Reviewed by Joe Regan Jr.
Lincoln Center presented a very unusual and different entry in the American Songbook series with “Taylor Mac’s 24-Decade History of Popular Music: The 1920s” on Wednesday evening, March 5. Taylor Mac is an award-winning playwright, actor, singer-songwriter, cabaret performer, director and producer. His show at the Allen Room was a shocking revelation to those in the sold out house who had never seen anything like it. First of all, Mac was smart enough to have great musicians: Matt Ray, his musical director, on piano, Dana Lyn on violin, Jon Natchez on baritone saxophone, Greg Glassman on trumpet, Todd Londagin on trombone, Viva DeConcini on electric guitar, Gary Wang on bass, Bernice “Boom Boom” Brooks on drums.
Mac made a spectacular entrance in a colorful gown by Machine Dazzle with bangles of different colors and a gigantic headdress that looked like sharpened knives in the shape of feathers. Think Maria Montez as the evil twin in “Cobra Woman.“ There were black hanging earrings, a skull tight black wig, and one of the bangles was a rabbit’s foot which he made audience individuals stroke for luck. His opening number was “Happy Days Are Here Again,” and he sang many, many choruses, each time seeming to get drunker and drunker; at one point Mac makes the audience adopt certain gestures as they sing along. This mania fun permeated the act. We were to eyeball strangers and send them messages.
The premise of the act was the story of “Barry” and “Larry,” two World War I veterans who are lovers. One of them is celebrating the end of the war and the other can’t forget how many of their comrades did not come back and only wants to spend time reading James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Two seemingly straight men were plucked from opposite sides of the house to enact these lovers. Other audience members are directed into a conga line throughout the house.
Mac also salutes the 60s personality Tiny Tim by singing his hit song, “Tip Toe Through The Tulips” as he climbs up to the mezzanine and travels from one side of the house to the other. Mac describes how he will be doing a 24 hour event in the future with 24 musicians and 24 dancers, one dancer and one musician disappearing every hour. Out of the band comes Londagin to do the soft shoe and tap quite expertly. A young man (Italian/Cuban) and young girl are told to visualize each other as different genders: he to think of her as masculine, she to think of him as feminine. And the audience has to do the same thing to the one next to them as “Masculine Women, Feminine Men” (James V. Monaco/Edgar Leslie) is sung! A great blues follows “If Your Kisses Won’t Hold the Man You Love” (advising dumped women to go out and get themselves a young sailor!), is belted out as it might have been sung by Sophie Tucker (the song is by Vivian Elis and Jack Yellen, who wrote Tucker material).
Among the many audience participants were varying age groups and one of the hottest was three over-80 men instructing a19 year old how to shag!
The Barry and Larry narrative continues when the celebrating one walks out on the sad one. In the same mood as “Am I Blue,” Mac, in a solo spot, sings a heart-breaking “Love Me Or Leave Me.” There is a quiet reading of the last chapter of James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” the explicit description of the love making and repetition of the word “yes.”
For his encore, Mac takes off the headdress and wig (revealing a bald head) brings the band down to the front apron, and sings the traditional “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” It’s a moving finish to a spectacular show that had the audience standing and cheering.