BWW Review: MATTEO LANE: STREISAND AT THE BONSOIR WITH HENRY KOPERSKI at Joe's Pub
When I learned that Matteo Lane- comedian, singer, podcaster, and sometimes actor-against-his-own-will- would be at Joe's Pub with his cabaret act, there was no question whether or not I'd be there. Admittedly, I am a big fan of Lane. His charmingly confusing mix of approachability and smarter-than-you wit, his extremely specific and near-constant pop culture references, his loud, proud gayness, and his clear, seemingly boundless talent were enough, upon first listen to his podcast Inside The Closet, to lure me in and keep me excited for each weekly installation. So a live show, which not only promised music, comedy, and Barbra Streisand devotion, but whose description on the Public's website featured the words 'wacky,' 'unique,' and 'eccentric!?' It was like the show was being mounted just for me! And as a former gay kid who grew up inexplicably (or so I thought) obsessing over middle-aged actresses' talk show appearances, movie musicals, and the whisper of Celine Dion doing basically anything, I came to understand that there aren't many things in the world that truly feel like that. More specifically, there aren't many things that feel like that and deliver that. But take it from a now-27-year old gay woman, who attended Lane's show in a Rosie O'Donnell denim jacket: it was not only exactly what I wanted it to be; it was exactly what I needed it to be.
At the risk of sounding like a mediocre fanfiction version of a Carrie-Bradshaw-at-her-laptop monologue, Matteo Lane's Streisand at the Bonsoir with Henry Koperski (his music director, bit partner, and performer in his own right) was one of those shows you see that reminds you why you live in New York, why you stay in New York, why you love New York. Its 75-ish minutes, which somehow both flew by and felt weighted with the imminent knowledge that you'd soon have to leave this room and file back into the real world where an offhand comment about Yentl didn't floor all 100 people in your vicinity, were chock-full of jokes you wanted to remember, songs you knew but forgot you loved, and fellow audience members who relished in the experience just as much as you did. In short, it was a Theater Gay's paradise, with just enough cynical self-awareness peppered throughout to remind us all to calm down about it.
Lane opened the evening with a promise that this wouldn't be like a "normal" cabaret show. We weren't going to hear stories about the day he moved into the city or his terrible auditions or even his career successes. From go, it was clear we were about to spend the next hour with someone who likely wanted out of the experience what we all want but never really recognize we want 'til we get: a stimulating, expertly curated, highly entertaining, wholly comfortable hang with new friends. The kind of hang where you're trying hard, at first, but then you realize that everyone's on your side and you can relax and just whip out your Liza impression whenever the mood strikes. And the mood struck, dear reader!
He set up the overarching framework that, in theory, contains his act, which is his lifelong obsession with a recording of Barbra Streisand's 'Live at the Bon Soir.' As an ode to (and also kind of maybe in service of reliving a childhood dream of being, singing, performing just like) Barbra, he sang songs like "Cry Me A River," "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered," "Never Will I Marry," "Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again" with Koperski, and of course, "Don't Rain on my Parade," which Koperski endearingly referred to as "the big one." But in a show that's 50% elevated stand-up, 30% song, and 20% authentic, genuine banter, none of his numbers ever really felt like "the big one," because the actual "big one" felt like the welcome intimacy and shared culture of Lane and his audience. "The big one" was Lane himself, but not in an overpowering diva way. In the way where you actually aren't annoyed with your friend for queuing up three songs in a row at the karaoke bar. In the way where you can spend 3 hours sitting in an apartment living room talking about your favorite pop stars' worst moments and not feel remotely like you've wasted the evening. In the way where a gay man singing "Go The Distance" is moving and lovely and resonant, and is counterbalanced by a universally-understood deep-cut joke about Disney Theatricals.
Amidst the heavier songs and the endlessly impressive showcase of talents Lane somewhat casually rolled out all evening (perfect Liza impression, fluency in French and Italian, 6 octave range, ability to write a parody song on the spot called "I'm Sad And Gay"), Lane's devotion to, knowledge of, and hilarious commentary on pop culture kept the evening flowing. Throughout the 75 minutes, Lane made references to Justin Timberlake's unnecessary comedy career, Mariah Carey's Christmas concerts, Christina Aguilera's aggressive riffs, Jada Pinkett Smith's wig in Nutty Professor 2, Lindsay Lohan's bid to play Ariel, Dina Lohan's Carvel card being revoked, Liza Minnelli's infamous HSN appearance, and Sister Act II's objective brilliance, which ended with a quick and impromptu medley of songs from the film. The last time anyone in the audience was privy to this specific brand of cultural discourse was at their hometown diner at midnight after the last performance of their high school's musical, which, to be honest, kind of seems like the exact moment we're all trying to recreate for the rest of our lives anyway!
Lane's unapologetic embrace of himself and his community, his control of our shared cultural language, and his refusal to be reigned in by the arbitrary "rules" of the medium made the room hum with the electric recognition that we were all one in the same. His show, which, on the surface, is a perfectly pleasant and wonderfully crafted evening of song and stories, becomes much more when you remember that, somehow, in a whole city of people like us, there are only a handful of places that feel, sound, look, and react like this one did, this specific evening, in the hands of this specific man. Matteo Lane may have been wholly affected and irrevocably changed by his experience with Barbra Streisand's Live at the Bon Soir, but I'll venture to guess that more than one enraptured and delighted audience member walked away from Matteo Lane's Streisand at the Bonsoir feeling uplifted, engaged, empowered, and energized by his whole, intoxicating, irreplicable deal. And if not, at least they left wondering what Dina Lohan really did do to get her Carvel card revoked, and that question alone is surely enough to keep one bewitched, bothered, and bewildered for a lifetime.