Monday, September 25, 2023 Sep 25, 2023
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Denise Lee Is a Star of the Real Cabaret

She's one of the best performers in the country. With her clothes on.
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Denise Lee from Dallas cabaret
Billy Surface
What exactly is cabaret? Is there usually a German emcee in drag and scantily clad showgirls? I tell people when they hashtag, hashtag “real Dallas cabaret,” because otherwise you’ll get something you’re not ready for. The tag line on my website is “Dear strip clubs, we’d like our name back. Love, Cabaret.” [laughs] The easiest way to put it is that if a Broadway performer and a lounge singer had a child, it would be cabaret.

How did you get started with it? I’ve always sung, but I never thought it would be anything that made a living for me. I remember years ago, when the original Star Search with Ed McMahon would go around to different cities and hold auditions, I went in and auditioned as an actress. People laugh when I tell them that. But at that point in my life, I didn’t think my singing was good enough to get a spot.

Your career as an actress isn’t too shabby. You’ve appeared in everything from Friday Night Lights to Prison Break. What was your favorite role? A couple of years ago, I did an episode of Queen of the South. And it was great because there was no makeup. I got to shoot people. I threw a knife and stabbed a guy. I got to be pretty badass, so that was pretty cool.

Your résumé also lists your special skills as badminton, pool, roller-skating, and Double Dutch. Which of these do you think you could hustle the most money with? [laughs] Look here, if I could Double Dutch anymore, they’d better pay me a lot. I used to love that. That was one of the biggest disappointments as an 11-year-old moving to Dallas from St. Louis. Nobody jumped Double Dutch.

Tell me about the Dallas Cabaret Festival. That happens at the end of August? Yes, the 22nd, 23rd, and 24th. I wanted to do a festival, which would be three days of New York-style cabaret. It’s the fourth season. We were at The Women’s Building in Fair Park for the first two years. Now we’re at the Bath House Cultural Center. We’re solidifying our headliner now.

And it looks like you’ll cap off the festival with the Hero of Hope Award from the Cathedral of Hope at a gala on August 24, right? I am so honored by that. It has a lot to do with my work with my organization, Change the Perception. We bring people together to talk about really important, hard topics that they don’t talk about in public. That’s one of the things I hope to do with my music as well. People come in to hear music; they don’t care who they sit next to. They don’t care what color the person is or whether they speak the same language.

Do you think supper clubs will make a comeback? I would love that more than anything. I started to put it out on social media to say, “Hey, anybody want to invest in a supper club? I’ll run it.” A lot of places are starting to use the name again, but they’re not necessarily true, in my opinion, to the art form. It’s not just about doing a set of music and calling it cabaret. It’s about the intimacy and the storytelling. It’s as if people came into your living room and you were entertaining them.

OK, final question. I have to ask: is life a cabaret? [laughs] All day, every day, old chum.

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