Adelaide Festival Theatre
June 11, 2018
The first and only prior occasion when I saw Lea Delaria was over a decade ago at the Adelaide Feast Festival. At that point, Delaria was the most prominent lesbian stand-up on the planet, but had also branched out into jazz singing with a chart-topping cover of The Ballad of Sweeney Todd. Jump forward to 2018 and Delaria’s profile has exploded thanks to television and her break out role as Big Boo on the award-winning prison show Orange is the New Black. However, unlike male comedians such as Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock, who sacrificed their edge for mainstream success, Delaria joyously remains a bombastic in your face “dyke daddy” spraying expletives and rants about “going down, down under” with plenty of references to Donald Trump and Mike Pence.
Notwithstanding the banter, music was Delaria’s focus and the majority of the tracks came from her top selling House of David album featuring covers of twelve David Bowie classics. Boys Keep Swinging was a wonderful, amusing, wry opening and I was impressed immediately by the skill of Delaria’s all-girl jazz trio of Helen Sung (keyboards), recent Juilliard graduate Endea Owens (double bass) and Sylvia Cuenca (drums) who shone frequently with extended solos. After a simulated sex act (I won’t excite you with the details), Delaria showed the breadth of her musicianship with intriguing interpretations of Fame and Space Oddity. In her softer moments, Delaria’s tone is not unlike her benchmark KD Lang. When she tries to up the volume, some of that musicianship turns to shouting and I felt that the pathos and wonderment of Life in Mars was lost after the first verse.
While the Bowie was fine, Delaria is well geared to reinterpret some of the golden standards of the 20s and 30s. Love the Life I Live is the perfect anthem, as glued to Delaria as My Way was to Sinatra, as was the double entendre laden My Cat Fell in the Well which Delaria reinforced by ordering a compulsory singalong. He of the orange hair would call this fake news but Delaria’s Trump rant was well received, as was an accelerated version of Sweeney Todd. The twelve-bar blues standard encore of Peggy Lee’s Why Don’t You Do Right brought the audience to their feet and everyone left smiling if not cussing.
The Adelaide Cabaret Festival runs until June 23