Orlando community members can belt out their favorite show tunes every Friday night at the city’s first drag queen piano bar experience thanks to Central Florida drag queen Erica Roberts and local gay bar SAVOY Orlando.
Roberts started the piano bar night over the summer and pianist Rebekah Piatt joined the team in September.
Piatt has a vast repertoire of Broadway show tunes that guests can choose from. Guests can either walk in and pick from one of the songs or they can submit sheet music by the Wednesday before for Piatt to learn.
Roberts said the piano bar is for people of all experience and skill levels.
“It’s totally non-judgmental,” Roberts says. “Whether you sing in the shower or sing on the stage, everybody can come have a great time.”
Ever since they began performances on July 5, Roberts said crowds have been growing more every week.
“One of the things I love seeing about this group is as it continues to grow even more, they truly have become a family,” Roberts says. “No matter who’s singing, no matter if they are a completely fully trained singer, if they’re someone who just loves a song and wants to get up there, if they’re looking at the words on their cell phone because they’re not sure if they know them — after each and every song, everyone just provides so much love and support and applause and cheers. And that’s such a great bringing-together moment for everybody.”
Roberts has been in the entertainment industry all his life, having studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles. There, he met and befriended Michael Feinstein, a singer and pianist who is known for “bringing the music of the Great American songbook to the world.”
Feinstein was a prominent figure in the piano bar scene. Roberts says it became popular for Broadway singers to visit clubs Feinstein was playing at to sing with him during their free time. Feinstein now has clubs in both L.A. and New York City, where notable performers such as Ben Platt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Patti LuPone and more have sung.
Through his friendship with Feinstein, Roberts became interested in piano bars too.
“When I came to Orlando, I knew that was the one thing that was missing,” Roberts says. “There’s not a lot of opportunities for that and it’s such a great chance for anyone who just loves music to come out and have a great time, so I decided I’d start one up.”
Since opening, “Singin’ at the Savoy” has welcomed not only singers, but piano players, guitar players and even a flutist onto their stage.
The show begins with an opening number from Roberts, then a sing-along to warm up guests’ voices. After that, they begin to take people’s requests, with Piatt at the piano.
Self-proclaimed “music nerd” Piatt first became involved after her mother made “an obscene deal with a six-year-old.”
Piatt’s mother played piano for six years when she was young, so when Piatt was six years old, her mother said that she would have to go through the same thing.
“I think I went through four piano teachers my first year and my mom just about literally hogtied me to the piano bench,” Piatt says. “It was a nightmare scenario, but I stuck with it.”
She truly started to enjoy playing music when she was in college. She majored in music and was in band and chorus.
Now, Piatt teaches music and had just started to do performances as a gigging musician a few months ago, which is how Roberts discovered her.
“Singers are some of the most brave musicians that exist out there because they don’t have anything to protect them from the audience,” Piatt says. “So I think to be able to sit there as a piano player who supports vocalists for a living and watch these people come out of their shells and make mistakes and be able to laugh about it and know that they’re still supported, it’s just been so much fun.”
Roberts’ performing career also began when he was very young.
Despite having “the worst case of stage fright you’ve ever seen in your entire life,” Roberts was cast in a production of “The Music Man.”
On opening night of the show, the theater was completely sold out. As Roberts prepared to go out on stage, one of the girls in the show took his hand and asked “Bobby, are you scared?”
“I was shaking my head ‘yeah,’” Roberts says. “[The girl] said, ‘Okay, this is what you do. This is an old theater tradition. When you go out for just a moment, drop that fourth wall and look at the first person you see in the front row and imagine that they’re sitting there in their underwear and you’ll be just fine.’ and I said ‘okay.’ So I went onstage, looked down at the person in the front row, and it was the minister from our church. So needless to say, I was fine from then on.”
Roberts has stuck with acting for the past 50 years, having done theater productions across the country and worked at Disney World for 12 years. Since retiring from Disney, Roberts has been doing drag performances in clubs all around Orlando.
Roberts and Piatt say that they hope “Singin’ at the Savoy” will only continue to grow and be a safe space for people to perform.
“Music is such therapy in these crazy times that we all are living in,” Roberts says. “It really is a moment that we all get to come together to just have a great time.”
“Singin’ at the Savoy” with Erica Roberts and Rebekah Piatt is every Friday evening from 8-10 p.m. at SAVOY Orlando. For more information, visit SAVOYOrlando.com.