by Jordan Cohen
Marti Gould Cummings, well known in the New York drag scene as a singing comedy queen, presented a one night only rock concert, directed by Bradford Proctor, at Feinstein’s/54 Below on Friday, April 1 at 11:30pm.
Cummings’ career as a comedian, singer, actor, and drag star has included national tours, Off-Broadway, red carpet interviews, and a successful semi autobiographical solo play. Lately, Cummings can be seen hosting a weekly celebrity talk show at the popular Hell’s Kitchen bar, Therapy, where guests have included Alan Cumming, Rumer Willis, LaChanze, and Alice Ripley. There’s a reason he’s been called the “hardest working queen in the business.”
If you’ve seen Cummings in his element—belting showtunes and cracking jokes on the small stage at Therapy or under the flashing lights at Barracuda Bar—then you might not be sure what to expect from a Marti Gould Cummings show at one of New York’s most posh cabaret spaces. Aside from his solid vocals and killer wit, part of Cummings’ charm relies on a kind of unpredictability (which goes for many of the best drag queens): Will he remember his lyrics? Will the leggings stay up and the eyelashes stay on? Will a joke go too far, or even land at all? For drag queens especially, great risk often brings great reward.
This is all to say that I’m glad Cummings didn’t attempt to polish up his act too much. He didn’t memorize a script and he did forget some lyrics (even though he wrote some on his hand). The jokes and banter were mainly off-the-cuff, which played perfectly to the full house of fans and admirers. The notes weren’t always perfect but the high kicks and jump-splits more than made up for it. At one point, Cummings asked special guest Hernando Umana (of Kinky Boots) to tell a story to stall for time. You see, a certain appendage had come un-tucked and he had to go backstage to take care of it . . .
Backed by his spirited band The Cummers (music director Eric Miranda), Cummings performed tunes he loved as a child, from Green Day’s “Basket Case” and Radiohead’s “Creep,” to Bowie’s “Life on Mars” and Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” “Life on Mars” matched perfectly with Cummings’ glam-rock visual style and his rendition of “Creep” felt authentic to the core. Cummings shimmied and shook his way through “Basket Case,” his wispy long hair (he performs sans wig) whirling in full rock-n-roll glory.
Quieter moments included a touching performance of “Puff the Magic Dragon,” which he called his favorite song of all time, and an encore that included Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender.” Umana lent his powerhouse voice to Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of 17” and special guest Cady Huffman (Tony winner, The Producers) brought the house down when she and Cummings dueted to Led Zepplin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” It was a wild night. I’d be surprised if Feinstein’s/54 Below has ever seen anything like it.
Marti Gould Cummings played Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 West 54th Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenue), Friday April 1. www.54below.com