Isaac Mizrahi and Trumpeter Benny Benack III performing at the Café Carlyle.

By Ron Fassler

Isaac Mizrahi: Fashion designer, singer, stand-up comic, and bon vivant extraordinaire is back at the Café Carlyle with a wonderful new show set for a three-week residency that he is calling Movie Stars & Supermodels. His opening night had him in rare form, skewering any subject that seemingly popped off the top of his head, keeping things moving at a gallop, and only slowing down on occasion for a few ballads that he pulled off with style. For style is what Mizrahi is all about, and if his own unique brand speaks to you, you’re in for a terrific treat.

As a prominent celebrity for more than 30 years now, Mizrahi has shown his talents in enough different fields to qualify as a true Renaissance man. He hosted his own talk show for seven years, wrote three books, served as judge on Project Runway for seven seasons, directed operas and musicals— not to mention his work as a renowned fashion designer. That he’s a fine singer with excellent taste in songs shouldn’t come as too much of a shock, and that he manages to sell out these Café Carlyle engagements over the last few years shouldn’t be a surprise either.

Trumpeter Benny Benack III performing at the Café Carlyle.

His show last night featured a first-rate quintet led by musical director Ben Waltzer on piano and featuring Neal Miner on bass, Joe Peri on percussion, Joe Strasser on drums, and Benny Benack III playing a mean trumpet (that’s a compliment). Mizrahi’s rapport with them was a pleasure, as he riffed with the musicians all evening. Apologizing profusely for the lack of diversity to his all-male (and white) band, he continually referred to Joe Peri as “Jose Perez” in hopes of convincing us Peri was anything other than Caucasian. Appropriately, Mizrahi opened the evening with Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse’s “The Joker.” 

On stage for 80 minutes, Mizrahi performed nine songs in total, leaving room for the telling of many stories that always offered a couple of zingers. With Broadway legend Tommy Tune and the grand dame of chanteuses Marilyn Maye both in attendance on opening night, Mizrahi effortlessly worked them into the show throughout the evening. His ability to take an audience into his confidence is simple and unforced, even with the charged personality he brings to the stage. He’s comfortable up there, which translates into making his audience feel as relaxed as they might be in their own living room. And what a room the Carlyle offers! If you have never been, rest assured that you will be treated like royalty by an old-world staff whose only commitment is that of making everyone feel like they have been invited to a wonderful party. From the glorious murals painted on the walls to the lamps that dimly glow on every table, it’s as good as it gets when it comes to the best of Manhattan’s cabaret settings.

Isaac Mizrahi performs at the Café Carlyle in NYC.

The cross section of composers Mizrahi chose to sing represent the best of Broadway. In addition to Newley and Bricusse, we were also treated to works by Cy Coleman, Dorothy Fields, Stephen Sondheim, Cole Porter, Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Jule Styne, and Bob Merrill. Throwing in John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane” might have been a bit of an outlier, but it was welcomed nonetheless. 

That Mizrahi announced early on that he has three priorities in life— “Food, art and penises”— should give you some idea of where much of his bawdy humor lies. I also don’t think I’ve heard the word “darling” used so many times in one night since the days of Zsa Zsa Gabor. But it’s all part of the charm offensive he puts on, and I for one was sucked into the vortex.

To put it simply: “Darling, you’d be a fool to miss Isaac Mizrahi at the Café Carlyle.”

Photos: David Andrako

Isaac Mizrahi: Movie Stars & Supermodels

Performing through February 8th

At the Café Carlyle – 35 E 76th Street, at Madison Avenue in NYC.