Excitement was palpable as the restless full house waited for Isaac Mizrahi at 54 Below. Finally, the band released the tension with an intro as Mizrahi burst onto the stage. The ebullient Mizrahi transported us into the mid-1960s by singing “The Joker” from The Roar of The Greasepaint, The Smell of The Crowd by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. Audience members had jotted questions for Mizrahi to answer throughout the evening.
With his signature vertical coiffure, fashionista Mizrahi wore a navy-blue suit, Gerber daisies in the lapels, a white shirt, black sandals, and a diamond anklet. He later lamented that despite his innovative sojourns into fashion design, tonight’s outfit defaulted into his mother’s standard going-out garb. “All that work, and I still look like my mother!”
The song “The Joker” has a sardonic quality, akin to the clown’s portrayal in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, who sings to entertain while masking his broken spirit. Is this a portentous clue to Mizrahi’s gentle and sometimes wounded heart?
I could hardly keep up with the hilarious flow of humor, anecdotes, self-deprecation, cleverness, mischief, and improvised responses to audience questions. You have to listen closely to catch all of Mizrahi’s comical nuggets, from the 1960 Barbie “Solo in the Spotlight” doll, Manolo Blahnik discovering Mizrahi gave away his gift to him of a personalized L.L. Bean tote bag, his suggestion that we vote for Stacy Abrams for president (I heard a loud “NO WAY!” from a back corner of the room), his frequent toasts to celebrate the good things in life, his early career as a female impersonator, and his Barbara Streisand affectations.
Is there a revival of Victor Victoria? I’m available, and where is central casting? Unfortunately, my phone hasn’t yet rung.
The Lovable Humorist
Mizrahi is a lovable humorist and friend of Stephen Sondheim, Faye Dunaway, and Barbara Streisand. He notes that Judaism is never quite enough, just like an extended Netflix series. He doesn’t sleep well and hails Xanax and alcohol as the modern elixirs for the anxieties of modern times. He couldn’t stop himself from declaring, “I love booze and pills,” and warned the audience that Xanax and the wine spritzer he was consuming on stage made it impossible for him to control his words.
And while Mizrahi expresses frustration at society’s current intolerance of jokes about race and nationality (remember Archie Bunker?), powered by his time-earned gravitas, he’s relieved that we can still have fun with Jewish humor. Regardless of what anyone says about Jews, he quips that they will continue to make money and amass art collections. Mizrahi doesn’t consider the ubiquitous American usage of Yiddish phrases like “Oy vey” as cultural appropriation but rather a tribute to Jewish culture. He notes that the word “Jew” might be softened a bit by modifying the “J” sound, as he tries a few samples on the audience laughing so hard they can hardly hear him. On a roll, he notes his issues with people who offend “trans” by using the term with jokes about “transportation, transfer, or transformation.” His 95-year-old Jewish mother is not left out. While he cites her unfailing support of his lifelong endeavors, he banters about her diminished vision and hearing but unerring ability to notice that saltshakers are missing from a table at a five-star restaurant. We learned that a “Jewish affair” is for two to look at each other but not touch.
Songs of Biographical Sentiment
Misrahi is a boyish, lovable character who is bawdy, irreverent, clever, and entertaining with repartee and humor as delightful as his singing. His selection of songs seems to spring from biographical sentiment, and while he can sing to be funny, he can also touch hearts with the intense pathos, sadness, and beauty he expresses in songs like Sondheim’s “One More Kiss” from Follies. The song ended with a whisper, silence, and thunderous applause.
Mizrahi enjoyed tonight’s venue as he intimately shared stories springing from the muse, life experience, and from observing the quirks and behavior of others. He is at home on stage and so comfortable that, to the audience’s delight, he can joke about spilling liquid on his pants leg, construable as an age-related accident.
Changing the Words
Cole Porter’s song “You’re the Top” and the Beach Boys instrumental “Pet Sounds” received Mizrahi’s personalized sets of lyrics. Mizrahi cleverly adapts his favorite tunes by creating hilarious lyrics that reflect his interests like dogs and contemporary humor around covid, monkeypox, politics, and much more. He even inserted a rap chorus.
The rhythm section accompanied and performed par excellence. Ben Waltzer led the trio and ensured every sound was timed and crafted as it should be for Mizrahi. Stefan Schatz commanded a percussion batterie, playing drum set in perfect time, glockenspiel, tambourine, and an improvised maraca made from a large pill bottle to obtain desired sounds. Neil Miner provided solid double bass support with pizzicato and bowing. All three soloed beautifully, demonstrating their jazz and improvisatory acumen. They are all world-class musicians.
The night ended with “You and Me” from Victor Victoria by Blake Edwards and originally sung by Julie Andrews and Robert Preston in the 1982 musical comedy film.
It seems the only thing Mizrahi dislikes is the heat of summer weather.
254 W 54th St. Cellar, NYC 10019
Tickets & Info: (646) 476-3551