I walked thru the front door and was instantly transported into a scene fresh out of 'The Sopranos.' But, in reality, it was a Wednesday night at The Cutting Room in New York City, and I was here to see singer-songwriter Karen King. The dramatically decorated venue, with red draping and chandeliers, was packed. Waiters and waitresses flew by with trays of wine, cheesecake and pasta. Customers and eager fans overflowed, trying to get to their seats before the show started.
After being presented by Dan Grimaldi and Vincent Pastore (who I met and even took a photo with), King stepped out onstage, full of energy and charisma, and immediately captured the attention of the audience. The feeling of Italian community was immediately solidified, with everyone smiling at one another, followed by even warmer laughter. Although King's only half Italian, she tells me that "the Italian took over. We are loud, and have outgoing personalities."
While King is first and foremost a performer, she also is the owner of Cha Cha's Cafe in Little Italy, which she co-owned with her husband John Cha Cha Ciarcia (the "unofficial mayor" of Little Italy) until his passing last year, and is co-owner of Alleva Dairy with Tony Danza (who was in the audience!).
King's husband went to every single one of her shows, and his memory lives on through King. Even I, a stranger, could feel that. "The first time I ever met Cha Cha, it was electric," King shared with the audience as the beginning chords of the Neil Diamond classic, If You Go Away, began playing behind King. The relationship of Cha Cha and King was a fast, storybook romance. She was immediately drawn to him when she met him and said they were "two sides of the same coin, attached at the hip." She knew she wanted to marry him after three days of meeting him, and recognized him from a dream she had one year before. She says that Cha Cha was so beloved, and so kind and generous to everyone.
King continued belting out the Neil Diamond classic in tribute to her late husband, holding back tears and delivering a beautiful performance. She then switched gears with her next song, Payback is a Bitch, which was written by King to compliment a screenplay Cha Cha wrote. She described the song as "The Sopranos meet Jason from Friday the 13th," and garnered excited chatter from the crowd. The whole crowd sang along in loving support of the performer on stage. Everyone was family here.
But King's passion just doesn't stop at a microphone and piano. It's more like that is where it begins. King was honored as Woman of the Year by Boys and Girls Town of Italy and continues to dedicate herself to charity. In fact, Tony Sirico handed her a check at the end of the night, made out to the Boys and Girls Town of Italy, for one thousand dollars. Needless to say, her performance wasn't just igniting the crowd; it was bringing attention and support to an important charity
I sipped on my Chianti and watched in awe as everyone, young and old, stood up after her last song for a much deserved standing ovation. I've never seen a sold-out show with so much love and support. It made me want to be a part of it all and I'm glad that I could moonlight as a fellow Italian, if just for one night out.
Article Co-Written by Erika Finn & Emily Harris