BWW Review: Lady Rizo Salutes the RED, WHITE AND INDIGO at Joe's Pub
In her new show, RED, WHITE AND INDIGO, Lady Rizo is all about coming to terms with that "very bad boyfriend" she calls America.
"I think he reads my email," she joked with a wry smile, during her first show of a three-night run at Joe's Pub on March 23. "And I know he's f**king with my birth control."
And while getting into a relationship thinking you can change somebody is never the best idea, she still had to try. Standing tall in front of a room divider paneled with an upside-down American flag, Lady Rizo was dead-set on reclaiming the idea of patriotism.
From the start, she was all about the U-S-of-A, drawing cheers for her astonishing high notes right from the jump, as she threw up both her hands with a bombastic mash-up of Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues" and the National Anthem. Many a performer has stumbled over "The Star-Spangled Banner," but she was so confident she came back for seconds, belting, "For the land of the free" three times, savoring each phrase and managing to make it feel like a song we haven't all heard hundreds of times.
That sense of renewal was instrumental to RED, WHITE AND INDIGO. As Lady Rizo observed, it seems the term "patriotism" has been co-opted by a certain type of American, so she decided to snatch it back and spread the wealth. Her first line of defense? A sense of unity, simmering throughout the night.
Her efforts to bring the crowd together seemed simple at first, starting with "Ochi Chernye" (Lady Rizo/Yair Evnine), a jaunty Russian tune, teaching the audience to count in the language she picked up in a youth program that took her abroad as a kid. She followed audience chanting and a kissing game with an unsuspecting crowd-goer with a pitch-black joke on the importance of learning Russian at this time in our country that's best not repeated.
Let's be clear: as far as the current administration is concerned, RED, WHITE AND INDIGO was no bid for reaching across the aisle. While refusing to call the president by his name, she did have a few choice nicknames for him, like "The Manchurian Cheeto" and "The Creamsicle." "I used to be able to finish a show without three executive orders and a constitutional crisis happening," she quipped at one point.
Lady Rizo was accompanied by musical director and "right-hand man" Yair Evnine on guitar, drummer Justin Johnson, as well as Justin Carroll on keys. Evnine, who co-wrote several of the songs with her, helped out on vocals in the melancholy, carnival-esque "Chateau Marmont" (Spencer Day).
Yet for such a political---and at times, dark---show, she never lost her sense of levity. After one number, she pulled faces and kept putting her fingers near her face before revealing, to thunderous applause, "I did all of that with a hair in my mouth." Her ad-libbing was joyous, as she exclaimed, "It was only a minor irritation, and now it's a pearl!"
But, like any diva worth her salt, she knows the importance of a theme, and she kept coming back to the notion that true love of country should mean taking the bad with the good, not just insisting on blind nationalism. Disappearing behind the star-spangled partition for a costume change, Lady Rizo returned with a bluesy cover of Portishead's "Glory Box," theatrically begging for a reason to love America.
Then, as the show drew to a close, she called upon every ounce of the intimacy she'd fostered in the room over the course of the evening.
Truly, though she gave a lovely performance of "Song of Freedom" (Lady Rizo/Evnine) for the encore, the moments that preceded it were so special it was perhaps the first (good) show I've seen that may have been greater without one.
Seconding Ruth Bader Ginsburg's suggestion that the symbol of America should be not the bald eagle but, instead, the pendulum, Lady Rizo acknowledged that a big swing is happening right now. Undeterred, she began leading a sermon, honing in on what "good news" we can focus on right now (like the fact that the U.S. has its first Somali-American legislator) complete with a few "hallelujahs." Fittingly, the accompanying song was a Leonard Cohen tune, though not that one.
Instead, it was a somber yet hopeful rendition of "Anthem," sans mic, no less, with Lady Rizo suggesting true patriotism is about forgetting "your perfect offering" and just trying to do better. And that's exactly what she did. Standing up on one of the cabaret tables and bringing the lights down, she became the crowd's very own Lady Liberty in her indigo gown.
Explaining how the Statue of Liberty went dark one day around the time the second immigration ban came to pass, she said the statue "threw a little shade" that night. Likewise, with RED, WHITE AND INDIGO, Lady Rizo proved capable of spreading such light and joy, all while throwing a bit of shade whenever necessary, too.