The Ruby Room (photo by Cory Weaver)
At the Ruby Room, local talents perform iconic music in an intimate nightclub setting
54 Below, successor to the legendary Studio 54 in New York’s Times Square, is a coveted ticket. Seeking “to preserve and expand the art of cabaret,” it boasts a full lineup of “themed” shows showcasing well-known popular hits, singers and bands, musicals, movies, etc., performed by various artists. Now, Kansas City has its own 54 Below: The Ruby Room, located in Crown Center.
A sister stage with Music Theater Heritage in Crown Center, the Ruby Room was the brainchild of MTH Chief Executive and Artistic Director, Tim Scott. He envisioned spotlighting local talent in an intimate nightclub setting.
“We are in a unique situation at MTH where we have three different performance venues and the venue that is now the Ruby Room was underutilized because it had no innate point of view,” Scott said. “Our goal was to create a performance space specifically curated for live music and cabaret, akin to some you might see in New York.”
When it opened in February 2022, only Friday and Saturday performances were offered, but now there are also Monday gigs and going forward, the theater has plans to add Tuesday through Friday to the schedule. The demand is there — most shows have been sellouts — and people have reacted with great enthusiasm.
“Amazing,” “Wonderful,” “Fun” and “Wow!” are just some of the responses that audience members have posted about the shows.
The Ruby Room was designed by Mark Exline, who has done work for The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Union Station, Quixotic, the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha and for many theaters in town. Scott describes the Ruby Room space as “sleek and elegant” and the lobby/bar area, dimly lit in deep red tones, as exuding a distinct “Moulin Rouge vibe.” Together, they offer the perfect atmosphere for cocktails and cabaret. There is plush, comfy seating for 130 people and a full professional sound and lighting system.
Linnaia McKenzie, a passionate music lover (and sometime actor), who hosted and programmed open mics in Harlem and worked for years as a salesforce project manager, is Ruby Room’s associate producer. Her mission is to curate the music and artists who have greatly influenced and shaped our culture.
“My goal with the Ruby Room series is to continue coming up with unique, memorable ways to tell the highlighted artists’ story through their iconic music,” McKenzie said, “while also providing a platform for our local Kansas City singers and musicians to connect, shine and spread the love of music with as many audiences as we can.
“I’m beyond grateful to MTH for allowing me to curate the Ruby Room series as my primary creative outlet,” she added. “Coming from a family of musicians, I’ve loved music since before I can remember, and I have come a very long way from staging one-woman concerts in my bedroom as a child.”
McKenzie works closely with Tim Scott in creating the shows. “There are no cover bands,” Scott said. “Linnaia and I collaborate on the concepts/themes for each show and the casting, and Linnaia curates all of the set lists and decides which tunes will be featured. Casting is cumulative, between those who audition for MTH and also known vocalists and artists that Linnaia seeks out and ‘discovers’ in KC’s jazz and live music communities.”
Featured artists have included Eric Morris, Morgan Walker, Desmond Mason, Darrington Clark and Douglass Walker.
The Ruby Room’s first series, “For Lovers,” presented the music of Sonny and Cher, Ike and Tina Turner and Captain and Tennille. Shows since then have included music of The Beatles, a program of songs by Billy Joel, Elton John and John Legend, and shows of work by other famed talents including James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell and Jimi Hendrix. This past July’s program, “Family Ties,” featured sounds of The Jacksons, The Osmonds and the Bee Gees.
A solo Dolly Parton show comes to the stage Sept. 15-18, followed by “Ashley Pankow: Live at the Ruby Room,” Oct. 20-21; “Sound of Silence,” the music of Simon and Garfunkel, The Mamas and the Papas and Peter, Paul and Mary, Nov. 17-20. The season concludes with “Buddy’s Holly Jolly Christmas,” conceived and performed by Zachary Stevenson, Dec. 22-23. The 2024 season has just been finalized. (See box.)
Left to right: Featured artists have included Douglass Walker, Morgan Walker, Eric Morris and Desmond Mason. (photos by Cory Weaver)
A Premier Forum for Local Talent
At the Ruby Room divas rule, are embraced and roundly cheered.
Local performers Andrea and Ayana Tribitt perfectly illustrate the Ruby Room’s talent pool and the exposure it offers local performers.
The powerhouse mother and daughter singers recently took the Ruby Room stage in its “For the Culture” production, vocalizing the music of Nina Simone, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding and bringing the audience to its feet. They’ll headline MTH’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” in October.
Ayana also appeared in the Ruby Room’s inaugural “For Lovers” show. She was front and center in MTH’s Stevie Wonder tribute, “STEVIE: signed, sealed, delivered,” last year, and sang in “Family Ties.”
“When she sings, she just seems like she’s at home. That’s very different from most,” says Scott.
Ayana has performed all over town and internationally. In March she wowed the audience at the Blue Room with her silky solo of classic jazz ballads; she can hold her own with Ella Fitzgerald tunes and Bollywood, too. Ayana has opened for rapper J. Cole, sung vocals for Jennifer Lopez, jazzed it up in Osaka, Japan, and was featured in the Los Angeles MILK exhibit, “Remember When: A Year in Review,” in 2021. She “jams” first Wednesdays at the Uptown Lounge. “My music is a sultry whisper of creativity,” she says. “I’m known for having no genre but being fluid . . .”
Her mother, Andrea, can belt out gospel, groove to R&B and soul, croon to jazz beats and can vocalize (scat) like nobody’s business. She headlined “Get Up” at the Ruby Room and has a distinguished career that includes membership in the three-time Grammy Award-winning music group, The Sounds of Blackness, which played in Liverpool.
Andrea Tribitt has worked with some of the biggest names in show business, including Quincy Jones, Will Smith, Kenny Rogers, Tom Jones and Tricia Yearwood. She performed at the White House for the 1999/2000 Millennium Celebration. She was part of the Black History Tribute Concert at the Gem Theater in February 2022 and has performed and taught gospel in Japan.
Locally Andrea has played at Power and Light, Soiree, the Blue Room, the Phoenix and the Record Bar, as well as at the Mayor’s Christmas Tree and Juneteenth festivities. Summing up her powerful talent, local drummer/jazz favorite, Bryan Alford, posted, “Andrea Tribitt came by and blessed my soul today. She was so good I was on the drums and forgot I had to play.”
The two artists are among many local divas, including Misha Roberts, Keshana Cook and Stephonne Singleton, who have helped put the Ruby Room on KC’s cultural map.
As the Ruby Room’s website beckons, “Join us for martinis, music and mood.”
For more about the Ruby Room, visit https://musictheaterheritage.com/shows/ruby-room-series. For more about Ayana Tribitt and her upcoming performances, visit @eraauramusic. For more about Andrea Tribitt visit her Facebook page.
RUBY ROOM 2024 SEASON
“Let’s Get it On,” The Music of Marvin Gaye & Gladys Knight. Feb. 8–10
“Tapestry,” The Music of Carole King, April 4–6
“I Will Always Love You,” The Music of Whitney Houston, May 16–18
“Purple Rain,” The Music of Prince, July 11–13
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” The Music of Queen, Sept. 12–14
“Song(s) Sung Blue,” The Music of Neil Diamond & Barry Manilow, Nov. 7–9