by JK Clarke
Imagine this luscious scenario: You head to Feinstein’s 54Below tonight to see An Evening With Lypsinka’s Maid, featuring John “Lypsinka” Epperson sitting at the piano and singing songs that have been meaningful to him in his long career as both a rehearsal pianist and as the brilliant and hilarious drag persona, Lypsinka. His delightful and entertaining set ends and then, alas, the house manager announces that the club is snowed in, the city has declared a state of emergency and everyone must remain in the venue for the duration of the evening. Consummate performer that he is, Epperson returns to the ivories and makes a night of it, with song, stories and wine—a ribald and memorable time! Well, after Epperson’s show which clocks in at just over an hour, that’s what you’ll wish for: more. No matter how you get it. And it seems you surely would enjoy a long and memorable evening of whatever he has to offer.
Alas, that’s probably not on the menu, but the short and sweet affair is satisfying enough. Gliding onto the stage in a green jacket (that he would later explain felt very “showbiz” for him, and that he’d picked it up at a Thierry Mugler fashion show) and dives right into his first two numbers of a syncopated waltz medley, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Ten Minutes Ago” and Rodgers and Sondheim’s “Do I Hear a Waltz,” both very “show biz-y” tunes. The numbers fit his strong, clear vocals, like those of a leading lady. Of one song he says, “they say it should be sung by a woman, but when has that ever stopped me?” and gives the audience a touch of Lypsinka’s “bitch face.” Epperson calls himself “Lypsinka’s maid” (though “dresser” might be more accurate), for she is his alter ego, the legendary drag artist who, since the late 1980s has been staging ingenious performances in which she lip syncs to classic Hollywood high drama and camp characters of the 1950s and 60s, from Joan Crawford to Bette Davis. But before he was Lypsinka, he was the the rehearsal pianist at the American Ballet Theatre, which was where he honed to perfection (it seems) both his skill and his vast repertoire of songs and styles, which were on grand display (divided into featurette sections of anywhere from three to seven numbers) in this solo show that ends tonight.
His set, directed by Jay Rodgers, was almost a history lesson of show tunes and American Songbook variations. In addition to his “Waltz Medley,” he paid tribute to one of his idols, Betty Comden, as well as a Christine Jorgensen Medley (“does anyone know who she was,” he asked; no one seemed to know that she was America’s first out trans woman to have sexual reassignment surgery—in 1951—and who later became an actor and nightclub singer), and even a Rap Section, featuring songs by Kay Thompson, whom he identified as the first “rapper” (which, though far from today’s very evolved hip-hop, did have lyrical rhythms that evokes early rap groups like The Sugar Hill Gang, minus some of the societal angst that hallmarks the genre). His last song before the encore (the delightful Frank Loesser piece, “Papa Don’t Preach to Me,”) was “Sensitivity,” from Once Upon a Mattress, in which he starred just last month Off Broadway. Epperson even threw in a risqué old novelty song “(He Likes to Nibble On My) Cupcakes,” which Lypsinka frequently performs, but this time it was Epperson’s performance. But even without the costume Lypsinka still peeks out like a nipslip.
An Evening With Lypsinka’s Maid is indeed ideal supper club fare. What could be better for a lover of show tunes and standards than to sit in the comfortable environs of 54Below with a glass of wine and a delicious meal, all the while listening to a charming and remarkable talented singer and pianist who loves what he’s doing and makes us love being there, too. If only we could have figured out a way to be stuck there all night . . .
John “Lypsinka” Epperson: An Evening With Lypsinka’s Maid. Limited Engagement, January 20, 21 and 23, 7.)) PM. Final Show Tonight, Saturday, January 23 at Feinstein’s 54Below (254 West 54th Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue). www.54Below.com/Feinsteins
Photos by JKClarke