Chances are if you look up fabulous or "vivacious" or "fantastic" in Key West's mythical entertainment dictionary, the definition you'll find is "Bobby Nesbitt."
Nesbitt, a Rochester, New York, native, has entertained residents and visitors for 36 years, arriving in Key West and by 1976, playing virtually every local venue from the old Kwest (with barely room for Bobby's keyboard and Larry Harvey's wheelchair) to the Key West High School auditorium.
Key West remains his home, even after several years' absences to play Berlin and Munich in the mid-1980s (he returned to Munich each summer for many years) and the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco on a two-month contract in 1996 that was extended to two years plus another year-long gig in 2001. Nor is he any stranger to performing on luxury cruises.
But it is "Bobby in the Lobby," the cabaret in the lobby of the Tennessee Williams Theatre, in recent years that most specifically defines his local stardom. It was Nesbitt and Frank Wood of Tennessee Williams who came up with the idea for the show during a conversation after Hurricane Wilma. "I just had the idea of doing a series of shows really concentrating on one writer per show," he said. "Everybody knows these songs but when you learn the background, you appreciate them in a different way."
He concentrated on "the lyricists rather than the musicians because words are more accessible than the complexities of musical composition" and each show -- each really an illustrated lecture -- was thoroughly researched.
The idea certainly worked. Wood, Nesbitt and scores of local musicians and vocalists nurtured its success with 18 shows in seven seasons. And if that concept didn't define the Lobby Cabaret, it went a long way to develop the venue into a popular and profitable addition to the Tennessee Williams' main stage.
In those seven seasons, honestly, were there any top Broadway and pop composers yet unpresented? We suspect not, because most of all Nesbitt is an educator. That word didn't pop up during the pre-show and intermission survey but after the show one unabashed fan commented that the series, taken as a whole, comprised a credit-worthy, college-level survey of the American musical theater. We agree.
This finale was a performance to remember -- joyous and delightful and bittersweet, with almost as many discreet tears as cheers, which were pretty much countless. The cheers were well-deserved; both Nesbitt and his guests, Joy Hawkins, Bruce Moore, Carmen Rodriquez and Danny Weathers were at the top of their games, a pretty lofty height. Hawkins performed the best "Adelaide's Lament" we've ever heard.
The final lights have dimmed on "Bobby in the Lobby" but Nesbitt is certainly not retiring. Plans are in the works for a solo show, just Nesbitt backed by longtime colleagues Joe Dallas and Skipper Kripitz, in homage to the New York Carlisle Hotel's legendary Bobby Short.
So watch for "A Night at the Café Carlisle" next season. If you can't wait that long, check out his hit CD, "Big Time."