Donald Smith, Cabaret Impresario, Dies at 79

By Robert Simonson
March 13, 2012

Donald Smith, a major figure in the cabaret world who produced the engagements for the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room for the decade beginning in 1982, died the morning of March 13, according to the Wall Street Journal. He was 79.



The news of Mr. Smith's passing comes just weeks after the corporation that is renovating the Algonquin announced it would not be reopening the Oak Room, a famed cabaret nook since it reopened three decades ago. Mr. Smith was instrumental in bringing cabaret back to the space, which had been dormant for years.

Mr. Smith was dedicated almost exclusively to the  world of cabaret. He founded the Mabel Mercer Foundation in 1985, and created the annual New York Cabaret Convention, as well as similar conventions in London, Washington D.C., Chicago and San Francisco. He was also the artistic director of the "Cabaret Comes to Carnegie" series at Weill Recital Hall, the executive producer of the popular "Cabaret at The Russian Tea Room" series, and the talent booker for London's Pizza On the Park.

Among the cabaret artists he worked with were Mercer, a life-long friend, Andrea Marcovicci, Michael Feinstein, Steve Ross, Julie Wilson, Margaret Whiting, KT Sullivan, Craig Rubano, Jeff Harnar, and Sylvia Syms.

About the term "cabaret," he told the Wall Street Journal in 2010, "Cabaret could be anything—even ice skaters, jugglers, or swiss bell ringers, or anybody who uses lyrics to tell a story. And that story has an effect on the audience. I guess the nearest synonym for 'cabaret' would be 'intimacy.'"

A productive man, he once told the New York Times that, when he was kept waiting by a friend, he used the extra time sorting out his pockets. "I always have 10 or 15 notes scribbled on bits of paper," he said. "I use the time to transcribe them onto 3-by-5 cards or a small note pad, to give them some recognizable order, the way they should have been done in the first place."