By: Sarah Downs
When I took my seat at the Carlyle Bar last night, I anticipated an evening of good music and delicious food (two words: parsnip puree!) Little did I know I had landed at ‘Isaac Mizrahi superfan ground zero.’ The four people next to me, all of them strangers to each other, had each seen Mizrahi perform a minimum of five times. They had nothing but praise for him, and as I watched him perform, I could see why. Mizrahi exudes irreverence and charm – or is that charming irreverence? He engages with the audience in a wry, conspiratorial manner that opens up the floor to the “safe space” of his creation.
Making a distinctly non-diva entrance, Mizrahi, in nonchalant black suit with a fabulous jacket, arrived prepared to have some fun. Singing an eclectic lineup of tunes, he sprinkled the evening liberally with anecdotes and commentary – some of it a little raunchy. You meet the various Mizrahi’s – ambitious young man, internationally renowned fashion designer, tv personality, funny friend. Mizrahi’s voice is solid and pleasing, but he is not up there to be Howard Keel or the great Caruso. This is not to damn him with faint praise. The point is authenticity. The music is a vehicle for his humor, and his attitude a vehicle for the music.
Kicking off the evening with I Feel Pretty, Mizrahi set the tone in one fell swoop. Ironic song choice, disarming performance, satisfying musicality and then a switcheroo to a kicking, uptempo jazz arrangement with strong trumpet on the repeat. Looking for Love/Lonely Town a medley of longing that morphed into a salsa arrangement with another great trumpet solo was also fabulous. Mizrahi switched it up with a few ballads, like God Bless the Child, which he carried off well precisely because he sang in his own voice; so many performers imitate rather than intimate.
I particularly loved the Burt Bacharach/Hal David tune Looking With My Eyes, and not just because every Bacharach song sends me to the moon. There is also the crowd-pleaser of Mizrahi’s updated version of Cole Porter’s You’re the Top – featuring hysterical topical verses penned Mizrahi himself. And of course, when you’re a gay icon, you have to sing a little Barbra. You just do.
Mizrahi is backed by an excellent group of performers, particularly pianist and music director Ben Waltzer and an extraordinary Bruce Harris on trumpet. Featured on many of the arrangements, Harris played everything from straight-up brassy jazz to delicate muted arpeggios with equal authority. All of the musicians improvised well, but Harris was still a cut above.
Toward the end of the evening, in a true act of ambition, Mizrahi launched into the Chrissie Hynde/Pretenders song Brass in Pocket. (He’s special; so special.) I love a singer who takes chances. He wanted to rock out but he didn’t try to rock out, and therein lay his success. Mizrahi’s slightly awkward ‘Uncle Izzy singing at your cousin’s bar mitzvah’ rendition made me like him all the more.
I don’t know if Mizrahi has any stage fright, because his manner is certainly very relaxed. None of the patter seemed forced or overly scripted. Indeed, much of the evening felt totally spontaneous. His attitude is infectious; his style improvisational. As a cabaret performer, Isaac Mizrahi is sui generis – and loads of fun.
Isaac Mizrahi: Queen Size at the Carlyle; Ben Walzter, piano and musical direction; Neal Miner, bass; Daniel Freedman, percussion; Joe Strasser, drums, Bruce Harris, trumpet. Performances Tuesday – Saturday at 8:45pm. Weekday pricing begins at $85 per person / Bar Seating: $65 / Premium Seating: $135. Weekend pricing begins at $100 per person / Bar Seating: $80 / Premium Seating: $150. A Special Valentine’s Day show includes a four-course prix fixe dinner with table seating – General Seating: $265 per person / Premium Seating: $315 / Bar Seating: $80. Reservations can be made by phone at 212.744.1600 or online via Ticketmaster. Café Carlyle is located in The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel (35 East 76th Street, at Madison Avenue)