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Michael Feinstein – Back at the Hotel Nikko

October 3rd, 2016 Comments off

by Jim Gladstone

Michael Feinstein (photo: Karl Simone)

Michael Feinstein (photo: Karl Simone)

A few times a year, singer-pianist-musicologist-raconteur Michael Feinstein books himself into his eponymous cabaret room at San Francisco’s Hotel Nikko. Given that Feinstein far more frequently plays concert venues with capacities of over 1000, these intimate gigs are highly anticipated. It’s hard to find a buzzier midweek cultural event in the City by the Bay.

Just four months ago, Feinstein played a remarkable five-night stint paying tribute to the 81- and 92-year-old lyricists Marilyn and Alan Bergman, whose evergreen contributions to the canon of American popular music include “The Way We Were,” “Windmills of My Mind,” and the Tootsie theme, “It Might Be You.”

It was shortly after that impressive run that a return engagement was quickly announced: This past week’s series of “Tribute to Judy Garland” shows. His followers know well that Feinstein considers Garland “the world’s greatest female entertainer” and these performances became a hotter ticket still with the announcement of a special guest performer, Garland’s second daughter, singer-actress Lorna Luft.

At Wednesday’s opening night, the 140-seat room was packed and humming with the anticipation of an audience studded with San Francisco socialites and acolytes of the Great American Songbook, including world-renowned jazz singer Paula West.

Accompanied by an ace quartet as sensitive to the nuances of Feinstein’s vocals as Feinstein is to those of the lyrics, he swept his fans up in a transporting 30-minute opening set that began with “That’s Entertainment” and culminated in a languorous tour-de-force solo turn of The Wizard of Oz standard “If I Only Had A…”

Often performed with only the “brain” verses sung by Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow in the film, Feinstein—accompanying himself on the piano—elegantly elided them with the Tin Man’s “heart” and Cowardly Lion’s “nerve” verses, precisely enunciating to give Yip Harburg’s deliciously witty wordplay as much a showcase as Harold Arlen’s irresistible earworm melody.

This was Feinstein at his finest: reviving and interpreting great music in a manner that not only entertains, but helps audiences focus not only on himself as a performer but on the craft of the songwriters.

What Feinstein wisely doesn’t do is try to imitate the vocal character of great singers of the past. He has a reliably smooth, youthful baritenor and is able to add a bit of brassiness when his interpretations demand, but his greatest strengths are as a humble channeler and showcaser of songs, not as an iconic vocal presence. Save for a few couplets in the role of Dorothy onscreen, Judy Garland isn’t known for singing “If I Only Had A Brain.”

Lorna Luft at the 2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party. (Photo: Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Lorna Luft at the 2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party. (Photo: Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

There’s a part of this reviewer that wishes Michael Feinstein wasn’t know for having so much of a heart. His fond appreciation of Garland, her family, and the network of composers she worked with may provide an explanation for turning over the center of his show to Lorna Luft, who took the stage to thunderous applause and grins of excitement. Here she was! Singing scion to the world’s greatest female entertainer. Alas, Luft is not in Feinstein’s league as an interpreter, nor in her mother’s as a vocal presence.

Gregariously belting “San Francisco” and “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart!” Luft’s pitch was distressingly flat, her delivery expressing enthusiasm at performing for an excited crowd more than a deep engagement with the music at hand. She held notes with bravado unmerited by her vibrato.

Presenting Luft as the centerpiece of Feinstein’s show—even when ostensibly dedicated to her mother—was either intended as an act of generosity or a bit of nostalgic stunt casting. In either case, it did no favors for Luft or the audience.

Feinstein returned to the stage for a few more well-rendered numbers, then brought Luft back up for a dangerously risky rendition of medleys once performed by her mother and Barbra Streisand, including their classic “Happy Days Are Here Again”/”Get Happy” duet from Garland’s 1963-64 television show. With the audience holding its breath, the pair managed to generate a modest success thanks to patter and restraint. That said, it remained clear that there was only one star on the stage.

Jim Gladstone is a San Francisco-based creative consultant and writer. A book columnist and Contributing Editor at PASSPORT, he is the author of an award-winning novel, The Big Book of Misunderstanding.

 

15 Minutes with Lady Rizo

July 19th, 2016 Comments off
Lady Rizo with her son. (Photo: Bill Evans via The Broadway Blog.)

Lady Rizo with her son. (Photo: Bill Evans via The Broadway Blog.)

Raised by theatrical gypsies, Lady Rizo is one of New York City’s powerhouse vocalists. And while those in the know may recognize her from frequent stints at Joe’s Pub and The Darby, Rizo (a.k.a. Amelia Zirin-Brown) has staying power and international recognition, including a duet on Yo-Yo Ma’s Grammy-winning album, Yo-Yo Ma and Friends: Songs of Joy and Peace.

Rizo returns to Joe’s Pub tonight with her new show, Lady Rizo: Multiplied. Eight months postpartum, she digs her sparkling heels into new motherhood. Backed by a choice New York trio led by longtime collaborator Yair Evnine, Rizo rips apart carefully chosen pop songs and presents them among her own stirring originals.

The Broadway Blog’s editor Matthew Wexler had a chance to chat with her while she was getting her hair done at a Los Angeles salon—what any proper diva should be doing on a Wednesday morning!

The Broadway Blog: It’s embarrassing, but I had no idea who you were until I saw you perform at the recent Night of 1,000 Judys benefit for the Ali Forney Center, hosted by Justin Sayre. How did you meet Justin?

Lady Rizo: I met Justin when he first moved to New York City. What a funny fellow… and then I thought—does he really talk like that? He’s completely smart and authentic and hilarious. I spent time with him at a Radical Faerie queer sanctuary in Tennessee. I’ve done his show, The Meeting, a couple of times. I’m happy to be a guest if I’m passionate about the subject.

Lady Rizo's debut album, 'Violet.'

Lady Rizo’s debut album, ‘Violet.’

BB: What was the song you sang? It was captivating.

LR: “Blues in the Night”—a haunting arrangement I created with music director Tracy Stark. I wanted something pastiche, beautiful, dark, and haunting. I’d been practicing it all night, singing it to my infant son as I put him to bed.

BB: You have a strong sense of theatricality when you perform, did you study theater?

LR: I come from a theater family. I was raised on the Oregon coast by a group of theatrical hippies. Their passion was theater—Shakespeare and Brecht in barns and basements. This artistic community I grew up in was incredible rich. I started really early. I was in a Chekov play at two (I didn’t have a speaking role.) Then I studied at Cornish College of the Arts, they offered a merit-based full scholarship.

BB: Was there a point that you could identify a shift from musical theater to your own unique cabaret style?

LR: I was always encouraged to look at art individually and radically, but after graduating I was trying to be a working actor and taking a lot of different gigs. Being cast in musicals, I firmly felt that it wasn’t my place even though I could sing, dance and act.

Then I started to get cast in straight plays with music, and finally it was the evolution of my own shows. I moved to New York City to start over again with this demeaning process. It makes sense: supply and demand—there’s a power dynamic but I had a special breed of insanity and pride that I wasn’t going to do that. So I created a show.

I was married to a beautiful Colombian man at the time and I created [“Lady Rizo”] with him. That was his last name. I didn’t take his name legally. It’s ironic that it’s had more staying power than the marriage.

Lady Rizo (Photo via Twitter.)

Lady Rizo (Photo via Twitter.)

BB: Do you have a desire to return to the stage in a more traditional theatrical setting (doing the same show eight times per week). If so, are there existing roles that you’d like to put your stamp on?

LR: There was a cool movement when there was a discussion of reviving Funny Girl and Michael Musto wrote a column about me. I love the freedom of making my own rules but I’d love my career to mimic the arc of Bette Midler that transitions back into acting.

BB: I assume your new show, “Multiplied,” is at least—in part—inspired by the birth of your son. What can audience members expect?

LR: This life change… it’s a very strange tug. I’m so happy and love with my beautiful son. He’s charming and sociable—that means a lot to me. It’s how I identity myself. But it takes so much brain space to raise a baby if you aren’t someone who farms out the job to caretakers. I don’t have daycare and nannies. His father, a lighting designer from Sydney, is incredible.

The evolution of mankind took over. It turns out I am a breeder. Part of what I’m grappling with is the resignation of that term. I identify strongly as a queer person and have always in my adult life circled around that and so I’m struggling with my own boundaries as a perceived heterosexual breeder.

Gender is the frontier that we’re at – and something fun to keep in mind when raising a son. What is it like to raise a white male? One can hope he’ll be a homosexual. All I can do is dress him in peach. (I have an aversion to pink.)

The core of my uncomfortability is that I feel like the voices of parents are still so hetero-normative and it becomes so loud. You don’t really hear alternative parenting voices in the media because people that have a problem with society aren’t vocal breeders. We need more artists and free thinkers to fill our population if we don’t want to have it completely hijacked.

Will this be the same show you intend to perform in Edinburgh?

LR: Yes, it’s a show that I started making in London in March. I loved performing pregnant. It lowered everyone’s expectations. They were just happy that I was standing in heels. I didn’t have to work as hard. But it’s good to reflect on that time.

BB: What artists do you listen to and can we expect any new collaborations?

LR: I listen to My Brightest Diamond and Tune-Yards, but so much of what I listen to is pre-1964.

I just recorded my second album at Royal Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. It’s seen some of the legends like Al Green and Isaac Hayes and a lot of the same components of the studio during that time are still there. I’m hoping to release it in the fall.

BB: Beyond music, your social media feeds show solidarity with the LGBT community, women’s rights, and gun opposition. How important is it for you to use your notoriety to shed light on some of these important issues?

LR: Why else do what I do? It’s interesting to hear how people get angry when artists respond to the world around us. I’m not interested in a neo-Nazi loving my singing voice. I’d much rather reach someone who’s thinking humanity more holistically through my voice.

It’s the way I was raised. Overt power and sensuality on stage can be considered radical. Slut shaming is really high. It only takes a moment reading the Internet to see that anonymity breeds contempt. We’re living in a patriarchy. We can accept that, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t voice opposition to it. Misogyny affects everyone—including men—because it denies the feminine inside the man.

If people get excited about my music, it allows me to explore these deeper causes.

Lady Rizo: Multiplied
Joe’s Pub
425 Lafayette Street, NYC
July 19, 9:30 p.m.
July 20, 9:30 p.m.
July 25, 7 p.m.
July 26, 9:30 p.m.

Matthew Wexler is the Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @roodeloo.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15 Minutes with Barrett Foa

June 18th, 2016 Comments off

by Jim Gladstone

Barrett Foa (Photo provided by Feinstein's at the Nikko via The Broadway Blog.)

Barrett Foa (Photo provided by Feinstein’s at the Nikko via The Broadway Blog.)

“After seven years of being a featured actor,” quips Barrett Foa, who brings his cabaret act to Feinstein’s at the Nikko June 24 and 25 in San Francisco. “It’s nice to get back to being self-indulgent again.”

Behind every joke, of course, is a little truth.

New York born-and-bred, Foa—best known for playing operative Eric Beale in the ensemble of the stalwart CBS drama NCIS: Los Angeles—is a theater kid at heart.

Foa, 38, made his Broadway debut fifteen years ago in the original cast of Mamma Mia! and has also played Princeton/Rod in Avenue Q (Foa was the first non-puppeteer specifically trained for the show) and replaced Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Leaf Coneybear in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

“Television has given me a cushion,” he says, “So I can get back to singin’ and dancin’. I’ve really missed the immediate gratification of laughs and applause that you get from a live audience.”

Barrett Foa (far right) and the cast of 'NCIS: Los Angeles' (Photo: Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Barrett Foa (far right) and the cast of ‘NCIS: Los Angeles’ (Photo: Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

“To be honest, that’s why I started putting this show together,” says Foa, who debuted his new act in April at Los Angeles’ Rockwell and played Feinstein’s 54 Below in New York earlier this month.

“Cabaret is really the most self-indulgent of all the art forms,” he says, suggesting that it may also be and antidote-of-sorts to disappearing into formulaic procedural television.

“I’ve dipped my toe into this a bit before, doing some numbers in collaborative shows with a group of friends at Ars Nova and the Duplex in New York, but this is my first full show.”

Called Grin and Barrett, the show began with Foa assembling a long list of his favorite songs—“These are all songs that make me happy every time I hear the first chords play”—and then paring it down to dovetail with a group of anecdotes he wanted to share about his life in and out of the theater.

“It’s not your mother’s cabaret,” he says, noting that the show includes songs by James Taylor, Randy Newman, Rufus Wainwright and other pop composers as well as theater music. “I need it to appeal,” he jokes, “to laypeople as well.”

Barrett Foa at the PaleyFest 2015 Fall TV Preview (Photo: Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Barrett Foa at the PaleyFest 2015 Fall TV Preview (Photo: Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Molding his own show also gave Foa a chance to create structure amidst the unpredictability of ensemble TV series work in Los Angeles compared to a live theater schedule.

“On Broadway, you know exactly where you need to be every night. You plan brunch at 11 and dinner at 5. With a series, you can have a 13-hour day and you don’t necessarily know when you’re going to start or finish. Over time, things have become a little more regular at NCIS and we usually work from very early in the morning and get off at 6 or 7. It’s been interesting for me to have an evening at my disposal instead of providing someone else’s entertainment.”

As he makes clear in his cabaret act, Foa loves losing himself in a character and looks forward to returning to Broadway after NCIS: LA runs its course. “People used to want to cast me as romantic characters like Hero in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum or Rolf in Sound of Music. But I don’t think those are the roles for me any more. I’m ready to be a quirky leading man.”

On hiatus last summer, Foa tested those waters, playing Harold Hill in a successful Connecticut production of The Music Man. “It was a blast,” he recalls, “And I was really grateful to have a chance to play a lead like that.”

The show also held some nostalgic value for Foa, who performed a smaller role in the show while studying theater at the University of Michigan. Also in that cast were friends and fellow Broadway actors, Gavin Creel (Hair) and David Burtka (husband of Neil Patrick Harris).

Foa has fond memories of the Michigan program and this past May 16, joined dozens of fellow graduates in a New York concert celebrating their one-time professor, Brent Wagner, before his retirement.

“Every year I’m out of college I realize how important it was to me. That program really gave me my life.”

And that life, Foa makes clear, has live theater at its heart.

“My heart and soul are in New York. I want to be on stage and I want to be closer to my family. I have a seven-year-old nephew and I want to be more to him than ‘Uncle Barrett from California.’”

Barrett Foa
Feinstein’s at the Nikko
Friday, June 24; Saturday, June 25

 

Jim Gladstone is a San Francisco-based creative consultant and writer. A book columnist and Contributing Editor at PASSPORT, he is the author of an award-winning novel, The Big Book of Misunderstanding.

Don’t Miss: ‘Brilliant: Songs of the Brill Building Composers’

September 11th, 2015 Comments off
(designed by Martin Cribbs)

(designed by Martin Cribbs)

For those of you who didn’t see Beautiful and catch the many references to the Brill Building, where Carole King and so many other singer/songwriters penned their legendary tunes during the 20th century, theater critic and cabaret Performer Ryan Leeds will debut his original show, Brilliant: Songs of The Brill Building Composers at the Duplex Cabaret Theatre.

Ryan Leeds (photo provided by Ryan Leeds).

Ryan Leeds (photo provided by Ryan Leeds).

The evening will feature songs by Burt Bacharach, Neil Sedaka, Paul Anka, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and more. The building is most famous for housing these famous singer-songwriters who produced some of the most well-known American tunes including “Who Put the Bomp,” “On Broadway,” “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” “Hound Dog,” “I Say A Little Prayer,” and many more.

He will be joined  by fellow friend and performer, Heather Thompson. Musical direction will be led by Steven Cuevas, who will also accompany at the piano. John Convertino and Tristan Marzeski will round out the trio on bass and drums, respectively. Alison Russo will direct.

 

 “Tourists and New Yorkers alike have walked past this incredible building on the corner of 49th and Broadway, but have been unaware of the impact it made in music history ” Leeds says.  “I’m so excited to be shedding light on this fascinating period of music and to be performing songs that will be familiar to nearly everyone.”
Leeds’ performance credits include various concerts at Carnegie Hall with Essential Voices USA,  Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, New York City Opera,  The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, and a variety of theater and  cabaret performances throughout the U.S. and New York City.

 

Brilliant: Songs of the Brill Building Composers
Duplex Cabaret Theatre
61 Christopher Street, NYC
September 18 and 28

Don’t Miss: Molly Pope Likes Your Status

August 12th, 2015 Comments off
Molly Pope (photo: Allison Michael Orenstein via The Broadway Blog)

Molly Pope (photo: Allison Michael Orenstein via The Broadway Blog)

“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned,” wrote William Congreve, the 17th century English playwright and poet. He would have had quite the drinking match with Molly Pope, the deep-voiced downtown cabaret performer currently in residence at The Duplex with monthly performances through October.

Pope’s show is a jarring and compelling juxtaposition of old school numbers from the American songbook, musical theater gems, and wildly affected deliveries of popular songs such as Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse.”

Loosely tying it all together is Pope’s defeatist quest for love in the 21st century as she struggles to balance technology with her vivacious temperament. At the July performance she was also lamenting the loss of a recent relationship and it was unclear if her exposition was life imitating art or an episodic fictional riff that only regular Pope-goers would recognize.

There is no denying Pope’s vocal magnetism. In an interview earlier this year with The New York Times, Pope described her voice as “Huge… I’m a belter but an old-fashioned belter. I’m in many ways a female baritone.”

She uses those rattlling pipes to her advantage, along with a Vitamix’s worth of mannerisms from the greats including Judy Garland, Bette Midler, Ethel Merman and more. At first glance it may appear like imitation, but after an evening with Pope it’s clear that she is redefining a performance style for a new generation.

Pope has been pounding the pavement for more than 14 years, with credits ranging from cabaret performances at Joe’s Pub and Ars Nova to Off Broadway gigs at Atlantic Theatre Company and LaMama. Her resilience is evident, but so is the fact that she’s ready for strong directorial influence.

It’s hard not to compare Pope to downtown’s other bawdy favorite, Bridget Everett. While their styles are quite different, each pushes onstage boundaries. But while Everett—with her voluptuous breasts and hit song, “Titties”—dominates the stage, it feels as though Pope is still grappling to define her own aesthetic. Everett was also blessed to collaborate with hit-makers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman as part of the Joe’s Pub 2013 New York Voices series, which helped the artist further define her signature style.

Molly Pope is, no doubt, a theatrical force to be reckoned with. If she’s able to strip away the unfocused bantering and tighten up the transitions between songs, her status is likely to shift from pending to bonafide downtown star.

Molly Pope Likes Your Status
The Duplex
61 Christopher Street, NYC
August 14, September 11, October 9
9:30 p.m.

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @roodeloo.

Review: Bridget Everett Hits “Rock Bottom”

September 18th, 2014 Comments off

Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler gets “exposed” to one of New York’s hottest cabaret performers, Bridget Everett. This article contains adult themes and language.

Bridget Everett in "Rock Bottom" (photo: Kevin Yatarola ) via The Broadway Blog.

Bridget Everett in “Rock Bottom” (photo: Kevin Yatarola ) via The Broadway Blog.

I was first exposed (quite literally, in fact) to Bridget Everett at a benefit cabaret performance about a decade ago. She had been added to the roster by one of the event chairs who had a penchant for downtown performers. Even at that time, Everett’s alter ego stage persona was swilling chardonnay and waxing poetic about her white trash upbringing in Manhattan, Kansas, and her affection for black dick. Oh, how things change yet stay the same. At the end of the performance, one of the board members scrambled backstage to see if Everett was available for an encore—to the tune of a $10,000 donation to the charity beneficiary. If memory serves me, I believe the response was a resounding, “Fuck, yeah” and a star—at least in my eyes—was born.

Bridget Everett (photo: Kevin Yatarola) via The Broadway Blog.

Bridget Everett (photo: Kevin Yatarola) via The Broadway Blog.

Cut to Everett’s latest incarnation, Rock Bottom, which opened last night at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater. Developed from New York Voices, an artist-commissioning program that matches master artists with developing talent, Everett has taken her bawdy, shock-value act to stratospheric levels with the mentorship of co-creators Marc Shaiman (Hairspray, NBC’s Smash), Scott Wittman (Catch Me If You Can), Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz (original member of the Beastie Boys) and pianist songwriter Matt Ray. Cumulatively, the team’s musical compositions are framed by a shock value premise that leaves nary a rock unturned. She goes for the jugular with sex toys, a can of whipped cream and several revealing onstage costume changes (designed by Larry Krone for House of Larreón).

Everett’s Rock Bottom rants don’t necessarily follow a linear plot, but her recurring themes of body empowerment, the class system (she mentions her “slave job” several times throughout the evening) and dysfunctional relationships simmer like a batch of crystal meth in a trailer park kitchen. “Bridget’s ferocious femininity and unapologetic embrace of her sexuality are at the forefront of her work,” says Joe’s Pub director Shanta Thake in the program notes. “The feeling of female empowerment is palpable in the room every time she takes the stage.”

In order to hit those marks, Everett is well equipped with a brand new songbook that showcases her smoky alto range. Shaiman and Wittman are masters of the hook and don’t disappoint with arrangements that draw from Motown, R&B, gospel and beyond. On a rare occasion, the hooks venture into hokey, but for the most part Everett benefits greatly from the more sophisticated musicality than her previous shows, including a number of well-placed key changes that allow the performer to soar into her higher register—proving that there’s more to Bridget Everett than “them low rider titties.”

One of the greatest testaments to Bridget Everett’s endurance and endearment is her dedicated audience, who return time and again to see what she may pull out of an orifice next. They come from all walks of life (Patti LuPone is a notable fan—so much so that the Tony Award winner asked her to perform a number at her recent Carnegie Hall concert). They come to laugh and surprisingly, sometimes cry. Most have them have probably hit rock bottom at some point or another. And rising like a phoenix, Bridget Everett is there for them—inevitably with a glass of chardonnay.

Rock Bottom
Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater
425 Lafayette Street
Through October 11

"Rock Bottom" at Joe's Pub (photo: Kevin Yatarola) via The Broadway Blog.

“Rock Bottom” at Joe’s Pub (photo: Kevin Yatarola) via The Broadway Blog.

Justin Vivian Bond: Love Is Crazy

June 20th, 2014 Comments off
Justin Vivian Bond (photo: David Kimelman via The Broadway Blog).

Justin Vivian Bond (photo: David Kimelman via The Broadway Blog).

“Whenever I’m back in San Francisco, I love to shake my parts at [popular drag-and-dancing extravaganza] Trannyshack,” notes Justin Vivian Bond, when a recent conversation turns to the blow-up over the use of the terms tranny and she-male on RuPaul’s Drag Race. “I don’t have any problem with the word.”

“People are very invested in binary assignments of a single gender. Most people think that you should want to be male or female. But a lot don’t. I’m one of them. It’s been an ongoing struggle to name that space between the two genders, so I don’t want any words that people have claimed for themselves to be eradicated.”

“But,” Bond adds, “I’m glad the debate has been happening, because whatever side I happen to be on, it leads to valuable discussion and makes people think. I ran into RuPaul at the premiere of Hedwig on Broadway right after the episode was pulled from the air, and I thanked him for stirring it up.”

Bond is, in fact, back in San Francisco this pre-Pride weekend to shake parts, croon tunes and crack wise in a debut engagement at Feinstein’s at the Nikko. For San Franciscans its a relatively rare opportunity to get up close and personal with Bond in one of the city’s most intimate venues (at under 200 seats, Feinstein’s jewel box cabaret is approximately five times smaller than the Great American Music Hall and Castro Theater, where Bond has played in past forays to the Bay).

“I always have so much fun here, because this is the city where I feel like I have the most true friends; the people I’d be happy to celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving with. The show I’m doing this weekend, Love Is Crazy, was actually born when I was in San Francisco about a year ago doing some benefits. I was in my hotel room, fiddling with my iPod and I just started to take a look at all the different songs with the word ‘love’ in the title.”

Bond first showcased the results of his research this past Valentine’s Day weekend as a special concert event in Paris, threading a cockeyed collection of tunes together with bittersweet autobiographical anecdotes and barbed commentary.

While spending time in the city, Bond can often be found passing time people-watching on the patio at Cafe Flore in the Castro.

“I’m not a super nostalgic person, but I do like to sit there and breathe and take in everything that’s gone on in my life and in the world since I first moved to San Francisco back in 1985 (Bond now calls New York home base). “This city certainly has its difficulties, but for us queer people, it certainly isn’t as terrifying as it was in the 80s and early 90s.”

After heading back east for much of the summer to host and curate a cabaret series on the Bard College campus (The handpicked acts include Molly Ringwald’s jazz combo, Amanda Palmer, and comedic musicians The Xanadudes), Bond will return to California to headline the Luscious Queer Music Festival at Saratoga Springs in late August.

Love is Crazy
Saturday and Sunday, June 21-22.

Feinstein’s at the Nikko, 7 p.m.

Review: Shakina Brings Down the House in “One Woman Show”

April 22nd, 2014 Comments off

By Lindsay B. Davis

Shakina Nayfack (photo: Nicki Ishmael) via The Broadway Blog.

Shakina Nayfack (photo: Nicki Ishmael) via The Broadway Blog.

On April 14, 2014, Broadway Battles Bullying presented on a benefit concert to raise money for the family of Michael Morones, an 11-year-old boy who attempted suicide after being bullied for his love of My Little Pony. The show featured a cascade of Broadway performers singing inspirational show tunes and pop selections about self-acceptance, love, and friendship. A highlight was host and mistress of ceremonies, Shakina Nayfack, a transgender performing artist/director whose energy, edgy humor, stage presence and own musical number (the poignant “Wear You” about his desire as a young boy to cross dress; music and lyrics by Julianne Wick Davis) left me wanting more. Enter One Woman Show, Shakina’s musical cabaret fresh off a sold-out run at Joe’s Pub and 54 Below and currently in limited engagement at Sophie’s inside Broadway Comedy Club. I made it my business to get there and it’s a very good thing I did, because One Woman Show is an exceptionally entertaining night of theater.

Shakina is a striking presence. Tall, broad shouldered, tattooed and bald, she has a face that glistens and a smile that lights up a room. Backed by a four-piece band and packed into a killer teal dress, her face perfectly made up with matching sparkly eye shadow (“I applied it myself, of course!” she tells me while effortlessly working the room before the show), Shakina kicks off the night singing “Chick with a Shtick”, a nod to her Jewish heritage and play on words for the body part she is excited to excise. Within a few bars she and shortly after belting “I’m getting a vaginaaaa”, I am not the least bit uncomfortable. And herein lies one of Shakina’s many, extraordinary gifts – she puts you at ease while unapologetically, lovingly being herself. She is a soul sister, glam rock, badass punk diva singing about a traumatic childhood (proving once again that the best comedy comes from pain) and gender transition process that will culminate in sexual assignment surgery by a doctor in Thailand. I am riveted—it is that feeling you get when in the presence of real, bona fide talent.

Shakina Nayfack (photo: Nicki Ishmael) via The Broadway Blog.

Shakina Nayfack (photo: Nicki Ishmael) via The Broadway Blog.

What follows is a fast moving, 90 minutes of original musical numbers written for Shakina, cover songs and show tune medleys interspersed with exceptionally detailed, confessional, courageous and raw autobiographical storytelling. One Woman Show begins in “1987, suburban LA” where desires to wear a dress are met with judgment, and expressions of gender identity and sexuality are greeted with gay bashing and blame—all this contributing to being institutionalized at age 16.

In recounting this all, Shakina takes the audience deep into the belly of what it feels like to struggle against bigotry and mental illness. From singing at the top of her lungs while in psych ward solitary confinement (the rapid-fire and fun “Capo Medley,” arrangement by Jeremy Robin Lyons) or awakening to the meaning of rebirth by way of getting a tattoo of the Phoenix (the beautiful “Red, Orange, and Gold”, music and lyrics by Nikko Benson), you begin to understand how triumphant Shakina has been and why she possesses an urgent need to tell this story.

When Shakina comes out as transgendered in 2001, she is 18 years old, and develops an identity as Latex Superstar while embracing a life of activism that includes sex education and slam poetry (brought back to life for us in performance). We learn about the love and loss of her friend and “Glam as Fuck” comrade Gia (the haunting “Midnight Radio” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, music and lyrics by Stephen Trask) and how issues of shame creep in to paralyzing effect (“Fallen Angel” a dramatic, beautiful original ballad with music and lyrics by Joel Waggoner). While touching on lessons gleaned from tragedy, the narrative is peppered with comedy —“Don’t look at me. Don’t look at my control tops either.”—so the energy in the room remains buoyant.

One Woman Show is performed without an intermission but follows a three act structure and the final act is speedy and heavy on the details of what sounds like an amazing life – Shakina earns an MFA in Experiemental Choreography, PhD in Critical Dance Studies, does extensive Butoh Ritual study in Mexico, develops the rock opera “Junk”, to name a few – culminating in a relocation to NYC to fulfill not only her gender transition process but the dream of returning to the stage. The latter seems like a no-brainer, as Shakina’s vocals are completely off the chart and Broadway caliber. Composer Joe Iconis provides the music and lyrics for the two final songs, “Broadway, Here I Come!” and “Him Today, Gone Tomorrow”, empowerment anthems that celebrate promise and the power to believe in all your dreams, or as Shakina puts it, her choice to pursue “Two dreams for the price of one!” One gets the feeling that if the Shakina had 20 dreams, she could accomplish them all. Seeing her show evokes the feeling you can do it too, which might be the biggest feat accomplished and yet another reason I deem this show a must-see.

One Woman Show
Sophie’s (318 West 53rd Street between 8th and 9th avenues)
Remaining performances: April 22 (9:30 p.m.) and 24 (10 p.m.)
$15 cover charge and a two-drink minimum.
Tickets: http://Shakina.BrownPaperTickets.com

Lindsay B. Davis is an arts/culture journalist and theater artist living in New York City.

Bebe Neuwirth’s “Stories… in NYC: Live at 54 Below”

November 22nd, 2013 Comments off

Contributor Scott Redman gives a listen to Bebe Neuwirth’s new release, Stories… in NYC.

Bebe Neuwirth's "Stories... in New York: Live at 54 Below"

Bebe Neuwirth’s “Stories… in New York: Live at 54 Below”

Bebe Neuwirth, the sultry sounding Broadway triple threat dancer /singer/actress, has recently released a live recording of her performance at New York City’s iconic cabaret space, 54 Below.

Stories… in NYC: Live at 54 Below (available as digital download or CD) showcases the unchained power of a true performer who does everything in her body to portray songs with passion and truth. Neuwirth is dynamically accompanied by  music director and pianist Scott Cady. The 19 tracks include songs from Broadway as well as standards and contemporary selections.

What makes this recording astounding is Neuwirth’s ability to communicate explicitly without regret overflowing with raw passion. Neuwirth starts the evening singing “I Love a Piano”, her old audition song that gave her the opportunity to perform on Broadway, as she recalls her first audition for the musical Dancin’. Neuwirth’s signature vibrato flourishes like the lights of Times Square. Her quirky delivery is often self-depricating as she commits to the audience to perform story songs that have a personal connection to her life as a dancer. There is chatter between musical numbers as Neuwirth engages the audience.

Musical highlights include Kurt Weill’s “Susan’s Dream,” which examines the relationship between dreams and reality. Neuwirth’s voice is primed with a haunting tone as she uncovers the staleness in everyday life. “Mr. Bojangles” (written by Jerry Jeff Walker) tells the story of a southern gypsy dancer who has led a life entertaining those around him. Here Neuwirth isn’t just performing — she is embodying the song, which sounds like a conversation with an old friend. She doesn’t just sing of “Mr. Bojangles” but knows him and understands the pain and joy in his life. “Mr. Bojangles. Mr. Bojangles… dance.”

Neuwirth particularly delivers the Kander and Ebb songs “And the World Goes ‘Round” and “Ring Them Bells” with exceptional aplomb. It is here that the dancer inside Neuwirth relaxes and embodies the music and lyrics as if she is slipping into a snug leather glove. The rhythms come naturally to a dancer who has lived through John Kander and Fred Ebb’s songs and shows (Neuwirth won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Velma Kelly in the 1996 revival of Chicago).

Stories… in NYC offers an exceptional showcase of Bebe Neuwirth’s talent, which is a rare power to convey an array of emotional values and give meaning to lyrics. The final song “Shiver Me Timbers” demonstrates this immense power. The balance between brassy and quiet moments of her singing allows the listener to experience the full vigor what a talented performer with a simple piano accompaniment can deliver to an audience. Her approach is wholly unique and uses the sentiments of New York City to tell her stories. Keep telling them Bebe.

Stories… in NYC can be purchased at amazon.com or on iTunes.

Here’s a rare look at Bebe’s silly side as she reinterprets “All That Jazz” for Musical Madlibs.

That’s Cabaret: Andrea McArdle Gives an Energetic and Upbeat Performance in San Francisco

August 24th, 2013 Comments off

Contributor Heather Cassell is delighted by Broadway great Andrea McArdle’s latest cabaret offering. 

Andrea McArdle

Andrea McArdle

Tony-nominated Andrea McArdle greeted the full house at Feinstein’s inside the Nikko Hotel with an energetic song, as she made her way onto the stage and belted “Native New Yorker” to a lively audience.

The crowd at times burst into song along with McArdle, who at 49-years old  is as spunky and upbeat as ever. She enjoyed performing along with musical director Steve Marzullo as much as the audience enjoyed listening to the music and stories she told in between songs from 70’s and Sunny: Live At 54 Below. McArdle’s latest release, her first from the Broadway Records label recorded live at 54 BELOW (254 West 54th Street), is what she calls a “verbal journal” of her youth as a showbiz kid in 1970s New York City.

The album’s songs are a mix of favorites from the 70s that made her want to sing, from “Rainy Days and Mondays” to obscure Broadway show tunes, such as “Fallin’,” which never even made it into a show. Of course the album also features “Tomorrow,” the iconic ballad from Annie that set off McArdle’s illustrious career.

She wrapped up the show with an encore tribute to San Francisco featuring “The Trolley Song” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Her voice is impeccable and youthful, even after hours of rehearsal and what she calls “texture” from age. With a voice so pure and true, McArdle hit every note effortlessly, as if singing is the most natural thing in the world. Between songs and while interacting with both the audience and Marzullo at the piano, she shared her memories of growing up around stars such as Carol Channing, Liberace and many more.

The show is delightful and entertaining, the epitome of cabaret. McArdle is a perfect performer who knows her music and clearly loves performing. This is a good time out on the town that should not be missed.

McArdle performs again tonight (August 24, 2013) at Feinstein’s at the Hotel Nikko (222 Mason St., 415-394-1111) in San Francisco at 7 p.m. Tickets are $35 – $55.

Heather Cassell is a freelance journalist and travel writer with more than 20 years experience covering LGBT and women’s issues. When Heather isn’t wandering off learning and writing about women’s and LGBT issues, she covers business, health and other news for a number of publications as well as the syndicated “Out in the World” international LGBT news column.