“I’m Lea De-fucking-Laria and I’m gonna fucking let you know about it”
We’re lucky enough to live in a world now where, although there is still much progress to be made, acceptance of gay and lesbian people on the television is pretty much a given. So it is incredible to think that it was less than 20 years ago that Lea DeLaria made history as the first openly gay comic to appear on national TV in the USA. Since then, she has carved out a career in stand-up comedy, theatre and television but arguably most successfully as a jazz chanteuse of some note, revisiting the music to which her jazz pianist father introduced her.
Such a repertoire suits the intimacy of the Matcham room, the new cabaret space at the Hippodrome casino, but it is clear that DeLaria revels in the closeness too. A born raconteur, she flirted outrageously and dropped multiple f-bombs within minutes of arriving on stage and peppered her set with fascinating anecdotes from her 30 year career. And what a set it was, taking in selections from all of her CDs (plus a sneak preview of her forthcoming 2013 album) and showing off the supremely fierce skills of her band of three.
So Mark Fletcher’s crazy drum skills enliven Cole Porter’s ‘Miss Otis Regrets’, Jerome Kerns’ ‘Yesterdays’ highlighted Simon Little’s smoky rhythms on the bass and leading the ensemble from the piano was Janette Mason – whose presence is incredibly still given how quicksilver fast her fingers explore the keyboard – who dazzled with a range of impressive solos, though it was the reworking of Blondie’s ‘Call Me’ that really made me listen.
And then there’s DeLaria. With such an impressive interpretative skill and a voice that is as interestingly coloured as it is undoubtedly powerful, she guided through the 70 minute set with consummate ease. Whether embracing the classics – the opening Welcome to the Party sets the mood perfectly – or scatting her way through a skippy Santa Claus is coming to town, or revisiting the shows in which she has performed (Chicago, On The Town), it was simply bliss to sit and listen to someone so assuredly brilliant at what they do and unafraid to show how much they love doing it.
By the time she closed with an outrageous swing version of ‘The Ballad of Sweeney Todd’ which somehow works perfectly, there couldn’t have been a soul in the house who no longer knew who Lea DeLaria was and didn’t want to find out more.