The new arrival on the cabaret/supper club scene is 54 Below, a subterranean grotto in the Theater District that’s looking to marry “uptown”—traditional cabaret and Broadway stars—with the edgier, “downtown” feel you might find at the likes of Joe’s Pub. Everyone wants to get married these days!
Evidence of the former: as we made our way to 54 Below, Andrea McArdle, who’d played the early show, greeted her fans on the sidewalk. As the latter, singer/comic/actor Lea DeLaria readied her 9:30 show, Lea DeLaria Is the Last Butch Standing: Chronicles of an Old School Butch in a Post-Ellen, Modern Queer World.
Last Butch Standing… is her first NYC gig with standup in some time, and last Monday, her fans were ravenous. DeLaria took the stage in glasses, bowtie, sweater vest, jeans (hanky on the right), rocking the leather/nerd look, and was ready to roll.
The show is described in press releases as “not suitable for all ages,” which is good. It’s suitable for people who like jazz, jazz hands, Star Trek (the original series), Broadway musicals (and the people who star in them), tequila, people who wear bowties (men and women) and people who remember the ‘70s and ‘80s, even if they’re a bit fuzzy. It’s also suitable for queers who sometimes wonder what the hell’s going on with these other queers. And “some heterosexuals.” And Jews. DeLaria loves the Jews. “If you are what you eat, then I’m Jewish,” she told us.
Last Butch Standing… has the quality of a really blue, politically incorrect tent revival with Brother Lea testifying to power and glory of the butch dyke and nellie queen, accompanied by a jazz combo. She’s shed her blood for us, and has the BUTCH tattoo on her forearm to prove it. Pretty much everyone in the community (as well as the idea of a “community”) is up for DeLaria’s acid analysis. She calls it as she sees it, and it may touch a nerve or several. Everyone’s in for it: lesbians, “mainstream” queers, trans people, fans of Star Trek: the Next Generation…DeLaria is menopausal these days, or rather peri-menopausal, and she stops to explore the concept of Perry Como menopausal and Katy Perry menopausal.
Early on, she tells of accompanying her “traveling partner” (what she calls the other person in her decade-long relationship, a la Jane Austen) to the public dressing room at Loehmann’s, where she’s mistaken, twice, for a man. She’s used to this; she’s been “sirred” at her pap smear. But she’s expecting the reaction of the German tourist who refuses to believe she’s a woman. The encounter ends with a standing ovation from the old Jewish ladies at Loehmann’s.
She segues into a subversive cover of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “I Enjoy Being a Girl.” DeLaria is backed by Dylan Shamat on bass, Aaron Kimmel on drums and Joshua Richman on piano. Richard Wagner is musical director. “It’s a pleasure to create music with these guys,” DeLaria said, as she continued to try to crack up the band. She got a double-take from Shamat, who said he’d never heard the term “hair pie” before. DeLaria explored the topic further with a rendition of “My Cat Fell in the Well,” a song from the ‘30s (“when you could still get away with stuff like that on the radio,” she explained) and had the audience singing along to the chorus of “Pussy pussy pussy pussy…” and “poor kitty, poor kitty.”
DeLaria spoke of how she’s a third generation musician: her grandmother was a vocalist; her dad was a jazz pianist. He took her to gigs in East St. Louis from an early age, and let her sing onstage. She spoke of her early years as a comic in San Francisco, where she was billed as The Fuckin’ Dyke, and how everything changed in her career when she got cast in The Public Theater’s revival of “On the Town,” which led to a rendition of her show-stopping number “I Can Cook, Too.”
She’s in the recording studio these days, working on her sixth album, a collection of jazz covers of David Bowie songs. She gave us “Fame,” which had the Menopausal Stoner at my table (that’s her blog name, not just a characterization), totally rocking out.
DeLaria’s first encore, accompanied by a beer and a tequila, was Sondheim’s “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” and she was having too much fun to stop. While she hadn’t prepared a second, she “called a classic,” and went out with “Take the A Train,” which many in the audience presumably were taking after the show. Just because we live in New York City, where life is often a cabaret, and Lea DeLaria is the butch who can prove it.
“Last Butch Standing…” has one more performance in its run, on Monday, August 6 at 10:30pm. Tickets are $25 to $35 and there’s a $25 food and beverage minimum.
“What did this used to be?” my friend Robert the jazz singer asked. “Basement of Studio 54,” I replied. “I’ll bet you could still find some of Diana Ross’s sperm here if you looked hard enough,” he remarked. Robert’s the perfect person to see a Lea DeLaria show with.
You’d have to look pretty hard to find any traces of Miss Ross; the space below the Roundabout Theater company’s Broadway home is beautiful and polished, a sleek, intimate venue, with tables up close to the stage, and half-circle banquettes at the back of the room. The staff scurries to and from the kitchen and bar, which you can see at the far end of the room, through an archway, where the bottles are silhouetted in a blue light, and people turn their gazes to the stage, set at about tabletop height, where on this night there’s a grand piano, standup bass and drum kit.