Seattle needs a fantastic piano bar, cabaret, performance venue. Sadly missed are places like Thumpers, an older skewing gay bar and restaurant on the hill, and Sorry Charlie’s, a Queen Anne institution for show goers and performers. Enter John Lehrack, a musical director, choir conductor, and music instructor. Like those of us in the gay community looking for a sing along piano bar, John has had a dream of opening such a place: Dorothy’s.
John loves to talk, so I cornered him for this interview.
Tell everyone a little bit about you.
As of July first I will have been a Washington resident for year. I love the PNW and Seattle in particular. I’m a life-long musician and theater person. I’ve been doing it professionally for nearly 30 years as a teacher, conductor and performer in Honolulu, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Miami. In addition to owning Dorothy’s, I am a Professor of Music at South Puget Sound Community College down in Olympia.
What brought you to Seattle?
I had a couple of long-time friends in the Seattle area and one of them invited me to visit. It was love at first site. Seattle was already in my shortlist because it’s a progressive, gay-friendly, culturally hip, arts-intense beautiful place. After spending only two days here in May of 2015 I knew it was for me. Not one single regret yet and I’m loving it more every day.
You’re currently musical directing the upcoming Spring Awakening production by Basement Theatrics at 12th Avenue Arts in July. This is your second adult cast show in the Seattle community, albeit mostly young adults. What are you enjoying about it most so far?
It’s a great show! I love the energy brought by our incredibly talented cast of actors and staff. They have a passion for this show that I haven’t seen in many shows I’ve done. It’s smart and different.
This is my first time doing Spring Awakening. I’ve done many shows like Oliver and Little Shop and Godspell over and over again. I love them, but it’s nice to do something new to me. I also love that I am getting to build a pre-opening patrons list for Dorothy’s with the cast!
How long have you had the idea for Dorothy’s?
I have wanted to own my own club for nearly 30 years. I started a couple of theater companies in San Francisco and have played at piano bars and many private parties. My favorite style of performing has long been cabaret. I love its freedom and sensuality. I’ve often tried to figure out a way to do it all and think that Dorothy’s is the perfect combination of all my professional loves.I ‘ve been developing the complete concept for about a year.
What’s your inspiration for the name?
Dorothy’s Piano Bar and Cabaret will be an amazingly fun place. It’s an homage to many famous cabaret legends named Dorothy, both those real and imagined, including Dorothy Dandridge, Dorothy Lamour, Dorothy Loudin, Dorothy Collins, Dorothy Gale, Dorothy Zbornak and a whole bunch of Friends of Dorothy. It’s a 3-tiered venue that combines so many great things and will open in phases.
That sounds great. What’s it going to be like?
The first part is Dorothy’s Piano Bar itself. It will have live piano players, but the patrons will be the performers. Much like karaoke, except you get to sing with live accompaniment. Anyone can sing and it doesn’t cost you a dime to get up and do so. Dorothy’s will be a great place to try out a new song, practice that next audition piece, sing-a-long with friends or just relax in a great and comfortable atmosphere while sipping a signature cocktail.
The second phase will be the Ruby Slipper Cabaret, an intimate performance space for local performers and celebrities to put on their own cabaret show. Patrons will get to relax around cocktail tables or on sofas, eat some delicious food, and have a great drink, all the while being entertained by top-notch performers. You can expect everything from drag shows to Broadway stars–a great place to bring a date or a group of friends.
The third phase of Dorothy’s will be a black box theatre with a flexible theatre space that allows us to reconfigure it for every show, from traditional seating to having the audience right in the middle of all of the action. The theatre will feature original and stock productions and will be available for rental by other groups.
That sounds like an ambitious but very much needed place to have in Seattle. When do you see it opening and where?
Dorothy’s will open in Capitol Hill, although the actual venue is not yet set. We are looking at several locations including the old Broadway Grill. It will open in phases. The planned opening for the piano bar is Fall 2016 but much has yet to be done. We have most of the capital in place but are still trying to raise the last bit of money needed to open the venue. How quickly we open is largely dependent on that.
How are you trying to raise money to open Dorothy’s?
We are offering some great perks to donors on our GoFundMe page ranging from t-shirts, to having your image immortalized in a mural on the wall with other famous cabaret stars, along with having a signature cocktail named after you, tickets to shows, free drinks, and even naming rights to the theatre space. We also have limited opportunities available for investors. You can get more information by emailing us. Please also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Our website is dorothyspianobar.com.
I am just unbelievably excited for Dorothy’s to open. We have had so much support already from financial backing to great graphics work, donations of sound equipment and the loan of a Victorian-era grand piano. San Francisco, New York, Chicago and so many other cities have great piano bars. It’s time Seattle did too (although I know we did in the past.) We have one of the most theatrically-rich cities in the country. It’s the perfect place for Dorothy’s and the perfect time. I look forward to putting talented performers, servers, bartenders, and more to work!
I hope your readers are willing to help. Donations in any amount are appreciated and can be done anonymously. They can also be made via PayPal and sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.