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...and for my next number, I'd like to sing an old favorite of

With the recent revival of the musical 'Cabaret,' young people are

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It's open-mike night at a Hollywood landmark, the Dresden nightclub on Vermont Ave., and show regulars Marty and Elayne are warming up the crowd. One more time through a '60s classic, "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" and finally they are ready to relinquish the stage to the unknowns. "Let's hear it for Patrick Barnett," says Elayne with a flourish on the piano.

As it turns out, Mr. Barnett, whose day gig includes a role as a "Star Trek" Borg, is quite satisfactory. In fact, given half a shot, says club owner Carl Ferraro, he could enjoy a full-time "avocation" as a cabaret performer. This sad financial reality is true for nearly all but the top names in the intimate world of cabaret, where performers pour their hearts out to handfuls of small-club patrons and even hefty cover charges barely meet costs.

But despite the nasty economics, which has forced the recent closing of some premier clubs on both East and West Coasts, this close-contact art form is enjoying a renaissance of sorts.

"Music seems to go in cycles," says Peter Matz, musical director for the Reprise! theater series in Los Angeles. "Now, people are tired of music they can't understand, where the lyrics don't reach them." He points to the rekindled career of Tony Bennett in the early '90s.

The recent revival of the musical play "Cabaret" reflected the renewed interest in story over stars. The show's memorable songs were parceled out to members of the ensemble, and the central character of Sally Bowles was explored with more pathos and depth of character as a whole new generation of theatergoers discovered the world of cabaret onstage. Adds Mr. Matz, "Younger people have discovered all these wonderful songs that really are stories, and they can't get enough of them."

Indeed, the standing-room only audience at the Dresden on a recent Saturday night was heavily twentysomething.

Marty, who has headlined the show for 17 years, says that although he and his wife lean toward jazz singing more than classic cabaret, the whole definition of cabaret-style performance is expanding along with its audience. "Kids like a broader range of styles," he says between songs. "But for sure, they like to have a song that reaches them, that means something to them. That's why they're coming back to this music after all that heavy rock with words you couldn't even hear."

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