Isaac Mizrahi: Does This Song Make Me Look Fat?
The celebrity fashion designer makes his Café Carlyle debut.
Isaac Mizrahi is a modern-day Renaissance man. In addition to his decades-long fashion career, Mizrahi has worked as a talk show host, an actor, a reality-TV judge, and a Drama Desk Award-winning costume designer. Cabaret seems like the logical next step. Mizrahi has actually performed previously at Joe's Pub and the Laurie Beechman Theatre, but the Café Carlyle is an entirely different ballgame — the home of Bobby Short and Elaine Stritch does not suffer dilettantes.
Luckily, Mizrahi exceeds expectations in this Café Carlyle debut: He approaches every song with a full, well-supported voice and only occasionally falls flat, usually in a way that is barely noticeable. His vocal coach should get a raise, but Mizrahi also deserves praise for translating his seemingly effortless and always joyous sense of style to the medium of cabaret.
He jubilantly kicks off the show with "Yes," an uplifting anthem of positivity from Kander & Ebb's 70, Girls, 70. He beams his energy at the audience, imploring us to, "Say yaass, queen" (this last word is Mizrahi's contribution). Having exerted himself on this first number, he immediately orders a rosé spritzer and dives into his banter, which gives us a hint about the origins of this show's title: Describing the mirror he installed opposite his shower, he asks, "Have you ever watched yourself lather? That'll keep you honest."
While it would be easy for someone as effervescent and witty as Mizrahi to run the clock with his stand-up routine, he gives equal time to the music, showing off his jazz chops on Sam Coslow and Arthur Johnston's "Lotus Blossom." The song has an authentic New Orleans sound, greatly enhanced by trumpeter Benny Benack III, who has several chilling and thrilling solos throughout the evening. "That song is about drugs," Mizrahi notes, pivoting, "Have you heard what the kids are doing these days?"
Weight, pharmaceuticals, and actresses with a history of issues concerning weight and pharmaceuticals are recurring themes for Mizrahi, who speak to the audience in a manner that feels off-the-cuff and always dishy. Like Santa in a three-piece suit, he regifts things from various swag bags he has received during his career, accompanying each item with a hilarious anecdote.
Mizrahi keeps the evening light and humorous, even when it detracts from a song. After delivering a technically proficient but somewhat guarded rendition of Elton John's "You Song," Mizrahi shares, "That's a pretty gay song. It always makes me think about my dog." We laugh, but we never really get a sense of the man behind this funny and fabulous defense mechanism. Some of this also has to do with Mizrahi's guarded physicality: When he's not closing his eyes on a high note like a pop star, he strikes an arm-folded pose that makes him look like a sassy Mussolini.
The one time he does seem completely sincere is during his heartfelt rendition of Kander and Ebb's "A Quiet Thing," which he dedicates to his husband. Mizrahi's delivery is simple, unaffected, and done with eyes fully open. The result is the most memorable number of the evening.
Mizrahi also impresses with Bob Dorough's "Figure Eight," which calls upon the performer to both sing and recite the multiplication tables (it was originally written for Schoolhouse Rock) and a buoyant version of Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh's "You Fascinate Me So," performed with a Noël Coward accent. Mizrahi and the band really swing on Henri Betti and Andre Hornez's "C'est Si Bon," a song that has us all speaking French by the end.
Music director Ben Waltzer has wisely helped Mizrahi choose numbers that are fun, recognizable, and sound great in his range. Lest we suspect that this show is all wizardry propping up a mediocre voice, a technical glitch cut Mizrahi's microphone during George Forrest and Robert Wright's "Baubles, Bangles & Beads." Like a true professional, Mizrahi went on with the song, easily filling the dining room with his unamplified voice.
Despite an occasionally flippant and fortified approach (understandable for a newbie), Mizrahi is the real deal when it comes to cabaret: He's charming, he sounds great, and he is seriously funny.