Isaac Mizrahi: ‘In Person’ (at Café Carlyle) – Fun!
By: Alix Cohen
March 6, 2022: Isaac Mizrahi almost bounds onto the stage wearing urbane black with two BIG silk flower bouttonieres. “Get Happy” (Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler) he sings with evangelical spirit. The fashion designer is once again headlining iconic Café Carlyle. “If I have to sell one more fucking pima cotton t-shirt!” he blurts referring to QVC appearances.
Anticipating a show comprised of the kind of wry anecdotes exhibited in the documentary Unzipped in tandem with a few songs, I was surprised and delighted to find the reverse. Already at home performing, Mizrahi sings predominantly unexpected material with style and talent. Music is connected but not overwhelmed by curmudgeonly, sophisticated observations which nonetheless feel genuine to character. “No one comes to New York to be happy. You come to be chic or smart, but not happy.”
“Happy Days Are Here Again” (Milton Ager/Jack Yellen) arrives easy swing with cotton vocal. Mizrahi is low key expressive, never over the top. Fingers indicate sarcastic quotes on the last “Happy Days.” Benny Benack offers a sensual trumpet solo. Mizrahi raises the mic creating a Hirschfeld silhouette. “Liza!” he attributes.
Two numbers showcase the artist’s nifty lyric writing: “Pet Sounds”, an instrumental by The Beach Boys, now reveals droll sentiment about dog ownership. Mizrahi even raps. An update of Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top” is funny, topical, rhymed and in sync. (Consider writing a song?) Benack and fellow trumpeter Bruce Harris add clarion pizzazz.
Selections by Billie Elish and Alicia Keys are well rendered. The performer claims ownership and communicates without fuss. Keys’ “Girl On Fire” or as he pronounces it, “fi-yah” enters on charged conga drums. Solos reflect skill and creativity. Ben Walzer’s piano turn is particularly soulful. The musician curls forward over keys much like Bill Evans interpreting with great nuance. Mizrahi bobs and connects, sometimes addressing audience members, aware of temperature/reaction.
Between songs, the artist banters about COVID, marriage, the band, being Jewish, being gay, age, cosmetic surgery, obsession with his phone, booze and pills – resulting in a four page email to Anna Wintour, fashion “I’m over it”, reading lyrics… He also intermittently answers questions submitted by the audience with candid good humor.
Tonight’s highlight is a rendition of the recently passed Stephen Sondheim’s “One More Kiss” (from Follies): One more kiss before we part/One more kiss and farewell/ Never shall we meet again/Just a kiss and then/We break the spell… Mizrahi and Sondheim were friends. Eddies of feeling course through the very personal, ruminative performance. Benack’s trumpet, delicate piano, Neal Miner’s whispered bass…offer sympathetic accompaniment.
The evening ends with a heartfelt “New York, New York” (John Kander/Fred Ebb) Mizrahi’s “vagabond shoes” are Hermes. He appreciates just where he is and where we are. Thoroughly entertaining.
The band is top notch. Terrific arrangements are both original and tailored to the artist’s abilities.
Café Carlyle continues to serve a splendid prix fixe or a la carte meal.
Photos David Andrako for Café Carlyle
Isaac Mizrahi: In Person
Ben Waltzer- Piano/Musical Director
Benny Benack- Trumpet, Bruce Harris-Trumpet, Joe Perri- Percussion, Joe Strasser- Drums, Neal Miner-Bass