When I started doing my own gigs I‘d just sing my favourite songs and make sure I opened and closed with something strong. That was pretty much it. As I got better I added a few short links and the odd joke, but it was far from what you would call a show. It was a set. Good for weddings and just about passable at a working men’s club on a wet Monday night in Hull.
A show - the kind of thing a professional cabaret singer is aiming to create - is a complete piece of theatre in itself. It has a beginning, middle and end with each piece flowing seamlessly into the next. Everything is there for a reason. There is no more or less than is needed to get the desired result. Professional artistes are like painters, focussing intensely on every detail so that when they step back they see the perfect picture.
Most people, including many bookers, agents and plenty more who should know better, still think that we all just sing a bunch of songs and we can add or take them away on a whim. Not so. You wouldn’t take a couple of tunes out Les Miserables to make it shorter (well, I’d be tempted, but that’s another matter). Take anything away from a complete piece of theatre and the jigsaw is incomplete.
It took me years to understand this myself. I used to roll my eyes at more experienced acts when they’d freak out because they had to cut a number from their show. “You’re getting paid the same money for less work,” I’d say, “so stop moaning”. What an annoying little upstart I was.
This is one reason why it’s helpful to have sections in a show - five or ten minute chunks - complete with chat links and a mood of their own. If you do have to make your show shorter (or longer) moving whole sections around can make it easier than messing about with individual songs. If you’re full show is 45 minutes long and you’re asked for 20 minutes, you may find that your opening and closing sections do the trick. Of course, your show will be quite different but at least what you have will make sense.