Three blocks from the Calderwood Pavilion on our way to the Lea DeLaria show yesterday, I heard faint cheering, a chant or two lifting up over the sound of the wind blowing down Clarendon Street. I thought it might be carolers or a crowd coming from some sports event. But when we turned on Tremont Street, there was a crowd of maybe a hundred people packed tightly onto the sidewalk across the street from the theatre complex, singing cheerily.
That’s when I saw the signs. “God Hates Fags.” “You’re Going to Hello.” Six of Fred Phelps’ wacko supporters were outside in a small taped off area, hoisting their signs smugly in the air, or trying to walk in a small circle. The hundred people across the street were counter-protesters, and as I realized they were singing the national anthem, and that the cop across the street was actually leading them in song, I got a warm, joyful feeling. My thought was that they were there to protest DeLaria, about as out a lesbian as you could find. I pitied them if DeLaria were to find out they were there, because there were only six of them. I didn’t find out until after the show what they were actually there for.
But I brought that warm feeling with me into the upstairs room the Calderwood had turned into a cabaret, complete with tables and drinks and mood lighting, with a stage just big enough for DeLaria and her piano/bass/drums trio, Janette Mason and the Ho Ho Hos. Mason (an accomplished musician in her own right, who scored the recent Bob Hoskins film Ruby Blue), led the trio in an elegant version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” before DeLaria took the stage.
DeLaria kicked off her set with a fluid, fun “Sleigh Ride,” since this was a Christmas cabaret show. But she followed it with “Night and Day,” and then told the crowd how she hates Christmas. Anathema, she said, for the gay and lesbian crowd who get to dress the whole house in drag.
If you’re wondering why I’m reviewing a music show on a comedy blog, it’s because DeLaria is as skilled a comedian as she is a singer, and her aggressive comic style, even when she’s ranting about Christmas or politics, is as joyful and vivacious as the music in her program. As she put it, there was “a lot of great music and a lot of cranky stand-up.”
Part of the reason she hates Christmas, she said, is because she lives in New York, which is flooded with tourists during the season, people who fly from Kansas to see Mama Mia. “I’d rather watch $135 burn on the sidewalk,” she said, than pay the ticket price for that show.
The show was an enormous amount of fun. DeLaria sang a “Jingle Bells” cha cha cha that segued into “Manana,” sang an obscure song about mistletoe with some forced audience participation, and delivered a stunning, delicate rendition of “Christmastime Is Here.” The encore, a nimble, beautiful “Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.”
After the show, I learned from DeLaria that she had tangled with Fred Phelps before, getting him to try to crawl over his foot soldiers to take a swing at her. It was a proud moment for her, that she was able to taunt the guy ‘til he popped. As I walked out, I found the real reason the protesters were there. “The Laramie Project,” a play about a small town after the murder of Matthew Shepard, was playing in the theater next door. It’s too bad god hates fags. The Phelps people missed a great show.