Eden Casteel has been a performer pretty much her whole life. “I was a piano player at the age of four,” she said recently, “and I started voice lessons at the age of 12.” She trained to be an opera singer. “If you haven’t noticed, there’s not a lot of demand for opera singers these days.”

So did sing some opera, but she also worked on the music of folks like Linda Ronstadt and Rodgers & Hammerstein. Popular music and musical theater. From there, the leap to cabaret performer just makes sense.

On Saturday, Casteel brings her latest cabaret project – “Kahn Artist: Madeline & Me” – to the Contemporary Theater Company in Wakefield. “I knew nothing about Madeline Kahn until I saw her in a commercial for Michelob Light. I hadn’t seen any of her movies.”

In the 1986 commercial, Kahn talked about “having it all – being wealthy, glamorous, and having an unbelievable singing voice. And then she launched into a high note.” It wasn’t until recently, said Casteel, “that I realized I’ve based a lot of my own performing on what I saw her do in those 30 seconds. Madeline had a fantastic voice and was really funny.”

Casteel was able to develop “Kahn Artist” with the help of Tony Award winner Faith Prince. “In the summer of 2021, I was part of the online St. Louis Cabaret Conference. It was eight weeks of being coached by internationally famous performers. Faith was one of our coaches. We hit it off.”

“When I decided to put together this show, she was the first person I called. She asked me wonderful questions and made me think deeply about parts of my own life that I had practically forgotten.”

The pair wrote the show along with another cabaret performer, Roderick Ferguson, over the course of nine months, all on Zoom. The result is an homage to Kahn. “There are songs that Madeline sang, and songs that illustrate events in her life and in mine.” Casteel spent a lot of time researching Kahn’s life and career and wondered if anyone else would find Kahn as interesting as she did. “Audiences tell me they’re thrilled to hear some of her songs again, and to learn more about her life offstage too. Even younger audiences who had never heard of her told my they felt like they knew and loved her by the end of the show. Madeline Kahn’s life was as dramatic and funny as she was.”

“Kahn Artist” features songs like “I’m Tired” from “Blazing Saddles” and “Sweet Mystery of Life” from “Young Frankenstein.” “I have a little bit of a song she sang with Grover on ‘Sesame Street.’ She also sang some 1950s rhythm-and-blues tunes and had Broadway songs written for her, so you’ll hear those too.”

Casteel says she found a great song called “Not Funny” that gets to the heart of the matter. “Sopranos don’t get the gags and funny business in musicals. The altos do. Madeline, a natural soprano, figured out how to get around this and get laughs plus high notes. Every soprano owes her a debt of gratitude.”

Casteel loves working in the world of cabaret. “It’s not about playing a character. It’s about sharing stories with the audience. Cabaret is great for performers because it’s more portable than doing a stage musical and it’s more tailored to a performer’s individual talents and interests. Cabaret is great for audiences because the shows are shorter and cheaper than full-length musicals, and they focus on intimate human experiences rather than tour-de-force spectacles. And they’re funnier too.”

Eden Casteel brings “Kahn Artist: Madeline & Me” to the Contemporary Theater Company in Wakefield this Saturday at 7PM. For tickets and information, visit www.contemporarytheatercompany.com.

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Frank O'Donnell

Frank O’Donnell has worn many different hats. As an actor, he’s performed in three professional theatrical productions and countless community theater productions. He’s written, produced and directed four holiday-themed shows and once helmed the Notfanuttin’ Players, specializing in audience-participation dinner shows. He’s been performing as a stand-up comedian since 1982 and has been inducted into the RI Comedy Hall of Fame. He’s written comedy for other performers, like Bob Hope, Jay Leno and Joe Piscopo. He’s opened for performers as diverse as the Judds, Michael Bolton, Chicago, David Brenner, Gilbert Gottfried and more. He’s been writing reviews and features about theater in Rhode Island for better than two decades. His work to help save the monarch butterfly has been chronicled on NBC Nightly News and he is president of the Keri Anne O’Donnell Memorial Fund. A native of Providence and long-time resident of North Providence, Frank now calls Jamestown home. He and his wife Karen – who he met when both were students at Classical High School – have four children, and recently became grandparents.