Brewer presented for The Shop opening his second work, "Cabaret Potpourri," a mix of barbershop, pop, Broadway and country, with a little opera thrown in.

Along with courage, Brewer has vocal chops and versatility to present such a program. He also possesses an easy charm, ingratiating humor and comic moves to emulate pop icons such as Elvis Presley.

His pleasant baritone proved especially suited to "Bring Him Home" from "Les Miserables," which he invested with heart-felt meaning that clearly touched the audience. Another high came with his adoring "So in Love" from Cole Porter's "Kiss Me Kate" sung to Christina, his wife of nearly 50 years, who was seated ringside.

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Rather than using a piano accompanist here, Brewer used a prerecorded program, which sacrificed an element of live quality but enabled him to harmonize by using background that included his voice in multiple tracks. Brewer created barbershop and other choruses, recalling his boyhood singing with family in Muncie, Ind.. Prerecording also allowed Brewer to harmonize a la Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias in "To All the Girls I've Loved Before" for audience fun. Less successful among duets was his effort in Bizet's gorgeous baritone-tenor duet "Au fond du temple saint" from "The Pearl Fishers," which received only polite acknowledgment.

All aspects considered, the cabaret was off to a great start on opening weekend. This excursion will be followed by the opening Singer-Songwriter Showcase at 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 8, featuring Lily and the Pearl, Brino's project, with musician Sean Jackson.

Brino, who's also a Bates Middle School arts teacher, writes both her music and lyrics, with four published albums to her credit.

Information about upcoming shows can be found at meetattheshop.com, where Brino's easy-listening folk-rock can be sampled before ordering seats. Listed are two monthly cabaret performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; one Sunday evening Singer-Songwriter Showcase each month, and First Saturdays Open-Microphone Nights every month.

As the sign on the door at 1380 Cape St. Claire Road says, "walk-ins welcome" — for hair appointments, and for performances.

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