Kevin on Kabaret :: Dangerous Women & Radical Faeries
Everybody loves a comeback story, and this month I give you Billie Roe, the toast of New York cabaret for the last couple of years. In 2011, she won a Bistro for her show Dangerous Women: Life in Film Noir. The following year, she won the influential MetroStar Challenge contest at the Metropolitan Room, which rewarded her with a week-long engagement with a band at the renowned club.
This month, Roe returns with the acclaimed show she did at the Metropolitan Room earlier this year-but now she's at The Duplex, October 15th and 29th at 7:00 p.m. The show is "NYC Underground: 1978," which explores that time through the songs of Tom Waits.
I spoke with Ms. Roe recently, and told her the Duplex might be a better venue for such a show. She agreed. "The Village was the hubbub of artistic revelry in the '70s," she said, and she was there to experience it. "I've been waiting for thirty-five years to put Tom Waits music to the story of what it was like in the Village in 1978, and when I won the MetroStar Challenge, I knew it was the time to do it."
Roe describes her own journey as "hitting fast and hard" when she arrived in the ’70s. "The cabaret scene was very different then," she told me. "But it’s still the perfect vehicle for me; it uses all of my talents." Also an actress and playwright, Roe moved out to Los Angeles soon after her early success, got married, and had a child.
She returned to New York in the early ’90s. One night, while walking around with her daughter, they came across a piano bar where beloved Jerry Scott (who died earlier this year) was playing. He encouraged her and she kept coming back to sing.
Eventually, she found her way to the Yale Cabaret Conference and classes, and began working on a show called "Tales from Woodstock." As a teen, she had sneaked away to Woodstock-she never made it, but had adventures to tell nonetheless.
Just as things were looking up, Roe was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer and thyroid cancer. "I had to stop singing, but eventually I started getting my voice back," she said. "One day I went into the Estee Lauder Center at Sloan-Kettering for my chemo treatment, and they asked me what I wanted to watch, so I began watching old film noir movies. That led to her show, "Dangerous Women: Life in Film Noir."
"That show got me through a tough time," Roe recalled. "I’m attracted to dark humor and the grittier side of life," she said, noting that both film noir and the music of Waits fit that description.
As for the appeal of Waits, she said, "He is being rediscovered by people in their twenties, around my daughter’s age. There is such a sense of humanity in his writing, and he’s such a storyteller." She paused. "I often wondered how he could be so young and so knowing. And his stuff is great material for actors; it’s ambitious material to tackle." She noted that, although her show is set in 1978, she uses some of Waits’ more recent material as well.
I suggested that Roe had a bit of the old-school diva about her. "Well, the meaning of the word has changed over the years," she said. "If you mean temperamental and difficult to work with, then no, I’m not a diva. But if you mean that I demand excellence of myself, then yes I am!" She laughed and told me, "You know, back in the day, I once opened for Gloria Gaynor! I was a bit of a gay icon."
Well, if that doesn’t qualify for diva status, I don’t know what does. Join me in toasting the remarkable comeback of the hardworking and excellent Billie Roe. October 15th and 29th at the Duplex (and an additional date in November) . . .
And for another kind of diva entirely, you must visit visit Rev. Yolanda’s Old Time Gospel Hour at the Duplex on October 20th. Rev. Yolanda is the creation of Rev. Roger Anthony "Yolanda" Mapes, an ordained Interfaith Minister. The show has been playing monthly at the Duplex for nearly two years.
Mapes grew up as a church-going boy in Muscle Shoals, Alabama (a very famous music town, actually). "I was very aware of being a gay boy in Alabama," Mapes told me. "I’d been playing in a gospel/bluegrass band since I was sixteen, but ended up leaving the church when I fell in love with a hot, red-headed bass player when I was in college."
That event, however, precipitated his detour into theater and New York. "I lived an outrageous life for many years," he recalled. "I was a political activist and a member of the Radical Faeries."
He met his future husband, a preacher’s kid, in the Radical Faeries as well. "We started reading the book ’Miracles’ and it helped us to heal with our past. We both ended up going to seminary. We have come to believe that all is good, everything is part of the journey."
When I asked him how the character of Yolanda came about, he said, "I don’t consider her a character and I actually prefer being called Yolanda. I consider myself kind of trans-not because I want to be a woman-but in the sense of transcendent and transformative."
Nevertheless, Yolanda was born on the Radical Faeries commune. "We were in drag on an almost daily basis and Yolanda kind of became my guide, and I came to identify with her." About the performance, he said, "It’s more of an exaggeration of femininity as it flows through me."
Mapes is an award-winning songwriter, and Yolanda performs original songs as well as old-time gospel classics. "People think it’s going to be cynical or making fun of Christianity," he said of the show. "But it’s not that at all. I poke fun at myself, but it’s a sincere show and I feel called to be doing this."
Recently, Rev. Yolanda performed in North Carolina, and while a few walked out, those who stayed rewarded her with a standing ovation. Mapes likes to tell the story of how a young gay man brought his conservative Christian mother to his show at The Duplex. Afterward, she gave Yolanda a hug and said, "I never thought it would be a drag queen that would bring my son back to the Lord!"
On a more serious note, Mapes said, "I see a desire for the LGBT community to reclaim spirituality. There’s a movement building."
Go see Rev. Yolanda on October 20th with her special guest, opera singer Martina Bruno. I can’t wait to check out this show . . .
One of our very own, the sublime Kevin Dozier, is under consideration for a Grammy nomination (Traditional Pop Vocal) for his CD, "Love’s Never Lost." If you are a NARAS voter or you know someone who is, send them to http://www.kevindozier.com/grammy to listen to free tracks. Let’s make this happen. And congratulations, Kevin! Much-deserved!
Finally, if you want something different to do on Halloween, check out Joan Jaffe’s "Food," opening that night at Don’t Tell Mama. The veteran theater and film actress is as funny as they get, and I named her one of my favorite acts of the year in 2010. Sure to be a hoot!
And now . . .
Kev’s faves: Incredible talent Lauren Fox returns to the Metropolitan Room (October 23 & 30) with her hit show, "Canyon Folkies: Over the Hills and Under the Covers." It’s a celebration in song and story of the music scene in southern California in the late ’60s, when Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, the Eagles, the Mamas and the Papas, Neil Young, and more lived, loved and created there . . . The smoking hot Carole J. Bufford is also back at the same room with her show "Body and Soul" on the 10th . . . I’ll always remember the first time I saw ’Into the Woods,’ one of my favorite musicals, and its star, Joanna Gleason. Now the great lady of stage is doing the nightclub thing at swank 54 Below (October 9 and 16) . . . Grammy-nominated jazz singer Karrin Allyson did not come to my attention until her terrific 2011 recording, "’Round Midnight," but I’m a latecomer in singing her praises. See and hear what she’s all about at Birdland, October 8-12 . . . and the one and only David Cassidy comes to B.B. King’s on October 17. I hope he sings some Partridge Family.
And that’s just a small dose of what’s being offered. I’ll be out and about. Until next month . . . I’ll see you over cocktails.