The star of Broadway, cabaret and Orange Is the New Black is the perfect way to nurse a hangover in the first of three brunch gigs at the cool new space Ginny’s Supper Club.
By Paul Hagen
“I don’t know what I was thinking,” says Lea DeLaria to a room of people hanging off her every word. The actress, comedian and singer — recently well-known for her role as Big Boo on Orange Is the New Black — has asked for a show of hands from anyone else who is nursing a hangover among the brunch crowd at Ginny’s Supper Club this Sunday afternoon. DeLaria laments that we should all probably be at home in bed or nursing our drinking wounds with beer and television. But the way she’s been tearing through her electrifying set betrays no hint that last night’s librations left her any the worse for wear.
DeLaria’s joking aside, I can think of few better places to spend a Sunday afternoon (hungover or otherwise) than Ginny’s Supper Club. The cool space — with its high ceilings and comfy banquettes — is an ideal place to hide from the sun and indulge in a nip of the hair of the dog. Plus, the brunch show begins with a mouth-watering buffet of even-better-than-mom-used-to-make soul food from the kitchen of Chef Marcus Samuellson’s famous Red Rooster restaurant upstairs; so audiences are bound to be in a good mood by the time DeLaria takes the stage with to offer food for the soul. (By that point, she’s also spent some quality time offering warm and wise-cracking welcomes to excited tables of fans around the room..)
In order to allow time for both meal and music, DeLaria keeps the set tight, fast-moving and jam-packed with music. Sure, she steals moments to explain the genesis of a song choice; toss of a few spicy jokes to the crowd; or — in an aside that left my sides aching with laughter — relate the tale of taking “her guys” (a HUGELY talented trio of piano, bass and drums) to a strip club in Florida. But this show is mostly about the music — and it’s out of this world.
Folks unfamiliar with jazz probably don’t understand the rollercoaster of watching a truly talented group of musicians improvise around a familiar melody. Watching DeLaria scat — riffing from the booming depths of her voice to a rafter-shaking high belt — is nothing short of miraculous. One moment, she’s bouncing around the melody line with the unerring instincts of Ella Fitzgerald; the next she’s holding big notes with the smoke and flavor of Peggy Lee. DeLaria’s evident love of the music is infectious, and fans of her recordings will be pleased to find her revisiting great numbers from throughout her discography.
In a bit of musical magic, many of the numbers will sound both familiar and like nothing you’ve heard before. The arrangements are designed not just to allow DeLaria and company ample room to improvise but often to breathe new life into numbers you’re used to hearing one particular way. “Here’s one you never thought you’d hear me do,” she says, before offering a jazzed-up “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” from Showboat. Other refreshing takes include a zippy “All That Jazz” with a boogaloo bop that’ll make you want to fruge, a surprising and sultry take on the Blondie hit “Call Me”, and (from her latest album of David Bowie Covers House of David), an intriguing interpretation of his “Let’s Dance.”
Running short on time, DeLaria had to choose between closing with another Bowie number — her take on the weird and wonderful “Life on Mars” — or the song that, in DeLaria’s words, “turned her from a Broadway person into a jazz person, even though I was already a jazz person in the first place.” She ultimately went with the latter, her super-cool take on “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” which was, hands down, my favorite performance of the song I’ve ever heard — inside or outside the context of the show. And though that’s where DeLaria said her official goodbyes, several among the crowd scampered to meet her at the door, where she gamely signed t-shirts and copies of both House of David and her Christmas album.
On the subject of that seasonal CD, DeLaria acknowledged that, as New Yorkers, most of us have come to hate and fear the tourist-packed Yuletide season. “Buy it anyway,” she suggests. “Then drink some booze. And if you’re gay, go listen to Judy Garland.” Lea DeLaria? Booze? Judy Garland? Sounds like a perfect present to me. Or, as DeLaria put it, “What girl doesn’t want me in her stocking?”
Ginny’s Supper Club is located at 310 Lenox Avenue in New York City. Lea DeLaria will be gracing their stage again with brunch shows at noon and 1:30pm on December 13 and January 10. Get more information and purchase tickets online at ginnyssupperclub.com.
Last modified: July 27, 2017