John O'Neil - Interviews

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The Improper Bostonian, March 7-20, 2007

Seems Like Old Times

by Carmen Nobel

George Ravanis nods towards the burgeoning Saturday night crowd in the lobby of Frank's Steakhouse, a neighborhood restaurant and saloon tucked into the quiet stretch of Mass Ave. near Porter Square.

"You see all those people?" he says. "They're not waiting for dinner." The huddled masses range in age from 21 to 81. And they're here for the cabaret. (On cue, O'Neil saunters into the lounge sporting a full-length fur coat and an upswept mop of blond hair. "He looks like a well-aged child star," says one of the patrons.)

O'Neil has been regaling the Frank's crowd for almost ten years. "Certainly, in the last year, the room has taken off. On Saturday nights, oftentimes you can't get a seat." He says, adding that the open-mike portion of the night has become especially popular. "I think they love the spontaneity that karaoke doesn't have. Each time could be a fresh retelling of a song, in almost any direction."

To that end, so as not to disturb diners with sensitive ears, "We hold off on the open mike until after 10 p.m. – just in case." Ravanis says. But he and O'Neil concur that most of the acts are actually pretty good.

The repertoire at Frank's is broad as piano bars go, but there are a few old standby numbers, which include audience driven dance tunes.

"You have to experience 'Daybreak" by Barry Manilow at Frank's," O'Neil says. "It's a whole room fully choreographed and in sync." 'The 12 days of Christmas' is another winner, he says; there are 12 parts, guaranteeing brief fame for a dozen members of the crowd. People come in here in November and say, "I'm six geese a-laying! I'm six geese-a laying, and I've been practicing all year!" O'Neil says.

That said, newbies shouldn't be daunted by the tight-knit neighborhood crowd at Frank's. "As a newcomer, you'll be invited to the best house party in town." O'Neil says. "One of the reason cabaret is taking off is that the performers are practically screaming from the stage 'Come on in!'"

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