Indeed, the most identifiable figure to ever brush elbows with that hairy old ape — painted as big as life on a mural overlooking the casually cozy yet swanky nightclub—may be about the only show-biz vet who hasn’t crashed Caruso’s weekly cabaret soiree. Since last Christmas, the no cover meet-and-mingle on Monday nights has emerged as a hot spot where Broadway and Hollywood tip, twirl and hit the mic with a tune or two — accompaniment provided by a terrific duo that Caruso calls his “symphony orchestra” (David Raleigh on baby grand, Steve Doyle on bass).
“For years,” Caruso says, “I’d been looking for the perfect place to do something like this; just to schmooze, laugh, drink and have all these incredibly talented people that I know get up and do what they do — entertain!” And do what they do, indeed. From Billy Zane to Lillias White, Billy Porter to Linda Lavin, the King Kong Room has been privy to some pretty memorable moments.
For instance, Jason Alexander. “He sat down at the piano,” recounts Caruso of the star of “Seinfeld,” “and accompanied himself on ‘Corner of the Sky.’ It was adorable.” However, what really seemed to make the night so memorable for the Tony Award-winning Alexander was a chance meeting with one of his favorite composers, John Bucchino. “It was a great moment,” Caruso recalls. “Jason was absolutely thrilled.”
Celebrities certainly keep Caruso’s happenings hopping, but so do such special events as birthdays. Both Dance of the Vampire’s Max Von Essen and Thoroughly Modern Millie’s Christopher Sieber blew out their candles in the King Kong Room this year, while Amanda Green celebrated the release of her CD, “Put a Little Love in Your Mouth,” there this spring. The latter, Caruso notes, drew an especially eclectic crowd. “Knowing that Lauren Bacall and Lypsinka are in the same room,” Caruso quips, “that’s a good party.”
And though the proceedings, which begin at 10 PM at 240 West 47th Street, usually draw a large portion of its patrons from the post performance Broadway companies, “it’s not all show trash,” Caruso laughs. “We’re starting to get visitors from across the country. Like this college teacher from Illinois,” Caruso says. “She brought her whole acting class. Now, there were all these Broadway types there, but what the kids were most impressed with,” he remembers, “was Douglas Wilson!” Seeing the star of TV’s “Trading Spaces” do his cheeky parody of Sinatra’s “My Way” really gave the students something to call home about. In fact, Caruso says, one of them did. “This kid got on his cell phone and asked Douglas to say hello to his mother! Then he says to me, ‘We saw Phantom, but we had more fun here.’” Actor-writer David Drake is the author of the monthly “Cabaret Beat” column, which runs in the subscription issue of Playbill Magazine.