SOME GUYS HAVE ALL THE LUCK!
David Meulemans Celebrates “Lucky To Be Me” at NYC’s Metropolitan Room!
Born and raised in the Midwest (in Appleton, Wisconsin, specifically), David Meulemans learned early in life that he had talent. From when he was a child, people realized that he could sing. It wasn’t too long afterward that David identified himself as a performer– and after that, he knew that there was only one pathway in life which he could follow. Meulemans tells me, “If you are a singer, then you have to sing– just like if you’re a bird, you have to fly! There’s no choice. It’s about being who you are.” Now living in Florida, Meulemans performs all over the country. He has just completed a new CD named “Lucky to Be Me”, which “celebrates the love of The American Songbook”. “Lucky to Be Me” is also the name of Meulemans’ upcoming show at New York City’s iconic cabaret hotspot, The Metropolitan Room. The title of the CD and the show couldn’t be more spot-on: Meulemans tells me about his career in 2016, “It’s a wonderful place for me to be in life right now, where I can say, ‘Well, this is what I want to do, and this is what I am GOING to do!’… and, the fact that people like it is absolutely incredible to me. It’s such a pleasure, and such a joy, that I can take these songs and tie them together in my cabaret show and take people on a journey… and hopefully, have them leave feeling uplifted and hearing my message that THEY can do it too!” He calls his life now “an amazing dream that just keeps getting better and better”, adding, “I couldn’t name a show about my life anything else except ‘Lucky to Be Me'”!
Meulemans is currently in New York City, preparing for “Lucky to Be Me” at the Metropolitan Room on Saturday, March 19th. He took the time to speak with me about life as an artist, his new show, and his relationship with the late “Grand Dame of Cabaret” Julie Wilson:
JR: Hi David. Congratulations on the upcoming show at The Metropolitan Room.
DM: I have been coming to New York City for a few years. I’ve performed at Don’t Tell Mama and some of the other clubs, but I’ve always loved The Metropolitan Room. I actually had this show DESIGNED for the Metropolitan Room. It has just worked out really well!
JR: I can understand that! The Metropolitan Room is one of my favorite places in New York too! So, you’ve performed in many cities around the country. For a artist, what is it about performing in New York that is so special?
DM: I think that New York has always been the pinnacle for entertainers. There’s that song, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere!”… and I sing that song! I’ve always known that my goal is to be successful in New York, and I really do believe that having successes in New York really does set me up to succeed in other places as well. It’s a very highly regarded credential to hold. On any given night in New York, there are about 300 choices of entertainment — or, maybe, more like 3000 choices to make! That competition–“selling” your show– really does make it a challenge, but that’s all part of it. If you are competing in New York for your “stage space” and your audience and all of that, then it’s the best competition to be in!
JR: How true! So, you are a working artist. I know that it can be a challenge to be a successful artist– with all the designing, rehearsing, and planning. It takes a lot of stamina and time to really perfect your craft. What helps you to be the best performer that you can be?
DM: I have a background in the corporate world and in education, and I think that those things require a high degree of organization– and so that really benefits me a lot. I am able to plan things where I allocate a certain amount of time every day to different activities… and that includes my day job! Yes, I have one!
JR: Don’t we all!
DM: But I compartmentalize that, and make it work. I’ll be utterly frank with you: There’s NOTHING like the fear of failure to motivate me to do my very best work. You want to make sure that you are accepted and appreciated by the audiences, and having that goal with it really motivates me to spend as much time and attention to my projects as I can. I probably spend about four or five hours a day on “Lucky to Be Me”. Coming back here to New York, I want to make sure it is all absolutely perfect. I know that it WON’T be perfect; no performance is ever perfect. But I shoot for the highest standard of performance as possible!
JR: It is a challenge to balance the “day job”– which can sometimes be very “black and white”– with being a performer, which requires you to be more creative. It can be a conflict, but we do it because of the love of performing– which in your case, is clearly obvious!
DM: Absolutely! It would be wonderful to one day reach that point where I can one day be a full-time performer, but that’s not always a very practical expectation! I know a lot of the cabaret performers in New York, as well as some of the directors and other creative souls who support us, and so many of them have other outlets. I kind of like having a day job. I work in the healthcare technology industry, and that work allows me to apply my critical, very detailed technical skills. That side of my brain needs to be exercised and challenged as well as the creative side. I need both– for more than just the “economic” factor of it. I really strive for that balance in my life. There’s this whole creative thing, but I also like the more “cut and dried” kind of structural things that technology provides!
JR: I have always had the greatest admiration and respect for all musicians. When you create a CD, that music is here forever. You are creating your own mark on the world that is here to stay– and only you, as the artist, can do it!
DM: That’s a fascinating aspect of the whole business. So many artists have a message that they feel is critical to deliver. I certainly put myself in that category. I think I have something to say that is important for people to hear. It’s at least important for me to formulate that thought– to put it out in naturalistic form, and hope that the people who need to hear it WILL hear it!
JR: And what is that message?!
DM: That message comes from my entire life. I was born and raised in a town that has FOUR HOUSES in the middle of farmland in Wisconsin. When I came out and said, “I’m going to be a singer in New York City when I grow up!”, everyone said, “Yeah! You’re dreaming! That’s not practical!” or “You’re not the kind of person who would do that!” And of course, I was the kind of person who would take those statements and allow that to be the motivation to in fact accomplish that goal! But, I felt that the whole perspective that was shown to me was, “That doesn’t happen to people like us!” (Laughs) My life experiences were very dramatic a a lot of point. (Pauses) I have been through rehab and recovery experiences, and financial disasters, and lots of things like that. But I still have my health and still have my voice, and my message really is that: You too can chase your dreams. You have a right to follow that passion that tugs you along– and as a matter of fact, you CAN succeed. When I walk on the stage at the Metropolitan Room, I am going to think, “Yep! I’m that kid from little town who everyone said was just too big of a dreamer, and here I am doing it.” I want everyone who hears that show to think, “I can do this thing that I’ve always dreamed of doing!” as well. So, that’s the message: You can do it too!
JR: I always find it amusing when people say things like that: “Oh, you’re just a dreamer. That’s just a dream.” I want to say to them, “Is it better NOT to dream and NOT have goals?” Isn’t life made of goals?
DM: And there’s also, “Lower your expectations and you won’t be disappointed!” Well, if I expect nothing and I then get nothing, then I have nothing!” If I expect the moon, the stars, and the sky and then I get less than that, I still have the moon and the stars. So, I say: Dream big, and don’t let anyone tell you that you CAN’T do it!
JR: I’d also add that if anyone tells you to lower your expectations, then you should find someone else to give you advice!
DM: Absolutely! Those people don’t want you to be happy. They just want you to shut up!
JR: (Laughs) True! In your shows, you do a wide variety of shows by a wide variety of artists. Is there a particular artist who you have a special affinity for? For example, someone whose work you always enjoy performing, or who you always put on your set list?
DM: There actually is. I have a very close relationship with a British writer named David Kent. I include one of his songs in every major show that I do. In fact, we’re doing an entire show of strictly David Kent, at Crazy Coq’s in London on July 4th. It’s The Metropolitan Room of London! David is a very up-and-coming British writer. He does a lot of small-scale work: one- or two-person shows. One of his shows played at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He also does a lot of work in panto in London, which I have done in the U.S. In fact, I did a touring panto which toured in South Florida a few years ago, with Davy Jones.
JR: Is that THE Davy Jones?
DM: Yes, it’s “the” Davy Jones of The Monkees! David and I both played Dames in these panto productions, which is basically a man in a dress. It’s not drag. We don’t shave anything, we don’t wear makeup… We just wear dresses. It’s all very comical and very silly. Davy and I both played the same “type” of character, which I would normally NEVER otherwise do. I am normally typecast as a leading man! I am this six foot tall, blond,blue-eyed baritone. So, it was really fun to step out into this panto role as a crazy Dame… particular with Davy Jones. That was a riot. But I think the fact that both David Kent and I would both do that is one of the reasons we get along so well. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we’re both very dedicated to the art of entertainment! He writes a lot of music. I have a book that has over 80 songs that he’s done. My task is to whittle that down to a 90 minute show this summer. It’s a challenge, but it’s a wonderful challenge. All of these songs are gems, but it’s a matter of finding which gems I want to share for that performance in July!
JR: I’ve always believed that one of the missions of an artist is to introduce new music to the masses… so if you can help introduce David Kent to a larger audience Stateside, then that’s a great thing! The songs we hear today become the classics of tomorrow.
DM: I believe that his voice as a songwriter is one that deserves to be heard. One of the songs that I have in my show “Lucky to Be Me” which New York audiences will hear over the weekend is a song called “Extraordinary”. It’s about that moment when you meet a child or a baby– maybe the day it was born– and you extend your finger, and the child grabs your finger. There’s that connection there. My context is my daughter. My daughter was born on my birthday. I will NEVER forget reaching out to touch her, and how connected I felt when she grabbed my finger and held on. He sees the beauty in that moment and finds a way to put it into words and music that absolutely astonishes me. This song “Extraordinary” was the first song I selected for this show, because I wanted people to remember that moment in their life where they extended their index finger out to that little one and made that connection. There’s magic there. He captures it and in words and music in a way that I absolutely couldn’t. I love to pick up his work and interpret it and share that with others.
JR: Your daughter was born on your birthday?
DM: Yes. My 23rd birthday, on October 23rd. She was born on that very day, the “golden birthday”. We were both born on Sundays in the evening. I was born at 6:08 PM and she was born at 8:06 PM. Our weights and length measurements were also numerically reciprocal like that. So, it was a real numerological event. I think it’s a one in a billion chance that your child would be born on your golden birthday.
JR: Oh yes!
DM: That’s one of my treasures in my life. That’s why we chose the title of my show: “Lucky To Be Me”. I just think that that was the biggest gift from the universe, that my daughter and I have a very unique connection. It makes me a very lucky man. I could list many items that would make me an “unlucky” man as well… but I choose to put them behind me and focus on what makes me lucky. Again, to be able to walk onto the stage at The Metropolitan Room and sing those songs is a tremendous blessing in my life. If I can share those moments with the audience, then that is a gift for which I will never be able to say “Thank you!” enough for having.
JR: That’s pretty amazing. Nobody would believe that if it happened in a play or in a movie!
DM: Probably not! But you know, someone has to have that life, and it may as well be me! (Laughs)
JR: Well, you’ve worked hard for it! So, tell me about your special relationship with Julie Wilson. I am proud to say that I met her a few times myself. What a great lady!
DM: I met Julie at Yale University in 2011. I had auditioned for and had been accepted into the International Cabaret Conference. It was really kind of a training camp for aspiring cabaret performers. Julie was an adviser there, and I spent a great deal of time with her– just walking her to lunch, or taking her to the next class or whatever it was. We just connected very quickly. Julie always told me how lucky that she was, that she got to do what she was able to do. She said to me, “You want to sing? Then sing!” She really supported me. She introduced me on stage when I made my debut in New York City five years ago. She came to my wedding, and celebrated and danced with us. I saw her at Lincoln Center on her 90th birthday. Anyone who has their 90th birthday at Lincoln Center… That says so much! She invited me into her “box” and introduced me to her family as her “adopted son”! She told Holt, her biological son, “This is your new brother!” I was just so touched by her grace and her generosity. Here is a luminary talent who was taking me under her wing and welcoming me in! I was just shocked. I’m really pretty humble. I was like, “Me? Really?” I’m still in the process of digesting all of that. It really hasn’t been that many years ago. The cabaret community has been so welcoming and warm to me. I could not be any more grateful and appreciative for what life is bringing my way through this wonderful art form. It just makes me happy and excited and motivated… and it just truly humbles me to be allowed to participate in this community, in this amazing city, after 50 years of wondering, “Would this ever happen?” I like to believe that anything is possible, and that I don’t have limits! I also like to believe that I am as deserving of these opportunities as anyone else. It keeps me moving on. I can’t wait to see what happens next!
JR: Indeed! So, speaking about The Metropolitan Room: Without giving too much away, what surprises can we expect from you at your show this weekend?
DM: Well… I think that the range of music will be a surprise. I’m delighted about my CD… but if I tell you too much, then it won’t be a surprise anymore either! (Laughs) Hmmm… What can I put out there that would be a little enticing? (Pauses) I’ll just say that there will be what you might call a “pink moment” which I hope will touch people’s hearts very deeply! And I’ll say nothing more about that!
JR: A “pink moment”? Well, now you have my mind going a mile a minute!
DM: Well then, you’ll HAVE to check it out yourself!
JR: Sounds great! Thanks for speaking with me, David!
Richard Skipper Celebrates presents David Meulemans in “Lucky To Be Me” is at The Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street, New York City, on Saturday, March 19th, at 7:30PM. Call (212)206-0440 or visit www. MetropolitanRoom.com for tickets and more information!