The Karen Miller/Rochelle Seldin Homepage

Rochelle Seldin's Last Night at Eighty-Eights


by John Kenrick

One more goodbye, one more illusion gone,
Just cut your losses and begin once more.

- "Sail Away" by Noel Coward

Rochelle Seldin Thank heaven it was Halloween. There was just enough wackiness in the air to keep Rochelle's friends and fans  from crying the night away. Karen Miller and Rochelle Seldin were the longest running team in the cabaret/piano bar world – twenty years, weekend after weekend. When a small army of regulars arrived costumed as the cast of Titanic, authentic right down to their "RMS Titanic" life jackets and "S.S. Carpathia" blankets – let's just say moments like that made the night easier to deal with. Karen herself was costumed as a duck hunter, and Rochelle was in a blue & white South Seas outfit – one earring was a "bob" and the other a "bing," which of course meant she was Dorothy Lamour. (If you have to ask, don't bother.)

The post-Halloween parade crowd made the early part of the evening noisy, but the main part of the room was packed with fans all night long. Rochelle did several solo sets, each of which was met with prolonged cheers and more than a few moist eyes. She was in sensational voice, but it was hard to hear her perform so many longtime favorites for the last time in Eighty-Eights. Early in the evening, the staff interrupted the proceedings to present Karen and Rochelle with massive bouquets, and many soloists spoke or sang tributes throughout the evening. The constant camera flashes and the glow of video equipment added to the sense of occasion. Thanks to some wonderful comic moments, the evening was upbeat and triumphant.

Of course, as always on such occasions, there were moments of unexpected poignancy. Hearing Rochelle shout "Watch your backs!" or "Move!" as she worked her way through the mob brought back almost as many memories as her songs. When I was a newcomer at the original Duplex nearly twenty years ago, I was often offended by this waitress growling imprecations as she shoved her way past me. Pianist Timmy Moore assured me that this was just Rochelle's way, and that "you don't count as a regular until Rochelle has pissed you off at least three times." (Ah Timmy, truer words were never spoken!) In the years that followed, I qualified as a regular in many ways, including that one.

When Karen and Rochelle left the Duplex to open Eighty Eights with Irv Raible, their fans made the place a success from day one. No one will forget the sense of triumph or the excitement months later when the whole lot of us appeared on the then top-rated Donahue show. So many of us had enjoyed thousands of hours in the place for more than a decade. To see a part of our lives end was not easy. But we sang the night away, performing all the numbers Karen & Rochelle's "regulars" are known for. It was the first time "Blow Gabriel Blow" or "On the Twentieth Century" left audiences (and performers) in tears, but what the hell – it was our party and we could cry if we wanted to, no?

By 3:45 AM, the Halloween revelers were gone. A few dozen of the faithful were crowded around the piano when cabaret star Ricky Ritzel started the final set of the night by singing "I'll Be Seeing You." Piano bar veterans still remember this as the legendary Marie Blake's closing tune at the old Five Oaks, which made the choice all the more appropriate and moving. With any pretense of "self-control" abandoned, Karen and Rochelle took over for a series of old favorites, beginning with "Our Time" from Merrily We Roll Along. Memories. Dear me the memories! By the time they got to Noel Coward's "Sail Away," everyone was a trifle moist around the eyes. About 4:15, the singing ended and the hugging started.

Whatever lies ahead for Rochelle and Karen, twenty years is one hell of a run. Karen will try to continue playing on Saturdays at Eighty-Eights, but it could never be quite the same without Rochelle. It was painful to see the Eighty-Eights chapter in their friendship end, but the love that filled the room on Rochelle's final night is nowhere near finished. Something as right as this has a funny way of coming back to life, and these ladies in particular have a deserved reputation for "bouncing back for more."

Thanks Rochelle – from all of us, for everything!

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