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Siren Song

Jun 3, 2014 Theatre

Lady Rizo – Chanteuse

“I had an anxiety dream last night,” says Lady Rizo. “I was running late for a show, not having rehearsed with the band — the usual stuff. And then these people in the front row stood up in the middle of my song and left.”

The New York-based cabaret star has been performing longer than she can remember — her first stage appearance was as a baby in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, staged by her parents’ theatre company — and not much throws her. But walkouts? “They shake me, absolutely, because the whole consciousness of the room goes towards the exit, you know?”

Thankfully, huffy exits are few and far between. Lady Rizo (pronounced Lady Ree-zo) is one of New York’s biggest cabaret stars, as renowned for her comedic chops as her powerful singing voice. She’ll pull apart the lyrics of songs like Jamie Foxx’s “Blame it (on the Alcohol)” (“about date rape, basically”) or Little Peggy March’s “I Will Follow Him” (“stalking”), or perform a show-stopping cover of Neil Gaiman’s ode to technology-aided obsession, “I Google You”.

“It’s a torch song for the 21st century,” she says. “People in the audience die laughing, because they’re so familiar with that sort of very contemporary longing.”

She’s here as part of the inaugural Auckland International Cabaret Season — five nights of sequins and song at the Town Hall Concert Chamber. Other performers include Australia’s Michael Griffiths and Tommy Bradson, British drag star Le Gateau Chocolat, and our own Julia Deans, Jennifer Ward-Lealand and the Modern Maori Quartet.

Back home, Amelia Zirin-Brown (Lady Rizo’s real-life alter ego) divides her time between the diva persona and other forms of performance art. When we spoke, she was in the middle of filming a “psychedelic art film” deep in the heart of Texas; she also tours as part of an avant-garde theatre troupe that performs completely nude, with no makeup or hair styling. “When we started, most of the performers had a little panic attack about the nudity. For me, it was the ‘no makeup, no hair’ I really found hard.

“Part of my ritual for so long, and what I really love about performing, is the process of transformation,” she says. “It’s like becoming a superhero. There’s something so joyful about that time in front of the dressing room mirror, connecting to the history of stage performers who found freedom by altering the way they looked.”

International Cabaret Season, Town Hall Concert Chamber, May 4–8.


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