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Hunger Cabaret Returns To Thetford

  • Barry Wenig, of Lebanon, middle, pauses while rehearsing Thursday, March 13, 2014 with Rick Granger, of Hanover, right, and Amy Fortier, of Enfield, left, for the Parish Players'  benefit cabaret for the Vermont Food Bank and ACF International. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Barry Wenig, of Lebanon, middle, pauses while rehearsing Thursday, March 13, 2014 with Rick Granger, of Hanover, right, and Amy Fortier, of Enfield, left, for the Parish Players' benefit cabaret for the Vermont Food Bank and ACF International.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Steve LeBlanc of Lebanon accompanies members of the Parish Players while rehearsing his cast of singers for a cabaret performance that will benefit the Vermont Food Bank and ACF International. LeBlanc held the rehearsal at his home Thursday, March 13, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Steve LeBlanc of Lebanon accompanies members of the Parish Players while rehearsing his cast of singers for a cabaret performance that will benefit the Vermont Food Bank and ACF International. LeBlanc held the rehearsal at his home Thursday, March 13, 2014.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Barry Wenig, of Lebanon, middle, pauses while rehearsing Thursday, March 13, 2014 with Rick Granger, of Hanover, right, and Amy Fortier, of Enfield, left, for the Parish Players'  benefit cabaret for the Vermont Food Bank and ACF International. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Steve LeBlanc of Lebanon accompanies members of the Parish Players while rehearsing his cast of singers for a cabaret performance that will benefit the Vermont Food Bank and ACF International. LeBlanc held the rehearsal at his home Thursday, March 13, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Over the past decade, Steve LeBlanc has participated in plenty of cabaret shows around the Upper Valley. Generally, they were small affairs, and the groups putting them on often petered out.

So when putting together his first annual benefit cabaret with the Parish Players last year, LeBlanc wanted to rally the show around a cause important enough to stick.

He chose hunger. Last year’s show attracted just a handful of performers. This year’s, on Friday and Saturday at the Eclipse Grange in Thetford, boasts as many as 30.

“Hunger’s been around forever,” LeBlanc said. “It’s an ongoing problem, and it’s something that’s easy to forget about, to not think about. We need regular reminders that it’s a serious issue.”

And so the 2nd Annual Hunger Benefit Cabaret, like its predecessor, will aim to educate and remind. Half of the nights’ profits will go to the Vermont Food Bank, and the other half will be donated to Action Against Hunger. A representative from the Thetford Food Shelf will break up the action with a talk about how to combat hunger. Proceeds from a table of snacks, all made by cast members, will also go to the aforementioned organizations.

Still, despite all that, LeBlanc said that even though the problem of hunger is a sort of rallying cry for the show, the show doesn’t just exist to serve the issue.

“It’s not a very heavy-handed performance,” LeBlanc said.

Which means there are no songs or skits directly about hunger. The show itself, LeBlanc said, is meant to be a fun night out.

There will be the expected ensemble song-and-dance numbers, he said, but the show will also branch out in ways it didn’t last year. There will be about a half-dozen comedy sketches, compared to just one last year. And individual performances by this year’s stable of local artists will largely be songs chosen by those artists.

Barry Wenig, a cast member who participated in last year’s show, said LeBlanc was receptive to whatever the auditioning artist had prepared.

“If you come to him with a song that you’ve always loved, nine times out of 10 you’re just in,” Wenig said.

That means silly songs and serious songs, tunes from the 1920s to Billy Joel tracks. Wenig, of Lebanon, said he’s singing a Tom Lehrer song for the second year in a row.

The shaggy-dog quality of the performance appeals to Wenig.

“I’ve done other cabarets, and they felt a little too polished for me,” he said. “This is a really homey kind of thing. That’s the best word for it.”

The performances will be anchored by pianist Matt Wiencke, a Thetford resident, for the second consecutive year. Besides putting together a show based on about 20 different songs, all of which he’ll be playing, Wiencke said he has some experience with hunger. He’s worked with the food shelves in West Fairlee and Bradford through his church, and just did a story on food stamps as a writer for D artmouth Medicine Magazine.

“It’s something I think about a lot,” Wiencke said.

Same for Wenig, who was also on board with the hunger cabaret idea from the word go.

“Just the whole idea that on a small, local level you can help out people, and it’s something tangible, because these are our neighbors,” Wenig said. “That means something to me.”

LeBlanc said that last year the show pulled in about $1,400, and has set an informal goal of $2,000 for this year. He expects a much higher turnout this time around. “It’s kind of exploded this year,” LeBlanc said.

The 2nd Annual Hunger Benefit Cabaret will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and $10 for students. For more information, email leblancpers@yahoo.com, and to make reservations call 802-785-4344 .

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com.