CABARET LIFE NYC: Lauren Fox & Ritt Henn Successfully Expand Definition of Cabaret With Surreal David Lynch Show
Cabaret Reviews and Commentary by Stephen Hanks
Just call her "Out-Of-The-Box" Fox.
Or perhaps "Ms. Cabaret Iconoclast of the 21st Century" would do the trick. Either way, lovely Lauren Fox, one of the more multifaceted and ambitious young stars of the New York cabaret scene, seems intent on redefining what is already a pretty open-ended art form. The recent run of her new duo show at Stage 72 with bass player Ritt Henn, Ghosts of Love: Songs from the Reel World of David Lynch (January 9, 18, 23, and 24) was the most recent example of Ms. Fox's unconventional approach to a 70-80 minute nightclub show (a critique of which we will get to in a bit).
Fox's previous two efforts--her inspired homage to the songs of Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, followed by an incredibly entertaining tribute to the folk-rock music that emanated from California's Laurel Canyon in the late 1960s--were clearly outside of the "Great American Songbook" canon, but not totally ground-breaking. Many among the new breed of cabaret performers have been pushing a "New" GAS for years (Bob Dylan, Barry Manilow, Billy Joel, Carole King, Laura Nyro, even Ani DeFranco, among others, have been paid tribute on New York cabaret club stages). But it was in late November 2012 when I ran into Fox at one of Joseph Macchia's Cabaret Cares benefit shows at the Laurie Beechman that I realized her maverick-like approach to cabaret would definitely be a pattern.
I had just announced I would be staging my debut cabaret show--an examination of the Don McLean songbook--the following May. Lauren congratulated me and added that she had also been thinking about doing a show in the coming year with a McLeanish theme. Once she explained the nature of the idea (discretion prevents me from revealing the gist of this future Foxian show), I didn't feel I'd be upstaged--well, not too much anyway. Like many serious or even casual cabaret performers, however, Fox always has a veritable plethora of ideas swirling in that pretty head of hers and McLean has been pushed to the back burner. In addition to spending much of 2013 performing both Mitchell/Cohen and Canyon Folkies in New York and other environs, Fox produced and performed in a rocking benefit variety show at the Metropolitan Room to raise money for Rockaways victims of Hurricane Sandy, produced and performed in a groovy tribute to Woodstock at 54 Below, performed in a myriad of variety shows, and in the midst of all that made a dynamic directorial debut on one of the best cabaret shows of the year, Marissa Mulder's tribute to the songs of Tom Waits.
When Fox eventually found time to work on a new show shortly after this past October's Cabaret Convention, the idea that pushed to the front of her brain's right hemisphere wasn't something off-beat but obvious, like a Stevie Nicks tribute (one of Fox's musical heroes). It was an exploration of the obsessive, tortured love and dreamlike-sounding music conveyed in the films of David Lynch. Joining forces with the entertaining Ritt Henn, one of the scene's most accomplished bass players and a Fox band regular from her previous shows (and who has plenty of experience in a duo format from his more comedic forays with fellow songwriter Mary Liz McNamara), they formed a twosome under the cute and clever moniker "Fox In the Henn House." With Ghosts of Love they have now expanded the definition of cabaret with a compelling piece of musical performance art, almost akin to what the beat poets and musicians were concocting in Greenwich Village in the late 1950s/early '60s.
The ornately framed stage at what was formerly "The Triad" on West 72nd Street was the ideal setting for such a theatrical and cinematically constructed show featuring 14 songs from seven Lynch films and one celebrated television series (the 1990-91 phenomenon, Twin Peaks). Downstage center sat more than 30 votive candles because, after all, ghosts--even lovers who have likely met a tragic death through extreme self-destructiveness--seek warmth and light, as they live trapped between dimensions. A string of chimes hung from the ceiling center stage, which the characters would ping periodically, perhaps as a vehicle to keep their shadows visible in three dimensions. In the show's second half, as the set up for the song "In Heaven" from the film Eraserhead, Henn's character advised "Get ready for first class despondency and madness" (which was a line from a 1991 episode of Twin Peaks), and the lyric from the song, "In heaven everything is fine," was something of a recurring theme. For these ghostly characters in a dysfunctional, counter-dependent relationship, everything may be fine in heaven, but they haven't ascended there quite yet. They are in obsessive lovers limbo and they know it . . . or do they? (Please click on Page 2 below to continue.)