There's a musical gay duo with a show in town that's celebrating over 1200 performances this year at Davenport's Piano Bar. The After Dark Award-winning Nitz/Howe Experience turns 20 in 2019 and is the longest running musical cabaret show in the country.
Originally from Elgin, singer Daryl Nitz moved to Chicago at age 21. He currently teaches fourth grade in Glenview. He features over 30 celebrity vocal impressions in his act that include Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday and Neil Diamond. His one-man show Jazz Legends Live was named "One of the Ten Best of the Year" by Cabaret Scenes. He's performed at the Royal George, Steppenwolf Theater and The Mercury Theater.
George Howe is a singer, actor and pianist. He's composed the score for The Emperor's Groovy New Clothes, Somebody Loves You and Mr. Hatch. He's written songs for The Jingle Elf Parade and the Miss Teen Pageant.
Windy City Times: How long have been at Davenports overall?
Daryl Nitz: For 20 years. I have been singing in Chicago for 30 years though.
WCT: How did you meet Howe?
DN: There was a man named Bill Davenport that owned Davenport's. He put us together. George came from children's theater and has written several shows for Lifeline Theatre. He was doing a couple of nights a week and I worked with various people. When we met it was like two peas in a pod.
The first time I did something with him it was for an anniversary party. I wanted to do "Ring Them Bells" from Liza with a Z and he knew it. It was perfect.
The thing I like about him is he's funny. Our humor is different, but it comes out in this show.
WCT: Walk me through The Nitz/Howe Experience.
DN: We usually start with P!nk's "Get the Party Started," but for this anniversary show we are starting with "Let's Have a Party Tonight."
We do an act where we get to know the audience, whether it's a birthday or an anniversary. We have songs for that. I do some teasing with the audience, but it's always in good fun. We have props such as feather boas and sailor hats. We create a show around the people that show up.
We might do some of the same songs, but a different order. We are known for a Broadway medley where we get create it on the spot. George is good at putting songs together in a seamless way.
He plays for the staff, too, because the staff sings. There's a guy named Dan Michel, who has been with us for 15 years. We do a medley with Fiddler on the Roof. He plays the fiddle and gets up on the bar. I sing, "Fiddler on the bar" and the audience goes crazy!
WCT: Sounds like you have built a big following.
DN: Yes. What I really love is young people will bring their parents or parents will bring their kids. It transcends ages.
WCT: You also do impressions of people?
DN: I do multiple impressions during a song. The one we do the most is "I Will Survive" with different voices. We have a ventriloquist doll of Carol Channing that we bought from J.C. Penney so we will put her on any song!
WCT: You do Edith Bunker's voice also?
DN: Oh, sure [in the voice]. Sometimes we will do the All in the Family theme song or once I did Edith sings Piaf.
For this anniversary we will do a retrospective of our career with people that have stopped in. For example, Bea Arthur came to our show when she was doing a show at the Park West. Austin Pendleton from Fiddler on the Roof got up and sang once. He was brilliant. Lillias White, who made a name for herself in the Effie role of Dreamgirls, was there but wouldn't sing a song from Dreamgirls until I started singing, "I'm telling you…" then she ripped that mic out of my hand and did the whole number!
WCT: Have you two ever missed performing on a Saturday in 20 years?
DN: Yes. George plays at The Front Porch in Ogunquit, Maine in the summers. This is his fourth summer off. When my father passed I took the summer off. Now that we have hit 20 years, I might take the summers off, too.
We did Fridays also for about seven years, but now just do Saturdays.
WCT: You perform in the front room of Davenport's?
DN: Yes. It's a three dollar cover. We call it the cheapest show in town. For the anniversary show we are charging $10. The show is sold out, but we will still be there every Saturday through at least March. We run typically Sept. through June.
WCT: Both of you are openly gay?
DN: Yes. Even as a school teacher, families didn't seem to care. I do find that a lot of families come down and see my show. I tell them it's a show for adults. Sometimes students will go online and will see me with disco ball earrings. I tell the kids that I have a daytime show and a nighttime show!
WCT: Who is your favorite gay icon?
DN: I like the rawness of Judy Garland. People describe my show as flying without a net. I can just show up and do it. I feel she did that too. She told great stories and had a wonderful sense of humor.
WCT: What would you like to do with your show moving forward?
DN: Our show is always evolving. I would like to go back and do some of the numbers that we did, but don't do anymore. George changed the song "Uptown Girl" to "Bucktown Girl" and that was a really popular parody!
Come celebrate 20 years with the duo on Sept. 7 at Davenport's, 1383 North Milwaukee Ave. Call 773-278-1830 or visit DavenportsPianoBar.com for more details on future shows.