Love Is Crazy In Paris
Last wednesday I took my final bow in The Classic Stage Company’s Production of Bertolt Brecht’s A Man’s a Man in which I played “The Widow Begbick”. I had accepted the role for many reasons, not the least of which being that I was excited to be cast as a woman as opposed to a drag queen or a a man playing a woman or even playing a trans woman. Within the first few rehearsals I learned that was not necessarily the case but because my soon to be wonderful friend Ching Valdes-Aran who is cis woman was cast as I man I went with the “non-traditional casting angle” and I must say I was treated with complete respect regarding my gender identity by the entire cast and crew throughout. Since I first hearing Judy Collins’ recording of Pirate Jenny I’ve been interested in the music of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill as well as the “personnage étrange” of Lotte Lenya so to be asked to be in a Brecht play was thrilling and the thrill was made even greater knowing that A Man’s A Man is one of Brecht’s early works and is rarely produced. This play also marked the first appearance of Leokadja Begbick aka The Widow Begbick who eventually went on to become one of Brecht’s stock characters in The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny and eventually Mother Courage. PLUS, and this is a big plus, Duncan Sheik was writing the music and to put it clearly and succinctly, I am a fan! So I went for it and in the process -a very long, taxing, and underpaid process- I had the privilege of working with some really wonderful, dedicated, talented and fine actors. I hadn’t done a 7 show week since Kiki and Herb were on Broadway but fortunately the theater is only a few blocks from my house and, since we’re in a polar vortex, what else would I really want to leave the house for? I am so happy I did it and even more thrilled to have done it now that it’s over!!!!
Backstage the final Night of A Man’s a Man
The reason I left the show Wednesday night -several nights before closing- is because I before being cast in the role I was already scheduled to fly to what Kay Thompson’s fictional little girl Eloise called, “Paris France, France!” to give a Valentine’s concert at the Théâtre National De Chaillot called Love is Crazy or L’Amour Fou. It was one of the greatest weekends of my life and that’s why I feel compelled to write all this down and share it with you.
FULL MOON MADNESS!
I travelled with a marvelous group of musicians; Matt Ray came along to Musical Direct and play piano, Claudia Chopek who is a brilliant violinist, and the lovely Nath Ann Carrera rounded out the group with his guitar. We also had Matt’s lover Mark with us because they needed a little romantic get away as Mark just go back from three months on tour and what better city could there be for a little romance?.
Upon landing in Paris we were met by our beloved hosts/producers/friends Mathieu Bonicel and Guillain Roussel of La Poursuite, who I was introduced to by Jay Brannon, one of my “Shortbus” co-stars, several years ago. They have been instrumental in presenting me in France ever since. The first few times I was there I played in what is essentially a cave near Place de Republique called Les Sentiers Des Halles -which I loved. But this time I was to play at the Théâtre National De Chaillot in conjunction with Krzysztof Warlikowski’s Kabaret Warszawski. Quite a step up! In June I went to the premiere of Kabaret Warszawski in Warsaw because part of it was based on Shortbus and part was taken from my memoir Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels. It blew my mind the first time I saw it. Obviously, because it was partly inspired by my deeply personal story and history I was emotionally overwhelmed and could hardly be expected to take an objective perspective on it when I first saw it, but this time I was a bit more relaxed and the production had really settled into itself and the sold-out crowd went wild at the end of the four and a half hour long production. I was also very honored to be brought onstage for the final bow with Krzysztof and the cast. Krzysztof Warlikowski is a genius and so is his entire company including the entire scenographic team. I pray that BAM will bring the production to New York at some point so everyone here can see it. IT IS ASTONISHING!
Jacek Poniedziałek (front) and cast members of Kabaret Warszawski
Afterwards we went out for drinks with the cast and I got to spend some time with the other “Justin Vivian Bond”Jacek Poniedzialek who I love and adore as much for his brilliant performance and for translating my book into Polish for it’s release in Poland as for his charm and good looks. This trans lady is flattered to be portrayed by such a gorgeous man. Go figure!!!
When I got back to my hotel there were some goodies awaiting me from Chanel that my friend Jerry Stafford had arranged to have sent over so I began playing dress up in the middle of the night because I wasn’t sure what I was going to wear for the concert. I settled on a pair of killer heels and when I say “killer” I mean the stilettos are like nails and could literally kill somebody. After prancing around the hotel for awhile I crashed.
The next morning i got up and called the Hotel Georges V and made a reservation for lunch with the golden enchantress Catherine Baba! She’d been trying to get me to come to a party the night before but I wanted to be in good shape for my concert so I resisted her tantalizing texts. When I arrived at the Georges V she was resplendent in a full length Lanvin gown, a turban and Valentino sunglasses. As I had suspected, it had turned into a long night. We gossiped over Bloody Mary’s and cheeseburgers before she presented me with an exquisite beaded and leather Roberto Cavalli caftan to wear for the concert. Then we checked out the spa and pool because she felt like having a swim but it was not as enticing as we had hoped so we went shopping for lingerie on the Avenue Montaigne instead. It was all so decadent and extraordinary but I figure, if only it were possible, everyone should be able to have lunch at the Georges V and go shopping on the Avenue Montaigne at least ONCE in their life and this was MY DAY!!!
Then I ran to the Chailot for soundcheck. While there I learned that not only was the show sold out but they had added extra tables because the demand was so great. I wasn’t nervous so much as I was completely focused on the the pleasure I expected to have and give while singing the songs I had chosen for this audience on this occasion. I wanted to sing my favorite songs so I started with as smoky ballad to get everyone settled, Angel Eyes, which I first learned from a jazz book I bought as a teenager and later heard sung by Julie London. Then we got our WITCH ON! I was in front with my band behind me and behind them was the Eiffel Tower backed by the Full Moon! The stars were aligned and we cast a powerful spell. I don’t know exactly what all I said during my set but I know that during our version of Sinnerman when I sang “I went to the Devil, he was waiting, and I cried POWER!!!!” the Eiffel Tower lit up in sparkles at just the right moment and the audience GAGGED! I only learned this afterwards because I was facing the crowd not the moon. When it was over we were given three standing ovations and brought back for several encores. It was beyond anything I’ve experienced since the first sold-out Kiki and Herb show at Carnegie Hall!
Magie Noire. Le Théâtre national de Chaillot!
I am so thankful to Les Subsistences, who brought me to France in November which made it possible for me to meet with the wonderful Didier and Nathalie at the Chaillot and more gratitude goes to Karolina Ochab from the Nowy Theatre for her help and to everyone else whose machinations made the evening possible. Also I’d like to thank all the wonderful people who posted the great photographs: Vincent Gagliostro, @isatagada, and Matthieu Bonicel.
After the show the Chaillot threw us a lovely cocktail party and then Catherine Baba hosted the band and a few of our friends at a little bar in the Hotel Mathis after which we went to a dance party where some cute, crazy-eyed boy talked to me until I couldn’t take it anymore and I went home happy and exhausted.
Claudia had to fly back to New York on Sunday morning and Matt and Mark went off for vegan lunch so Nath Ann and I met our friends Quinn Cox and Stella Starsky the world famous astrologers, who also present the Afterglow Festival in Provincetown at Cafe Camille in the Marais for a delicious lunch before I had to run to meet Jerry Stafford for the matinee of Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.
I’ve turned into some kind of Opera lover this year. I’ve seen Einstein on the Beach and Anna Nicole at BAM, Two Boys and Die Fledermaus at the Met, Sergey Taneyev’s The Orestaia at Bard’s Summerscape, and Elektra and La Fanciulla del West at The Paris Opera.
I fully expected to sleep though half of it but it was so much fun and it was visually stunning because the sets by Raimund Bauer were full-blown kitsch fabulousness. I was LIVING throughout the entire 3 hours!
The Act ll set for Fanciulla de West. Note the glowing eyes of the deer!
After the opera Jerry suggested we “go round for tea at Marianne’s” by which he meant, “Let’s go for tea at the left bank apartment of Marianne Faithfull.”
In 1979, when I had just turned sixteen, I was on my way to work at The Dairy Queen in my parent’s 1976 Buick Regal when “Broken English” came on the radio and I got work work late because I couldn’t stop driving until it was over. At that moment I knew there was a whole world out there I knew nothing about and I had to explore. Everything changed in that moment.
I’ve met Marianne before in dressing rooms, at parties and when we did a reading together in London but I’d never just really sat and talked with her so I was beyond excited and, quite frankly, nervous. I was nervous for no reason. She greated us at the door dressed in black cashmere and patent leather Roger Vivier flats. She made us tea with TONS of honey because she’s no longer smoking or using so “the only thing we can do it take our tea with LOTS of honey”! We sat at her table and she was everything you would hope for: funny, and bawdy, and smart. She gossiped with Jerry, we talked about family and how being an artist impacts that, about making a living as a singer, she allowed me to look at a scrapbook with pictures of her mother who has been a dancer in Berlin during the Weimar era but who had her work permit revoked which made it impossible for her to work effectively ending her career so she was forded to flee to Austria and became a part of the resistance during World War ll. Marianne is currently hard at work writing a new record so she read us some poems and lyrics she’s been writing recently. I nearly died. Imagine: I was sitting two feet away from Marianne and she was reading me her latest poems. I don’t think anything could be more amazing. I still can’t believe it. I’m so mazed at how many of my idols I have meet and none of them have been disappointing. Even as I sit here in my apartment and think about it, I’m stunned. I will love Jerry forever. I would have anyway but… Wow!
Weirdly, this has been my lapel pin since the New Years Super Moon. Meow!
Katerina Jebb’s portrait of Tori Amos
After we said goodbye Marianne Jerry took me to the apartment of the artist Katerina Jebb who I had met after my concert. Katerina gave us fairy cakes and tea and I got to see some of her beautiful work. I can never remember anyone’s name which kind of makes me an idiot because I meet people and I have no idea who they are or what they do until they tell me. It turns out I’ve been a fan of Katerina for years. I imagine most of my friends would know her best for the amazing work she did with Tori Amos’ from The Choirgirl Hotel. She’s amazing!
Sadly, I coulnd’t stay long because by now it was getting late and I had to meet the gang for dinner at Cafe Vivienne to say our goodbyes.
After all of that I could hardly sleep Sunday night because there was so much to process! Monday we got on the plane at Charles DeGualle bound for JFK and during the flight I finished reading Janet Mock’s incredibly important book Redefining Realness -which just became a New York Times Bestseller!!! CONGRATULATIONS JANET!!!
This morning I woke up in my own bed to the insistent sound of the cat meowing for food. The magic caftan and the Chanel stilettos have gone back to their respective Ateliers and my own clothes are unpacked and put in the drawers. Upon rising I went into the kitchen, Iooked in the cupboard and realized the cat sitter had opened up the last bit of cat food last night so what else could I do? I bundled myself up and trundled off into the polar vortex to buy Pearl her Fancy Feast. Everything is back to normal. It’s the cat’s world and I’m just liViing in it. Lucky me!
Next up? I begin a residency at Joe’s Pub March 13th in The Drift, a new show I’m working on with Scott Wittman inspired by Tennessee Williams’ The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. More on that later!