First Visits and Revisits
The Siegels applaud Jerry Christakos in and out of drag, and revisit Rick Skye as Liza Minnelli.
Nightlife doesn't always happen at night. Sometimes it happens in the middle of the afternoon. Case in point: The Brunch Cabaret every Sunday from noon to 4pm at Regents on East 53rd Street. We got up and out early one particular Sunday (is 1pm early?) because we had just seen Jerry Christakos in the sensationally silly show business send-up Lovely at Don't Tell Mama. In that show, he and his co-star Kelly Briggs, both dressed in drag, play two hilariously bitchy divas who are as over-the-top as they are over-the-hill (except when they sang). We found Lovely to be funny and thrilling all at once, so we quickly made plans to see Christakos upon learning that he was about to make his solo cabaret debut -- as himself -- at Regents' Sunday brunch.
Wisely adopting a nonchalant attitude for the informal atmosphere of the brunch, Christakos proved to be a warm and charming presence. A musical theater actor, he and Briggs came up with the Lovely act in their spare time while touring with the national company of Les Misérables, and they clearly understand the difference between stage work and cabaret. A lot of actors rely on the characters they play and don't know how to be themselves on stage. Christakos did not have that problem; he was almost impish in his opening number, "Let's Live it Up," amusingly tongue-in-cheek in a tune called "Chloe," and surprisingly sensitive in his interpretation of "I'm a Gigolo." When he did choose to create a character, that of a bongo-playing beatnik, he turned that far-out fool into the highlight of the show with a number called "Crazy New Words."
The centerpiece of the act was a medley of songs about cities, waspishly inspired by the national tour of Les Miz. Some of the numbers selected worked in this context but others did not. (If Christakos keeps the medley in his show, he should consider adding Francesca Blumenthal's "Buffalo, City of Dreams," as it's just the kind of satiric tune that would make his comic point.) Regardless, he got through it with his sharp wit, generous heart, and considerable vocal dexterity; he even sang "Viva Las Vegas" Elvis style.
Tall and good-looking, Christakos delivered engaging patter with comfortable ease and performed in a voice that ranged from tender to heroic. His brunch cabaret act wasn't a challenging piece of work but it was certainly entertaining; Christakos was tasty, and so was the brunch! As to the latter, it's a wonderfully unrushed experience every Sunday afternoon. You can come at noon, drink and eat from a wide-ranging yet inexpensive menu, and do so at your leisure, as there is one sitting for the entire afternoon. John MacMahon plays the piano (he's terrific, the piano is not). The show starts at about 2pm and you can choose to hang around as long as you want thereafter. In that regard, there may be no other cabaret club like this in New York.
The folks tapped to perform the Sunday brunch show change weekly but, happily, Jerry Christakos will be back at Regents on Sunday, September 22. Meanwhile, to experience the full effect of his versatility, catch him in his alter ego as Kristy Van De Camp in Lovely at Don't Tell Mama on Monday, September 9 at 8:30 pm. Together, Christakos and Kelly Briggs are sumptuously saucy.
We don't often return to see an act after we've reviewed it. But there is something about Rick Skye or Liza Minnelli -- or both -- that demands attention. Regular readers of this column will recall that we gave Skye's A Slice O' Minnelli show a mixed review in our column of August 9, noting (among other things) that "[Skye] doesn't need to modulate keys, but he does need to modulate volume and speed. If he would give the songs a chance to breathe -- and the audience a chance to react -- this show would be far more successful."
Hearing that significant changes had been made in the act, we decided to take another peek -- and the peek became an eyes-wide-open stare. While the show is still a touch too loud, some smart and funny patter that didn't exist before has been inserted to slow the relentless pace. And the songs themselves are now sung less stridently, allowing us to hear and react (with laughter) to Skye's extremely clever parody lyrics. Simply put, this Liza show has a brand new hip.
Rick Skye's A Slice O' Minnelli at Don't Tell Mama has already been extended and has two more performances scheduled: Friday, September 6 at 9pm and Sunday, September 15 at 3pm.