Flushing cabaret singer continues her inspiring journey and prepares for new performance

Photos by Suzanne Monteverdi/QNS

Flushing woman who endured a personal tragedy in the public eye is continuing her artistic journey with a new set of shows this month.

Musician and writer Renee Katz is slated to perform her new show, “Winter Awakenings,” at historic club Don’t Tell Mama in Manhattan on Feb. 2, 9 and 11. After returning to her cabaret career last year with her performance of “Never Been Gone,” a multi-modal glimpse into her life, Katz’s new show explores a woman’s journey through the trials of winter toward spring.

The lifelong Queens resident has endured a remarkable journey of her own. At 17, Katz made national headlines when on June 8, 1979, she was pushed in front of an oncoming E train at the 50th Street station in Midtown. The aspiring flutist, pianist and vocalist survived the random act of violence, but her right hand was severed.

Katz was rushed to Bellevue Hospital Center, where microsurgeons worked for 16 hours to reattach her hand. The attempt was successful, but her blossoming musical career was disrupted.

The singer, occupational therapist and mother called her return to the cabaret stage in 2017 “exciting and emotional.”

“I had my comeback in the same club that I sang my first cabaret show when I was in my 20s and 30s,” Katz told QNS. “It was exciting that it was well received.”

Photo by Maryann LoPinto/Katz performing "Never Been Gone"
Photo by Maryann LoPinto/Katz performing “Never Been Gone”

Her new show, “Winter Awakenings,” contains work from “December Songs”: a song cycle by Maury Yeston inspired by Franz Schubert’s “Winterreise.”

“It’s a journey of 10 continuous songs, one flowing into the next, that talks about reflections and memories that forever stay within us,” Katz said. “It gets hopeful at the end — that as we move on, we can move forward.”

The song cycle is framed by poetry and other selected songs, including “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” by Irving Berlin and “Ribbons Down My Back” from “Hello, Dolly!”

“I always try and do different things,” Katz said. “I don’t sing things that I don’t feel.”

John Cook, the musical director for “Winter Awakenings,” said he was drawn to the show’s unique and literary feel.

“It was different in format than most cabaret shows would be,” Cook said. “And the [“December Songs”] cycle has really only been attempted by a handful of singers, at this point.”

Katz and Cook practicing for "Winter Awakenings"
Katz and Cook practicing for “Winter Awakenings”

For her work in the industry, Katz and two other performers were recently honored by the New York City cabaret community as part of a show called “It’s Just A Number.” The event was organized by award-winning songwriter Bobbie Horowitz.

“I feel really grateful to be back on the New York City cabaret stage,” she said. “It’s a beautiful community; everybody supports one another. [Cabaret] is a beautiful art form where you’re in an intimate setting and you can actually communicate emotions to the audience — and I love that.”

Katz credits her husband, Barry Packer, as one of her greatest motivators.

“We would go to my friends’ cabaret shows, and one day he just said, ‘I’m not going to any more until you do one,'” Katz said. “He’s just been really supportive.”

“Just to see her up there on stage and watch as the whole thing came together … I realized how much work goes into this,” Packer said. “You sit there and you really appreciate it.”

In a long and harrowing journey, Katz said the constant has been her love of music.

“There are different times in your life for different things, but that doesn’t mean you lose your passion for the things you love,” Katz said. “Music is my first love — and that never goes away.”

“Winter Awakenings” will take place on Feb. 2 and 9 at 7 p.m. and on Feb. 11 at 6 p.m.

Don’t Tell Mama is located at 343 West 46th St. and can be reached at 212-757-0788. Those interested in attending one of Katz’s shows should call to make reservations. Payment is taken at the door.

Keep up with Katz’s upcoming performances and artistic career on her website.

More from Around New York