By Edward Kliszus
Excitement was palpable as the restless full house waited for Isaac Mizrahi at 54 Below. Finally, the band released the tension with an intro as Mizrahi burst onto the stage. The ebullient Mizrahi transported us into the mid-1960s by singing “The Joker” from The Roar of The Greasepaint, The Smell of The Crowd by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. Audience members had jotted questions for Mizrahi to answer throughout the evening.
With his signature coiffure, fashionista Mizrahi wore a navy blue suit, Gerber daisies in the lapels, a white shirt, black sandals, and a diamond anklet. He later lamented that despite his innovative sojourns into fashion design, tonight’s outfit defaulted into his mother’s standard going-out garb. “All that work, and I still look like my mother!”
The song “The Joker” has a sardonic quality, akin to the clown’s portrayal in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, who sings to entertain while masking his broken spirit. Is this a portentous clue to Mizrahi’s gentle and sometimes wounded heart?
I could hardly keep up with the hilarious flow of humor, anecdotes, self-deprecation, cleverness, mischief, and improvised responses to audience questions. You have to listen closely to catch all of Mizrahi’s comical nuggets, from the 1960 Barbie “Solo in the Spotlight” doll, Manolo Blahnik discovering Mizrahi gave away his gift to him of a personalized L.L. Bean tote bag, and his suggestion that we vote for Stacy Abrams for president (I heard a loud “NO WAY!” from a back corner of the room). Is there a revival of Victor Victoria? I’m available, and where is central casting? Unfortunately, my phone hasn’t yet rung.
The Lovable Humorist
Mizrahi is a lovable humorist and friend of Stephen Sondheim, Faye Dunaway, and Barbara Streisand. He notes that Judaism is never quite enough, just like an extended Netflix series. He doesn’t sleep well and hails Xanax and alcohol as the modern elixirs for the anxieties of modern times. He couldn’t stop himself from declaring, “I love booze and pills,” and warned the audience that Xanax and the wine spritzer he was consuming on stage made it impossible for him to control his words.
And while Mizrahi expresses frustration at society’s current intolerance of jokes about race and nationality (remember Archie Bunker?) he’s relieved that we can still have fun with Jewish humor. Mizrahi doesn’t consider the ubiquitous American usage of Yiddish phrases like “Oy vey” as cultural appropriation but rather a tribute to Jewish culture. His 95-year-old Jewish mother is not left out. He banters about her diminished vision and hearing but unerring ability to notice that saltshakers are missing from a table at a five-star restaurant.
Songs of Biographical Sentiment
Misrahi is a boyish, lovable character who is bawdy, irreverent, clever, and entertaining with repartee and humor as delightful as his singing. His selection of songs seems to spring from biographical sentiment, and while he can sing to be funny, he can also touch hearts with the intense pathos, sadness, and beauty he expresses in songs like Sondheim’s “One More Kiss” from Follies. The song ended with a whisper, silence, and thunderous applause.
Mizrahi is at home on stage and so comfortable that, to the audience’s delight, he can joke about spilling liquid on his pants leg, construable as an age-related accident.
Changing the Words
Cole Porter’s song “You’re the Top” and the Beach Boys instrumental “Pet Sounds” received Mizrahi’s personalized lyric treatment. Mizrahi cleverly adapts his favorite tunes by creating hilarious lyrics that reflect his interests like dogs and contemporary humor around covid, monkey pox, politics, and much more. He even inserted a rap chorus. The night ended with “You and Me” from Victor Victoria by Blake Edwards and originally sung by Julie Andrews and Robert Preston in the 1982 musical comedy film.
It seems the only thing Mizrahi dislikes is the heat of summer weather.
54 Below – AUGUST 10-13
254 W 54th St. Cellar, NYC 10019 Tickets & Info: (646) 476-3551 54Below.com