Weekends for Algonquin native Meredith Freyre involve corssettes, lace and plenty of makeup.
Freyre stars in the Cabaret Project, a unique traveling performance company now putting on shows regularly at the historic Maxwell Mansion in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
“It’s very vaudeville-esque,” said the 33-year-old Freyre, who works as an advertising executive for Leo Burnett in Chicago by day. “We have really elaborate costumes. ... You go back to the old days when there were beautiful productions, arrangements and music.”
A 1999 graduate of Jacobs High School who appeared in numerous theatrical shows at the Woodstock Opera House, she has performed throughout the Chicago area and in everything from national commercials to The Chicago Symphony Chorus to back-up singing for David Rudder’s Chicago Tour.
The Cabaret Project gives her a chance to keep her creative juices flowing.
“This is just so different, and it’s interactive. You can be involved,” she said of the show. “We’ll make you part of the show, and I don’t think you can get that anywhere else. Plus it’s great music and a great time.”
Created in 2007 by Kyle Hustedt, the Cabaret Project involves a group of 10 performers who do song and dance revues of Broadway, pop and jazz songs. The group is part of a June 14 Great Gatsby Mansion Party and regularly hosts Cabaret Extravaganzas and Musical Murder Mystery Dinner Theaters at Maxwell Mansion, a historic mansion built in 1865 and recently bought by the owners of Baker House in Lake Geneva.
The mansion features an Apothecary Bar and Crystal Ballroom, and a 1920s Speakeasy Lounge has been added to the mansion’s basement.
Guests are invited to have dinner at the Baker House, about a block away from the mansion, before heading to the show.
Hustedt teamed up with the owners of both venues last summer to regularly host shows with his cast, many of whom have been with him since the beginning, including Freyre.
“These are incredibly talented people working day jobs and starting families, and we’re something that is doable,” he said. “You can bring four or five songs to a Cabaret revue and work up a duet and a couple group numbers and you’ve got a show.”
The Musical Murder Myster Dinner Theaters involve a cast of three featuring historical characters from Lake Geneva and the involvement of audience members who play characters and must figure out the murderer.
“We’re all sort of driving the story,” said Hustedt, who started out producing shows on cruise ships.
“I was trying to figure out a way to come back to Chicago and do something reocurring and sustainable,” he said. “I didn’t have any interest in doing large-scale production shows, but wanted to do intimate cabaret lounge shows. ... The vision was to build a nightclub and do the whole thing, and then the recession happened. I decided I would not stop at all in producing these shows.”
His Cabaret Project officially became a nonprofit group a couple of years ago, which has opened up more possibilities for grants to help fund it.
“Part of our mission statement is for artists to be able to earn a living for their art,” Hustedt said. “Most singers can’t do that.”
He knew the first time he heard Freyre sing at an audition that she’d be a part of his project.
“From the second she opened her mouth, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh,’” he said. “We became friends from that very first night. She’s been on board ever since. Now she’s pretty much my right hand.”