A glimpse of the past

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— With the recent revival of cabaret acts in metropolitan cities across the United States, Routt County resident Jan van Straaten decided it's time for Colorado to get a glimpse of a true 1920s and 1930s cabaret act.

Formerly Jan Hobson, van Straaten has collected her entourage of performers in Chicago and San Francisco to travel to Steamboat to stage a performance, Jan Hobson & Her Bad Review, at the Strings in the Mountains Tent.

"Cabarets per se have all but disappeared," van Straaten said.

Mabel Mercer Foundation, a society founded by cabaret performers in New York, saw cabarets dying and hoped to resurrect them into the heart of big cities.

"I'm not sure people understand what cabaret means. It's a live performance in a small space," van Straaten said, adding the Strings Tent is a little big for the show, but it's the only place fitting for the performance.

Typically, cabarets consist of a room with tables and chairs where the owners provide drinks with a light supper and dessert.

Jan Hobson & Her Bad Review will not provide those amenities in the Strings Tent for Wednesday's performance, but the audience will see a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers duo singing, dancing and badgering each other on stage.

The sophisticated 1920s and '30s humor emulates the Astaire and Rogers tension and romantic chit-chat they experienced in the past.

Van Straaten presents Jan Hobson & Her Bad Review with partner Jimmy White and her trio of instrumentalists professor Sheldon on piano, John Blegen on clarinet and Hank "not the crank" Tausend on percussion.

Although Jan Hobson & Her Bad Review was part of the Strings events during the summer of 1994, van Straaten and her team of cabaret performers have performed together only in Chicago.

Chicago in the 1980s was filled with jazz clubs and bars that were clouded with smoke, creating a dingy atmosphere with no theatrical lighting, a rickety piano and a horrible sound system.

Frustrated with where van Straaten's cabaret could perform, she decided to open the Raccoon Club.

"It was either take (the cabaret) somewhere else like New York or do something in Chicago put it into its own home," van Straaten said.

No electric instruments were allowed in the Raccoon Club. But it housed an elegant 1920s style with 95 seats and a grand piano.

"It wasn't like any place in Chicago," van Straaten said.

But meeting future husband Bill in the 1980s meant a move to the Yampa Valley, and Jan Hobson & Her Bad Review took the back burner for a while.

Now, van Straaten said she's noticed an increasing number of cabaret lovers and wishes she could do more shows locally.

"We probably won't make any money, but that's not why I'm doing it," van Straaten said. "I want to keep it going for myself. I've been doing it for a long time."

Van Straaten first was introduced to the early 20th century lifestyle during college.

"It emerged when I was hanging out with these fellows who were emerged into the '20s and '30s," van Straaten said of her 20-something years.

Van Straaten fell in love with the literary aspects of the time period that led to prevalent music and a passion for the lyrics.

"I just had that sensibility. I tend to have characteristics of people of that time," van Straaten said of her graceful and elegant taste.

Her timid soul gave way to a life she couldn't leave behind after performing on stage. But when she first began in the 1970s, she thought poking fun at herself might push the cabaret in the right direction.

"There was nothing before the revival of '42nd Street' on Broadway, there was nothing to look back at cabaret. If I made fun of myself, then I probably wouldn't crash," van Straaten said.

Jan Hobson & Her Bad Review may have taken the back seat for the past decade but continues to thrive within the souls of people obsessed with the time period that cabarets represent.

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