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Cabaret vocalist Liam Forde celebrates ‘The Holiday Season’ with a toast to Kay Thompson

It’s Christmastime in the city. During the season, one thinks of silver bells, busy sidewalks filled with shoppers, and the wonderful music. One of the musical gifts that New York brings to the world is its remarkable Cabaret scene — where the worlds of theater and nightclub music collide.

“A lot of Broadway actors would do their Broadway show and then go to their nightclub act after.” says Liam Forde, an award-winning vocalist and actor who has firmly established himself as one of the most delightful and daringly creative Cabaret performers of his generation. His lively and joyous performances and recordings are reminiscent of one of his heroes – vocalist, songwriter, and author of the Eloise book series: Kay Thompson.

Thompson emerged as a radio star in the 1930s with wild and entertaining vocal arrangements that landed her a gig at MGM as the head of the vocal department. One of Kay’s most memorable songs is “The Holiday Season”, best known as the later half of a medley with “Happy Holidays”, recorded by Andy Williams.

Liam toasts Kay Thompson with his own rousing arrangement of “The Holiday Season”, which features pianist Billy Stritch, known for his longtime association with Liza Minelli — Thompson’s goddaughter. It’s a romp that would be fitting for both a packed New York City nightclub, or a Christmas party, as Liam imagined.

“I think what I'm proudest of with this single is that it just sounds so unapologetically warm,” says Forde. “It just has this old fashioned joy that feels so true to me. Old fashioned Christmas party vibes.”

“The Holiday Season” — the single from Cabaret performer and vocalist Liam Forde is out now.

Listen to our conversation, above.

Interview transcript:

Trevor Smith: Hi everyone, my name is Trevor Smith.  I'm here with Liam Forde, singer, songwriter, actor, recipient of the Nightlife Award for Outstanding Male Vocalist, the Julie Wilson Award, and Bistro Award for Performer on the Rise.

And in 2022, he saw the release of his debut album Great to Be Here. And it's great to have him here. Liam, how are you doing?

Liam Forde: It's, dare I say, it's great to be here.

We're so happy to have you here. You have a pretty interesting background as a cabaret performer, and I'd love for you to describe to our listeners the platform, the art form, and the creative spirit of cabaret.

I have always been very inspired by nightclub performers from the era of Cafe Society, when going to nightclubs and seeing cabarets was the thing to do. A lot of Broadway actors would do their Broadway show and then go to their nightclub act after, of course, Barbra Streisand got her start doing that. There's the iconic Patti LuPone performance at Les Mouches, but what really got me into cabaret and that type of nightlife was reading the biography of Kay Thompson. This will be a good segue later, I'm sure. But Kay Thompson was a radio star in the 1930s with Bing Crosby and people like that. She would do these really wacky vocal arrangements. Then she was the head of the vocal department at MGM and doing all those MGM musicals.

But in her own right, she was an incredible singer and performer, dancer. So she invented an act for herself in the 1940s, and it was such a huge success. The whole thing had this very frenetic pace to it. It was a lot of original material, her own original arrangements. She did it with Andy Williams. So Kay Thompson's style of cabaret performance specifically is what really inspired me. And I think my first big cabaret performance, I did a run at The Triad on 72nd street, and I wanted the whole thing to have this really fast paced, wacky, super swinging feel of Kay Thompson's shows.

So you mentioned Andy Williams before and, I would love to talk about your latest single, which is a song that, I'm sure a lot of our listeners immediately associate with him: “The Holiday Season.

The most famous version of “The Holiday Season” is by Andy Williams. I think that's how America was introduced to the song, but it is really a medley with “Happy Holidays” by Irving Berlin.

Kay Thompson wrote “The Holiday Season” in 1945. There's a million versions of “Happy Holidays” with “The Holiday Season”.

Johnny Mathis did a version just of “The Holiday Season”. But there really aren't that many versions of it. The song itself is brimming with Kay Thompson's energy. It's Wacky — it's just kind of strange. ‘So whoop dee doo and dickory dock and don't forget to hang up your sock’, you know, it's never taking itself too seriously. And I wanted to create a version that felt like it had my current sensibilities — Kay’s playful, frenetic vibes.

I think what I'm proudest of with this single is that it just sounds so unapologetically warm. It just has this old fashioned joy that feels so true to me. Old fashioned Christmas party vibes.

I think Christmastime is about all of us embracing the grandma vibes. I'm always embracing my grandma vibes. I love to cook. I love making really stodgy food all year round. But so much of Christmas is about pure nostalgia. But I think there is something about nostalgia that is comforting. And who doesn't want comfort? Especially when it gets to be colder outside it's really difficult times for so many people right now.

So, Christmastime is, to me, is about getting together with people you love, your family, your chosen family, feeling relaxed, taking off some time from work if you're able to do it. For me, certainly eating really nice things. Sometimes, at parties, of course, I'm friends with a lot of artists and singers, so often things, after a couple glasses of wine or whatever, things devolve into a sing along.

So I fully embrace the cozy grandma vibes year round, but especially at Christmas time.

Liam Forde's new single, “The Holiday Season”, is out now. Liam, thank you so much for joining us today, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.

Hoop dee doo, thanks Trevor.


This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Trevor has been listening to WBGO for nearly half of his life. The station has remained near and dear from the first time he tuned in via a portable radio on a bus from his home city of Hartford to New York.