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Slay Lady Slay

September 6, 2017 5:00 am0 commentsViews: 11
Photo: Kevin Kauer

Photo: Kevin Kauer

by Steve Desroches

Lady Rizo can break your heart, bust your gut, and open your eyes all with one song. The comedian chanteuse commands a stage with old Hollywood glamour, rocks a microphone like Janis at Monterey Pop, and conjures up a queer voodoo as the high priestess of camp and insight. An evening with Lady Rizo is akin to watching a rock and roll mystic weave a golden shawl on a magic loom as she enchants each audience with music and laughter as by the end she’s metaphorically kissed everyone and has them under her spell for good.

There’s no one like her.

The freedom and generosity inherent in Lady Rizo’s performance is tinged with a ferocious authority. She knows what she is doing, and you believe her and share in that confidence. Sensual and smart, she is above all else hilarious as she maneuvers the stage as if she has the spotlight by the ear. But at the core is kindness. Not the variety that gets cast aside as weak or fragile, but as unbeatable.

“I perform in a way that summons the feminine divine,” says Rizo. “The soft warrior. The feminine divine that finds strength through softness. It’s that juxtaposition that we’re presented that strength must be masculine and aggressive and femininity is weak. And we’re living in this time of such hyper, toxic masculinity. And let me be clear, when it comes to the feminine I don’t just mean women. Men have this feminine divine in them, too.”

Born Amelia Zirin-Brown in Newport, Oregon, the cabaret superstar created Lady Rizo upon her arrival in New York in 2004. Combining the aesthetics of vaudeville, burlesque, and cabaret she shot to fame in the downtown New York performance scene and became a Provincetown favorite when she made her debut as part of the inaugural Afterglow Festival in 2011. And she is returning to the festival once again this year with her new show Red, White and Indigo, a comedic, musical exploration of the dark times we, as a nation, are living through.

Often times Lady Rizo is referred to as one of the shining stars of “alt-cabaret,” a take off of a familiar genre with a prefix that in today’s news cycle is also being used by Nazis, white supremacists, and the like in some sort of grotesque rebranding effort. While there is no such thing as the “alt-right,” as they are still just the weak-minded hate-mongers that have always been around throughout history, the cabaret scene is indeed an alternative to many types of performance. Unlike the story told in the Kander and Ebb musical Cabaret, today’s stars are acutely aware of the dark forces around us, and they address it specifically, if not directly, in their work. Lady Rizo is a master at the art of subtlety when expressing a moral clarity in her shows. She’s a Sally Bowles with a squirt-gun, extinguishing those ridiculous tiki torches one by one. And Red, White, and Indigo is an exploration of a love for country that does not include flouting when the promises of equality in our republic’s founding are trampled on. Quite the contrary, as with Lady Rizo you sing out armed with an expository wit.

“It’s kind of a secret spirituality to my show,” says Rizo. “Not that it’s a secret. I mean that there is this secret that comes through the gauze of glitter and glamour and luxury that doesn’t care for morons. It cares for a free soul, taste, and movement. It’s about looking for something deeper. It’s soothing in a way.”

Walking through the streets of Brooklyn Rizo’s voice lifts, momentarily blocked by a wailing siren, as she thinks about Provincetown. The gorgeous light. The poetry of Mary Oliver. The art. The camaraderie of performers, many of whom she has deep connections with. She attended the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, where she acted as an inspiration for fellow student Jerick Hoffer, better known as Jinkx Monsoon, and she appears on the new album the drag superstar releases this month with collaborator Major Scales. Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer and Provincetown resident Michael Cunningham is her son’s godfather, and she adores artist John Dowd and director and writer Daniel Minahan. It’s the people here, the ones that really invest themselves in the town and its culture, that give Provincetown its undeniable mystique, and she’s thrilled to be a part of it.

“I feel like there’s this magic with the people there,” says Rizo. “There’s just this magic to it, and it’s not just the light. It’s the people. It is hard to get to, but while it’s hard to get to, that’s what helps to protect it. If it was easy to get to it would just be like Fire Island.”

The Afterglow Festival presents Lady Rizo in Red, White and Indigo at the Art House, 214 Commercial St. on Wednesday, September 13 at 9:30 p.m. Tickets ($30) are available at the box office and online at ptownarthouse.com. For more information call 508.487.9222.