by Eric J. Grimm
What often drives you to seek out a non-singer’s musical endeavors is morbid curiosity. What would an Isaac Mizrahi cabaret look or sound like? For the most part, it sounds like a standard cabaret show. In Mizrahi’s Cafe Carlyle debut—Does This Song Make Me Look Fat?—musical director Ben Waltzer’s inoffensive arrangements of tunes by the likes of Cole Porter, Elton John & Bernie Taupin, and Kander & Ebb complement the part-time singer’s okay voice. The celebrated designer occasionally ventures into a sustained higher note and, for the most part, sticks the landings. Where he shows a lack of polish is in the grooming of most of his numbers: he can sound flat as he works his way through less aggressive moments and chooses to break the monotony by talk-singing. None of it is bad, but at best it’s decent karaoke with a live band (Musical Director Ben Waltzer on piano; Neal Miner on bass; Stefan Schatz percussion; Joe Strasser drums; and Benny Bennack III on Trumpet).
Mizrahi justifies his presence at the Carlyle through his banter. He takes on the role of most fabulous dinner party guest with aplomb, relating tales of Jewish dread, medication side effects, and “private parts” with no regard for delicate sensibilities. His need to entertain builds to a fever pitch when he tells outrageous stories about the likes of Liza Minnelli and Faye Dunaway, then crosses over to delightfully absurd territory when he brings out a bag of unwanted swag to give away to the audience.
It’s his success as an off-kilter charmer in these moments that makes you wish his cabaret set were a little weirder. He flirts with strangeness by throwing in “Figure Eight” from Schoolhouse Rock at the beginning of the set; but even in that number he’s showing how desperately he’d like to be taken seriously as a singer. At one point in the show, he references former Carlyle mainstay Elaine Stritch’s famously unusual voice, which highlighted both her comedic chops and underlying sadness. Mizrahi has flamboyance and kookiness to spare in conversation; he could use a little Stritching in those musical numbers.
Isaac Mizrahi: Does This Song Make Me Look Fat? continues through February 11 at The Cafe Carlyle (35 East 76th Street at Madison Avenue). For tickets, visit www.ticketweb.com/search?q=isaac+mizrahi
Photos: David Andrako