Jamie deRoy: Party Girl
JAMIE deROY is crazy like a silver fox. Barbara & Scott Siegel profile cabaret's favorite party girl.
A personality is created by a unique alchemy of talent and effervescence. Talking talent, Ms. deRoy is an actress/singer who has done it all, from legitimate theater to movies, and from the nightclub circuit to television. As for effervescence, anyone who has been in a crowded room with her knows that the sight and sound of deRoy is inevitably that room's center. And speaking of survival, deRoy's career has never been more vibrant than it is today. After performing in five different decades and winning accolades aplenty, she recently won two more MAC Awards, including one for her very first CD, the anthology recording The Child in Me: Volume 1--Songs That Take You Back to Your Childhood. Meeting with the lady after yet another sold-out performance of her variety show, Jamie deRoy & friends, we talked about her life and career.
In the Beginning...
"I always wanted to be in the musical theater," de Roy says. "My parents allowed me to be an apprentice in summer stock, thinking I'd give it all up because the work was so hard." She laughs at the recollection, a booming sound that echoes through the restaurant. "I ended up playing Polly Peachum at the age of 16 opposite René Auberjonois as Mack the Knife in The Threepenny Opera." Her parents' plan backfired. "I got the bug."
One of her early breaks came when she met and worked with the young Barry Manilow. "I had auditioned for The Drunkard at the 13th Street Theater," she relates. "Manilow was the musical director. I was cast as the heroine. He wrote all the incidental music and he played the piano." Later, when deRoy needed charts for a nightclub act, she asked Manilow to write them for her--which he did. She eventually used those charts in an act that took her up to the Catskills resorts and, eventually, to New York night-spots like The Living Room and The Playboy Club.
Still later, she played venues like Reno Sweeney's, one time entering the club on the arm of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger. The girl got around. Still does.
Meanwhile, she had begun the fun tradition of throwing an annual party to commemorate her 30th birthday. But a threatening health condition made life rather more serious, and caused deRoy to rethink the direction of her career. "I faced this thyroid operation," she confides. "I was warned that I might not be able to sing again. I knew that I would have to have the operation, and I avoided it for the longest time." In case things turned out badly, she decided to cover her bets. "I wanted to still be able to get on stage and be out there. The logical thing was to take those birthday parties the extra step and turn them into a variety show. That's how I came up with Jamie deRoy & friends." The original idea was to do it as a talk show; but it turned out that her voice was just fine, and deRoy has since become one of cabaret's most delicious song parodists.
Jamie deRoy & friends was launched in 1990 at what was then Steve McGraw's (now The Triad). The show got a big boost in only its second week when Steve Allen showed up with some parody material for deRoy. "I asked if he'd like to do it himself," she recalls. "He came up on stage, and that really helped. We were packed!" One of the hallmarks of deRoy's shows has been her skill at audience development; her guest performers--more than 1,000 over the course of the last decade--are always assured that they will play to a full house. By the same token, audiences are assured that they'll see a delightfully varied, high-level show with some surprises.
As a former president of MAC (the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs), deRoy is acutely aware of the need to help promote young talent. "The fun of it is giving a chance to performers, of catching them on the way up," she says. "When I started, you were an opening act; you did a half hour before a headliner. That's how you got your feet wet. You weren't responsible for filling the house. There is nothing like that today, so I use my show to give people a break."
For six years, deRoy has hosted her own cable TV show, also titled Jamie deRoy & friends). The program airs every other Tuesday evening at 8pm on Channel 67 (Time Warner/MNN) and Channel 107 (RCN) in N.Y.C., and is also seen in L.A., Washington D.C., and parts of Westchester, Yonkers, Long Island, and New Jersey. In addition to that ongoing commitment, the Silver Fox--in association with John Jerome--is planning an evening of The Songs of Barry Kleinbort. This is a case of very well-placed loyalty, because not only is Kleinbort deRoy's longtime director, he is a major songwriting talent in his own right; one only need listen to the CD version of his hit revue Big City Rhythm to see that he's got the goods. The Songs of Barry Kleinbort will be performed on Monday, June 26 at the Laurie Beechman Theater in the West Bank Café. Among those performing will be Marcia Lewis, Lewis Cleale, Brent Barrett, Mary Testa, Rita Gardner, Eric Michael Gillett, and Melanie Vaughan.