“Lori would say, ‘You should do this song,’ and I’d be, ‘I can’t. It’s too high.’ But she’d play the song in a different key and all of a sudden I realized, ‘Hey, I can sing anything I want.’ It was this amazing situation,” recalls Schwab, “but I also think it was the most naked and vulnerable I ever felt in a room because it was just me, telling my story.”

Wojtanowicz says Musical Mondays lets actors, who usually play characters unlike them, reveal a little more about themselves, with themes that have included “What are you afraid of?” and “What’s your day job?” He can think of only two Twin Cities theater vets who declined because they didn’t want to be themselves on stage — or because they feared the occasional flub, such as a Musical Mondays performer who coughed through a song last summer after accidentally inhaling the fake mustache she wore for a tune from “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.”

“Our very first show was six people we knew,” says Wojtanowicz, who founded the show with his collaborator, co-host and “favorite singer in the whole world,” Sheena Janson Kelley. “But people started saying, ‘Hey, I want to do the next one.’

“We knew from the beginning we wanted to keep introducing new performers to our audiences, as well as veterans. In the five years we’ve been doing it, we’ve had more than 300 performers on our stage.”

One of those 300 is Hope Nordquist, a self-described “Sondheim kid,” who hosts “The Wine in Her Voice” the third Sunday of each month at Lush, often with friends as musical guests (that title pun refers to a woman who has been known to enjoy both a whine and a merlot).

Nordquist has envisioned herself playing embittered, 50-something Phyllis in Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies” ever since she was in middle school. And she still owns a pair of sweatpants she customized as a teenager, with the lyrics to the Sondheim showstopper “Getting Married Today” scrawled all over them.

So, yeah, she loves Sondheim. But she believes she’s often not looked at for roles because she is Asian-American.

“My response initially was, ‘Why don’t people see me in this way I want to be seen?’ But with ‘The Wine in Her Voice,’ I can show people what I am and what I can do,” says Nordquist.

In other words, by choosing specific songs, Nordquist can cast herself in roles she dreams of playing, such as Elphaba in “Wicked.” She also can do numbers no one would expect her to perform, such as an acoustic cover of the raunchy “My Neck, My Back.”

“I think people can really tell when I do something that is meaningful for me,” says Nord­quist. “I am out as a bisexual person and, really, the first way I started to say that was through music. It made me braver and bolder and now I can walk around the world like, ‘Yes, this is how I identify.’ ”

Adrian Lopez-Balbontin, a theater director who hosts Cabernet Cabaret on Mondays at the 60-seat Troubador Wine Bar in Uptown, says that’s the big lesson of cabaret: “I’ll see a performer taking a break and they’re saying hi to people they don’t know. I’m thinking, ‘How cool. Songs really do bring people together.’ ”

Not in it for the money

Nobody is getting rich from cabaret, although Lopez-­Balbontin says the shows make economic sense because they can draw crowds on nights that aren’t usually busy.

Musical Mondays hosts Janson Kelley and Wojtanowicz don’t pay themselves; they split the take between performers for gas and drink money.

Cabaret performers who do get paid are mostly freelancers, with the uncertainty that implies. And at Balls, the low ticket price means there’s not much cash to spread around.

“Almost every Saturday on the way there, I’m like, ‘Oh, what am I doing with my life? I’m 62 years old. I’m tired. This is not a moneymaking venture — the tickets are five bucks and we spend that on treats for everybody. So what am I doing?’ ” asks Ball. “But then I get there and the people in the audience start to show up and the performers amaze me and the feedback I get is so heartwarming. It just keeps reminding me why I wanted to do this, 26 years ago: this incredible sense of community.”

What she’s talking about, of course, is not unlike what John Kander and Fred Ebb meant when they wrote “Cabaret” more than 50 years ago:

“What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play.”