by Steve Desroches
As a young girl growing up outside of Dallas Tori Scott had an innate love for the stage. Dance lessons, vocal coaches, school plays—Scott’s childhood was all about her love for performance. Her natural talent shone through, as did her dedication and passion for theater at such a young age, prompting her parents to allow her to perform with community theaters throughout the Dallas area. It was at those rehearsals and performances that Scott found herself in the company of mostly gay men. And while she had a loving family of her own, in a way Scott is like Mowgli in The Jungle Book, but instead of being raised by wolves she was taught the ways of the world from a distinctly gay male perspective.
Now in her mid thirties, Scott is a smash hit cabaret performer in New York with an act that has earned her the nickname “the Garland for the Grindr age.” Long gone is the expression “fag hag,” which wasn’t particularly sensitive to either end of that special relationship between some gay men and straight women. Instead, through her performance and words, Scott expresses a deep appreciation, and respect, for gay culture developed by a mutual esteem from said community for her talents, smarts, and personality. In this new age of progress people can be heterosexual, but not necessarily straight when it comes to their cultural affiliations and social groups, again, born out of a true mutual respect. For Scott, it began all those years ago with a group of gay men who doted on her and helped her developed her musical and comedic gifts.
“From a young age I was surrounded by gay men,” says Scott. “These men are in their fifties now and I call them my gay dads. They’re all so supportive. They come to New York about once a year to see me perform. They had such a huge influence on me.”
Scott returns to the Art House this weekend after making her Provincetown debut last Fourth of July weekend to a sold-out house and standing ovations for her booming voice, impeccable timing, and an ability to throw shade and read a queen that would have her in the final three of RuPaul’s Drag Race. After graduating from the Boston Conservatory with a degree in musical theater (where she studied along with Peregrine Theatre Ensemble’s Adam Berry) Scott hit New York with Broadway dreams, but understanding that the realities of that life meant she’d also be waitressing and temping in boring office jobs. Soon she realized she was only singing at auditions while the rest of her time was spent trying to make ends meet in the stratospherically expensive city. That’s when the rainbow appeared.
A friend, a gay one naturally, said she should sing at his favorite neighborhood gay bar, the now closed Vlada Lounge in Hell’s Kitchen. She was a hit. Soon other gay bars in Manhattan came calling and Scott became the Bette Midler of the new millennium in New York, singing barefoot on top of the bar after a drag queen finished her number for crowds of gay men, who, just like when she was a little girl, showered her with affection and support. But now that she was an adult, they were also a delightfully bad influence on her, showing her the finer side of everything from all-night benders to Sunday morning hangover brunches. It seemed a natural fit as since elementary school Scott was, as Madge in the old Palmolive commercials would say, “soaking in it” when it came to gay life.
“Sometimes I have to remind myself I’m not a gay man,” says Scott. “I was in Flaming Saddles, this gay bar in New York like Coyote Ugly, but they have men dancing on the bar, and this bachelorette party came in and I was like ‘Ugh, I think there’re too many women in here.’ Why is it that they feel the need to go to a gay bar or a drag show? I just went to a bachelorette party in South Carolina, and we just smoked weed on the beach and it was perfect.”
This life as a cabaret star came as a refreshing surprise, relieving Scott from the soul-crushing doldrums of auditioning in New York. Her fabulous storytelling ability, her relatable self-effacing humor mixed with her masterful sly jabs, and her big voice uniquely interpreting songs from “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” to Hedwig and the Angry Inch’s “Wig in a Box” make her a cabaret superstar, landing her regular gigs at New York’s 54 Below and Joe’s Pub.
All those years of struggling in New York have paid off, says Scott, as the life she is living now allows her to be on stage, work on her craft, and make a living at what she loves to do. And the gay audiences are a definite perk. She still has dreams of being on Broadway, recording albums, and perhaps someday a variety show. But for now she’s loving life and that her cabaret success is taking her to places like Provincetown and Fire Island this past summer for the first time, two places she loved, with one exception.
“I didn’t get laid, just so you know,” says Scott. “There were not a lot of straight men around. But I got a really good tan.”
Tori Scott performs at the Art House, 214 Commercial St. Friday, September 16 and Saturday, September 17 at 7 p.m. For tickets ($30 general/$40 VIP seating) and information go to the box office, call 508.487.9222, or visit ptownarthouse.com.