One Hundred Years of History: The Winton Club Cabaret

Annual show benefits programs and services at Winchester Hospital

As the spotlights lit up the stage at Winchester Town Hall, you could tell that Margaret Bertochi, Gayle O’Grady and Phyllis Gleason were proud as they took the stage — proud of the show 400 people were about to watch, and proud of the hours they and hundreds of volunteers devoted to it for the entire month of January. The Winton Club Cabaret, in its 100th year, is always a spectacle that raises funds for important programs at Winchester Hospital, but this show had to blow the others away.

“We hope you enjoy this performance as much as we enjoyed putting it together for you,” Phyllis said to the crowd. 

The lights went down and a violin started playing. The opening number was “Tradition,” from Fiddler on the Roof, but with a special twist. The lyrics were rewritten for the show. “You may ask, why do these volunteers work so hard?” performer Chris Albrecht asked the audience. “Winchester is their home, and the hospital is an institution in this town. Through the efforts of the Winton Club Cabaret, millions of dollars have been raised to help the hospital.” He wasn’t exaggerating. Since its inception, the Winton Club, an all-female volunteer group, has raised $3.6 million for improvements and services that directly impact patients at Winchester Hospital.

Pulling Out All the Stops

The magnitude of this year’s show being the 100th was not lost on producers Gayle O’Grady and Phyllis Gleason. “I think our hope is that we are doing honor to what has come before us, “ Phyllis said.

They reimagined numbers that had been done in past shows, which required some research. They went through the club’s archives, visited the library, and talked to as many former cast members and cabaret producers as they could. That is how they came up with the show theme: “UNCORKED.” They took a classic show and shook things up.

“Every song has that moment of champagne bottles exploding,” Gayle said.

Each number was celebratory, from contemporary pop hits like Katy Perry’s “Firework,” to the 80s classic, “Love Shack” by the B-52s. They had Broadway tunes from Hamilton and Chicago, as well as rock ‘n’ roll, disco, and even country music.

But the Cabaret doesn’t come together without lots of hard work. Margaret Bertochi, the current Winton Club president, says their rigorous rehearsal schedule makes January fly by. “It is exhausting by the end, but it’s fun, too.”

While the performers practice their singing and dancing, the Winton ladies’ husbands and significant others are enlisted to build sets. They also have a team that alters costumes. At one point, racks at the back of the Winchester Town Hall held 550 costumes.

The Winton Club History

The Winton Club members have always supported the hospital through fundraising, but their methods weren’t quite as elaborate as the Cabaret when the club started in 1911. At first, the club was comprised of 12 women sewing and selling linens to support the hospital. In 1920, the members decided to find another way to fundraise, which is how the Cabaret came to be.

While The Winton Club members are proud of its traditions, they have changed with the times. Years ago, club members would visit a prospective member’s home and interview her. “That doesn’t happen anymore,” Margaret explained, although members still need to be invited and sponsored.  Meetings used to take place during the day. “Women tended to be home during the day,” Margaret added. “So, that changed and meetings are at nighttime, too.”

The money raised at this year’s Cabaret and through The Winton Shop at Winchester Hospital, which is run entirely by volunteers, will fund the hospital’s operating room expansion and buy wireless fetal monitors. It will also benefit A Caring Place, a shop at Winchester’s Center for Cancer Care, which provides wigs, head covers, prosthetics and other items that insurance might not cover for patients with cancer.

“Each dollar we raise — whether it’s one dollar, ten dollars — if it’s going to help somebody’s health, if it’s going to help prevent somebody from being sick or just care for somebody, I mean, I don’t know what better thing we could do, to be quite honest with you,” Margaret said.