Concert Review: LEA DELARIA (The Theatre at Ace Hotel in Los Angeles)

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by Tony Frankel on January 23, 2020

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles


She’s butch, bold, brazen and brash. She’s riotous, raucous, ribald and rebellious. She scats with style and scurrilously scours political cads. And above all, she’s enormously entertaining. Since the mid-eighties, I’ve seen her on Broadway as well as her solo shows, some mostly singing and some mostly stand-up. Last Saturday night, January 18, Lea DeLaria blew into Theatre at the Ace Hotel with an evening of everything. With a phenomenal band, the Diva dyke dominated the stage with an effortless and winning style that adds up to one thing: Fun. Her opening number, Michael John LaChiusa’s “Welcome to My Party,” from The Wild Party, made sure we knew what we were in for. And I ain’t talkin’ just show tunes, although I was ecstatic that this Broadway powerhouse actually sang some friggin’ show tunes — on New Year’s Eve at Disney Hall, we saw Kristin Chenoweth, Shoshana Bean, and Cheyenne Jackson, and not a single show tune between the three of them! DeLaria’s second song was a completely and delightfully revamped “All that Jazz” from Kander & Ebb’s Chicago.

Even though she sounded a bit strained and thrashed on her top notes (she mentioned the Med-Men dispensary down the street; had she smoked some?), this libidinous lesbian really cooked, offering samples from most of her six albums, and a few from her wonderful release House of David: delaria + bowie = jazz (on Ghostlight Records). Her energy and enthusiasm belied the fact that she is newly sexagenarian.

I hear that most folks know DeLaria as butch lesbian Big Boo, one of the inmates in the long-running, award-winning Netflix TV series Orange Is the New Black, but her popularity on TV will hopefully get more people interested in both her singing and jazz in general (this evening was presented by CAP UCLA). But it wasn’t just about her. Offering her own be-bop arrangement of Willie Dixon’s “I Love the Life I Live” not only allowed her to own the stage in this beautiful house, but gave everyone in her band the chance to solo. Just before, she instructed audience members to applaud after solos — it never occurred to me that people either never knew about that or they needed to be reminded. I love that DeLaria is doing all she can to keep jazz and its traditions alive.

In true jazz style, we heard from the awfully handsome Dylan Shamat of Persian and Israeli descent on standup bass (he replaced the previously announced Endea Owens); wearing all-black pleather pants and high-heeled platform shoes was Miki Hayama, fiercely cooking it on piano (especially later on Cole Porter’s “Miss Otis Regrets”) and keyboards; on guitar and as music director, the great Sheryl Bailey (the head of the guitar department at Berklee College of Music in Boston, the number one school for jazz); Sylvia Cuenca played some mean drums.

Bowie was represented with startlingly original takes: “Fame” immediately alerts us that DeLaria isn’t interested in merely copying pop; “Life on Mars?” is now a dark torch song that builds from Hayama’s gorgeous solo to a dynamic emotional, sharp, creative climax; “Let’s Dance,” now greatly pared down, gave Mr. Shamat a chance to shine with some boogie riffs, but it also let DeLaria deliver some stunning scatting.

And, yeah, there were some awesome outbursts, especially enjoyed by the liberal crowd. Ya know, in the vein of “Fuck Trump!” Roaring from the crowd. “And fuck Mike Pence!” Roaring again. But she had me when she noted that eating out Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s counselor, would be like going down on a triscuit. Indeed, about half of the evening was magnetic ranting and raving.

I love that she ended with two more Broadway tunes done jazzy; it’s a great reminder that — as much as jazz opens the boundaries of music like no other — it always starts with a great song. And “Everything I Got” is a pip, taken from Rodgers and Hart’s longest-running Broadway hit and their last full-length work, By Jupiter (1942). The winner for me was taking Sondheim’s dark and minor-key “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” and turning it into a toe-tapping, joyous, rhythmic rouser. I done dug this dominant dyke diva.

photos courtesy of CAP UCLA

Lea DeLaria
presented by UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance (CAP UCLA)
Theatre at the Ace Hotel, 933 S. Broadway in DTLA
played on January 18, 2020
for future events, call 310-825-2101 or visit CAP UCLA

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