Lea DeLaria mixes jazz and gritty stand up in Cabaret debut

Posted by kbrueckmann on March 22, 2016

By Tom Alvarez
Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner

A few songs into her Friday night show "House of David," at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club, jazz singer, actor and standup comic Lea DeLaria warned the audience that if anybody was offended, that they should leave right then because the X-rated banter she was delivering would only get worse.

As far as Examiner.com could tell, no one did. And it's a sure bet that those present will likely not forget one of the edgiest shows seen by this writer while covering the Cabaret during its six-year history.

DeLaria, who has also starred on Broadway, is best known for playing the character, Big Boo in “Orange is the New Black,” the hit Netflix television series seen by over 65 million fans all over the world. But it was serious jazz along with a lethal dose of comedy that DeLaria, who calls herself a “professional lesbian,” offered up during the first of her two night engagement at the Cabaret.

Dressed in a man's black suit, wearing signature horn-rimmed glasses, and sporting a modified mohawk hairstyle, the irrepressible DeLaria was accompanied by a band consisting of virtuoso jazz musicians. Based in New York, and sought after by many high profile artists, they included Chris Ziemba on piano, Alex Goodman on guitar, Lucas Pino on sax, Dylan Shamat on bass and Aaron Kimmel on drums.

DeLaria’s 90 minute set, consisting of songs from her 2015 CD, “House of David,” paid tribute to music icon David Bowie who passed away in January, an unfortunate development which inevitably focused a great deal attention on her album.

Opening with “Boys Keep Swimming,” followed by “Fame,” DeLaria delivered a long riff that commenced with commentary regarding her sleeping accommodations at the Columbia Club, which, at one time, was a Republican party bastion in Indy. She feigned horror at sleeping in what she said was the same bed that former president George W. Bush, who she claimed she “hates,” once slept in. DeLaria then proceeded to tell a joke about Laura Bush’s genitalia which she said got her in some hot water with the Bush administration at the time she first told it. It can safely be said that many of the expletives spouted by DeLaria, have probably never been publicly uttered within the walls of venerable Crystal Terrace room. But that is, no doubt, exactly what made her material all the more hilarious for the adventurous crowd assembled who seemed to enjoy it thoroughly.

At the same time, DeLaria’s humor which is associated with her unorthodox brand, and in turn her “shtick,” seemed at times to collide with, if not diminish, her artistry as an accomplished jazz singer.

Crooning and occasionally scatting, DeLaria made Bowie’s songs her own as she lovingly interpreted songs, in her rich-toned voiced, such as “Space Oddity,” and “Let’s Dance.”

After performing her final song “Life on Mars,” DeLaria dismissed the obligatory “false exit” that occurs when an entertainer leaves the stage only to return for an encore. Staying put to sing “Young Americans,” she encouraged the audience to sing along—making for a joyous conclusion to an evening made memorable by the juxtaposition of a pop culture celebrity with high caliber jazz.

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