In ‘Misters and Sisters,’ a cabaret show dedicated to Robert B. Parker

Choreographer David Parker (left) and ‘‘muse’’ Jeffrey Kazin star in ‘‘Misters and Sisters’’ at Oberon.
Choreographer David Parker (left) and ‘‘muse’’ Jeffrey Kazin star in ‘‘Misters and Sisters’’ at Oberon.

NEW YORK - His face red from the cold, choreographer David Parker pushes open the door of a sunny Lower Manhattan studio, drops his jacket on a chair, wheels his suitcase to a corner, and breaks into song.

“Never never will I marry, never never will I wed,’’ he sings. “Born to wander solitary, wide my world, narrow my bed.’’ His soft-shoe shuffle reflects the lyrics’ melancholy as the members of his company, the Bang Group - Jeffrey Kazin, Amber Sloan, and Nic Petry - stop their warm-up to listen.

It’s just before Thanksgiving, and Parker is heading to Cambridge to spend the holiday with his mother, Joan, but first he has called for a last-minute rehearsal of his cabaret show, “Misters and Sisters.’’ Parker and Kazin are the stars of the show, which comes to Oberon for two performances, Wednesday and Jan. 18.


As the dancers go over a sequence, Parker explains that “Never Will I Marry,’’ the song he was singing, expresses “what I felt as a young gay boy, believing that I could never marry. But the great thing is that now gays can marry.’’ In “Misters and Sisters,’’ he says, the company celebrates that fact “with ‘Let’s Have an Old-Fashioned Wedding,’ in the finale.’’ It’s another tune from the Great American Songbook, the source of all the show’s music.

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David Parker’s father, the detective novelist Robert B. Parker, who died in 2010 at 77, introduced his son to those tunes. “I created this without the net of irony and sarcasm,’’ he says. “It’s a first for me. I feel liberated. I dedicate it to my father.’’

Parker, 52, often uses his own experience as inspiration for his works, but “Misters and Sisters’’ is the most autobiographical show he has ever choreographed. It charts his more than 20-year friendship, not romance, with Kazin. It’s a relationship born of similar childhoods in the Boston suburbs in the 1970s - Parker in Lynnfield and Kazin in Waltham, where they grew up feeling like outsiders - and fueled by their mutual love of musical theater. They formed the Bang Group in 1996, with Parker as artistic director and Kazin described as “muse.’’

“I felt the word ‘bang’ should be in our official name,’’ Parker says, “because it refers to rhythm, percussion, explosion, and sex.’’

“Misters and Sisters’’ weaves a story that begins with them as insecure children - the song “In My Own Little Corner’’ catches their loneliness and escape into fantasy - and concludes with hope and confidence. Along the way, Parker provides narrative opportunity for “Tea for Two,’’ “Baby It’s Cold Outside,’’ and “I Fall in Love Too Easily,’’ among other standards.


Eclectic in his taste, Parker pairs the music with several dance forms, including tap, ballroom, and contemporary. There’s also a dream ballet - a prerequisite for so many old Hollywood musicals. He drew inspiration, too, from Broadway, vaudeville, choreographer Frederick Ashton, tap dancers Charles “Honi’’ Coles and Charles “Cholly’’ Atkins, contemporary choreographer David Gordon, and movie star Debbie Reynolds, among others.

The rehearsal continues as Sloan and Petry fling themselves into big, swooping movements to Richard Rodgers’s “Waltz for a Ball.’’ Parker allows them to revel in the leaping, spinning, and tapping.

“The show fulfills my fantasy of all I wanted to be while I was growing up: a song-and-dance man,’’ Kazin says later. “After so much time in the downtown dance world, David and I have created the show that we have always wanted to be in. The work isn’t abstract or trying to be obtuse. We aren’t afraid to entertain while offering different perspectives. On the universal side, the songs seem to resonate with everyone in an individual way. We’re all having fun together.’’

Fun seems to be the operative word with the Bang Group. “I love working with David,’’ says Sloan, who, like Petry, joined the troupe 10 years ago, “because he has so many different styles and gives us such complex rhythms. He also asks us to play different roles and lets us find ourselves. So much of contemporary dance is very serious and earnest. He’s a definite break from that.’’

The four of them, plus music director Anna Ebbeson, form quite a cozy group. “It’s very rewarding to work in such a family atmosphere,’’ Petry says. “We care deeply for one another, which really helps our development as artists.’’


Parker’s parents encouraged both David and his brother, Daniel, now an actor-singer, in their artistic pursuits. With his father publishing popular novels regularly and his mother returning to school to become a professor of early childhood education, Parker says, “You had to be clever in our household. It was a demanding environment.’’

He began tap lessons very young and then graduated to jazz dance and ballet, though he knew that they weren’t considered really appropriate for boys. He was also good at drawing and, expecting to become a painter, signed up for art classes. His parents took him to musical theater, the Boston Ballet, and even a performance by the Twyla Tharp company, which he loved. After he got to Bard College, he had more freedom. He made trips to New York and discovered downtown dance. Once he moved here, he started developing his original combination of styles, with tap always at the center.

No son could have a bigger supporter than Joan Parker. She has closely followed his artistic progress throughout his life. She recalls his early love of the June Taylor Dancers on television’s “The Ed Sullivan Show.’’

“The little tyke would get up and dance along,’’ she says. “It was tough then. The culture did not honor the path he was on. We never censored him.’’

Later, after he established the Bang Group, she and her husband opened their house to the company when it came to the Concord Academy for summer residencies, which only increased the members’ feelings of being a family.

Her son’s work “touches me on many levels,’’ Joan Parker says.

“I’m glad these performances are in homage to Bob, his dad,’’ she adds, “and that they will take place here, where he grew up.’’

Valerie Gladstone can be reached at