The Inn Crowd

Invisible Theatre crams an ambitious lineup into a cabaret series at the Arizona Inn.

Susan Claassen of Invisible Theatre strode into the Arizona Inn's Tucson Room, a ballroom/meeting facility she was preparing to transform into a cabaret. Casting her gaze upon the elegant marble, the three substantial but graceful chandeliers and the huge antique armoire against the west wall, she wisecracked, "We'll have to work on the décor a little."

Claassen's idea of interior decoration is lifting the armoire and building a stage underneath it, erecting a couple of trees of stage lights positioned to avoid the large mirrors that line two walls, and installing a sound system. She'll let the big, white-draped, round tables--10-seaters--filling the rest of the room stay put. They are, after all, essential to the cabaret atmosphere Claassen is creating for Invisible Theatre's "Sizzling Summer Sounds" series.

IT has been doing "Sizzling Summer Sounds" for about 10 years now, mainly at the Doubletree Hotel. This year, the series is vastly expanding its offerings and moving to a different venue, the elegant, old Arizona Inn.

That's just fine with the inn's proprietor, Patty Doar. For one thing, Doar has had the theater itch for years; among her past indiscretions was a stint as stage manager for The Fantasticks during part of its long New York run. For another, she's eager to develop some summer nightlife at the luxury inn established in 1930 by her grandmother, Isabella Greenway, who represented Southern Arizona in Congress from 1933 to 1936.

Doar maintains that the Arizona Inn hasn't really suffered from the economic slump, but she does admit that, despite the presence of an excellent restaurant and sophisticated bar, the joint isn't always jumping on summer nights. This is, after all, Tucson, where the less hardy, heat-stricken souls crawl under their cool bedsheets as early as possible.

"But the locals do take back Tucson in the summer," Doar says, "once they realize there are still nice places to go and interesting things to do even after the winter visitors are gone."

So Doar and Claassen envision "Sizzling Summer Sounds" as part of a three-act evening. Act 1 would be dinner at the Arizona Inn, which is offering a 15-percent discount on pre-show meals and reserved cabaret seating. Act 2 is the one-hour cabaret show in the Tucson Room. Act 3 would be a post-performance drink in the inn's Audubon Bar, where the cabaret artists are likely to schmooze and maybe sing and play a little more. Even with post-show drinks, the early-to-bed crowd can be heading home by 10 p.m. (People planning to imbibe liberally, or who simply want more time to commune with the Arizona Inn, can reserve a room for $99.)

"It's going to have the feel of a cosmopolitan experience, but on Tucson time," Claassen says.

Invisible Theatre's main contribution to the evening is Act 2, the cabaret production with beverage service. Nine different shows will fill the three-week series, with locally based artists bookended by New York cabaret celebrities.

· Jazz/pop singer-songwriter Ann Hampton Callaway, one of whose talents is improvising songs on the spot, will return to Tucson for at least the fourth time. On this occasion, she offers a program called "Bring Back Romance." She's booked for three shows, at 8 p.m. July 1-3.

· "The Best of IT" (8 p.m. July 5; 2 and 8 p.m. July 6) gathers locals Walter Belcher, Betty Craig, Khris Dodge, Liz McMahon and Jack Neubeck for solo and ensemble favorites from past "Sizzling Summer Sounds" series.

· Belcher returns, this time with singer-pianist Lisa Otey, for "Unforgettable," a celebration of the music of Nat King Cole. Performances are at 8 p.m. July 9-10.

· Liz McMahon played the title character in IT's 1997 and 1999 productions of the musical Always ... Patsy Cline, and will resurrect the short-lived country star again for a show called "Crazy About Patsy Cline." She'll be joined by pianist Khris Dodge and Steel Guitar Hall of Famer Hal Rugg at 8 p.m. July 11-12.

· Pianist Jeff Haskell jazzes it up, with an appearance by vocalist Katherine Byrnes, a junior in the UA's jazz studies program, in a single 2 p.m. performance July 13.

· Joe Bourne, whose models include Nat King Cole and Lou Rawls, counts as a local even though his career has been centered elsewhere in the United States and especially in Europe. He'll be featured in an evening of Gershwin, Motown, film themes and lots more from the 1940s to the present; show time is 8 p.m. July 13.

· The unlikely duo of trombonist/pianist (but not simultaneously) Rob Boone and harpist Christine Vivona, who happen to be married to each other, will try a more public form of making beautiful music together in a show called "In the Mood" at 8 p.m. July 15.

· Otey, whose style is basically progressive blues but can shift colors as the material demands, may just be Tucson's most popular individual musician. She'll do a single concert at 8 p.m. July 16 called "By Request." That means if you'd like to hear her sing something particular, let her know now at, and she'll most likely do it for you.

· Song stylist Steve Ross, long a New York cabaret fixture and a man Claassen calls "the quintessential interpreter of Noel Coward and Cole Porter," will stop off after an Australian tour for four appearances: 8 p.m. July 17-18, and 2 and 8 p.m. July 19.