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Lea Delaria and Janette Mason at Enzo September 2, 2010

One person’s liberation can be another’s violation. Propriety is breached, thrilling some and appalling others. That is the power of transgression. And that is the power of the enormously talented Lea Delaria.

Lea Delaria

Lea Delaria

For 28 years, first as a stand-out/stand-up comic, then as a jazz musician, then as an actor, and now as a multi-faceted cabaret star, Lea has surprised, delighted and confounded her audiences nearly every time she performs. Her shows are challenges – to preconceived notions and to the predictable. Her intelligence drives her to be ground-breaker, in her own words, a “fat, ugly dyke” (a moniker that I dispute, I think she is a hot, butch she-bear) who just owns whatever stage she takes, and makes you love her with her sheer gustiness.

Lea is fearless, a fact demonstrated by the tough genres she has tackled (and in which she has excelled) – comedy, jazz, rock, musical theater and acting are not for the weak of heart. I’ve loved Lea’s comedy from her early start in western Massachusetts in 1982 – she was the women’s music antidote – the punk-era dyke who mocked the lesbian feminist community she came out of, but who never disowned that she was a lesbian feminist too. She offended and provoked as often as she charmed and to me that was the best kind of comedy, Lea was our own Lenny Bruce.

When she began to move more into music, it was a revelation – she sings so well and so powerfully. At the show the other night, she revealed that her father was a jazz musician and played with various quartets or trios in St. Louis. He would take her to the clubs with him as a little girl, exposing her early on to the jazz that she loves and to performance. For the past decade, Lea has appeared on Broadway and off, in musical theater, plays, TV shows and film, developing a successful career out of raw talent and incredible hard work in a business that is still gender biased and quite homo-silencing.

That’s why it was wonderful to see her in Provincetown at Enzo’s, where she did a two night set with the incredible Janette Mason (more on her in a moment) on piano.

Lea opened with “I enjoy being a girl,” which she turned into a camp classic (I also love Phranc’s version of it!). When Lea sings, “I’m strictly a female female/And my future I hope will be/In the home of a brave and free male/Who’ll enjoy being a guy having a girl… like… me” – the incongruence is fantastic. She moved through a range of jazz standards, doing boogaloo, swing, and scat. And as my friends said her rendition of “All that Jazz” is worth the price of admission anytime.

Of course, it would not be a Lea show without patter—and her schtick is as raunchy and biting as ever. I especially liked the wonderful Sesame Street-like bit she repeated three times called “What’s Going on in the Street?” Following some fanfare from Janette Mason, she sing-songs “What’s Going on in the Street,” takes her mike to the door and yells out to Commercial street (“HEY, what’re you doing”) to whomever is passing-by, and then reports on the response (which she makes up). Corny good fun. And a more sedate version of an earlier audience-sing a long that Lea used to do called (“Whack a Butt Plug”, anyone remember that?!)

Janette Mason is one of those scarily talented musicians who can play anything extremely well and whose solos can just take you away! She is a London-based composer and pianist who is also Lea’s partner in life. The two make a great foil, with Lea perfectly playing the excitable Ralph Kramden to Janette’s calm Alice.

Delaria has four albums out on Warner Records (Play It Cool, The Live Smoke Sessions, The Very Best of Lea Delaria and, my favorite, Double Standards). Mason has several out as well, including Alien Left Hand and Din and Tonic).

Lea will be appearing regularly in September and October in New York City doing a Late Brunch gig at the Smoke Jazz Club on the Upper West Side. Go see her!

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