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.’
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.)
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
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.