Last night, I attended my last in a series of performances this week—John Epperson (usually aka Lypsinka) made a rare cabaret performance as himself at Birdland (315 W. 44th St. in Manhattan) in An Evening with Lypsinka's Maid.
"Nobody's paying attention to me!"
I arrived just before the show began and ate a peach cobbler in record time. I don't recommend jazz clubs for their cobbler, but it did satisfy the altogether reasonable $10 minimum. I was alone, but was seated next to porn king/drama queen Michael Lucas; I had nothing to say to him so didn't.
Above: Highlights from the Birdland
I first saw Lypsinka in action back at The Vortex in Chicago, probably around 1990, where she signed a dollar bill for me after her lip-synched marathon. But I'd never seen or heard Epperson perform as himself; I'm so pleased that situation has been rectified after a wonderfully nostalgic set of standards and obscure standard-wannabes warbled without irony and with a personal touch that made each song feel like part of a direct conversation Epperson was having with his audience.
With John (as Michael Lucas hovers in the background)
Speaking of conversation, host Jim Caruso would come and go (don't they all?) during Epperson's act, doing his best James Lipton as he helped usher stories from one of the world's most famous living drag artists that were anything but a drag—we got to hear about a lost musical number from the movie Philadelphia, Epperson's mutual-admiration run-ins with Betty Comden (I was at the table that was hers on her last Birdland visit) and how one of his "so-called fans" wrote him of this Lypsinkless performance, "I wouldn't want to see that."
The story that left us wanting more involved Epperson's musical tutelage in Hazlehurst, Mississippi (the setting for Crimes of the Heart), under the guidance of piano teacher Lillie V. Mullen. You see, Miss Lillie V. lived with a lady known as Uncle Nell...Nell's brother, Aunt Frank, lived in a hospital.
Epperson has a fine voice for showtunes, one that only warmed as he went along. In fact, the evening was perhaps surprisingly warm considering Lypsinka's eerily mechanical allure, a la Lisa Marie in Mars Attacks! Seeing how connected Epperson is to these songs reveals why his Lypsinka persona is not malicious camp; the humor is possible owing to a deep understanding and affection for the source material.Highlights were his spirited Comden and Kay Thompson medleys, generously stuffed with some of those great ladies' best songs. One particularly interesting segment was Epperson's homage to Christine Jorgensen (pictured), the world's first famous transsexual. My observation is that there is currently a contentious schism between drag artists and transgendered people, so to see and hear Epperson (albeit not in drag) affectionately parody Jorgensen's cabaret career with songs like "There'll Be Some Changes Made" and "I Enjoy Being a Girl" (the latter of which Jorgensen actually did perform at her shows, which she continued right into the '80s) was delightfully daring.
And for fans pouting that Lypsinka was not in attendance, Epperson thrilled with a 10-minute segment in which he lip-synched to a dizzying series of personality-plus answering-machine messages he's received over the years from the likes of Liza Minnelli, Julie Newmar, Sylvia Miles, Arnold Scasi, Marc Shaiman, Jenifer Lewis and Michael Feinstein. It was hysterical—or should I say histerical—even with Lypsinka's many accoutrements nowhere in sight.
After the show, I was able to introduce myself to Epperson, who graciously posed for a photo.
John Epperson's been doing Lypsinka since 1982. I'm not sure how many times since then he's performed as himself in a setting like this, but let's hope Lypsinka shares the spotlight with John again soon.
The set list:Medley: "Sunday in New York"/"Put on Your Sunday Clothes"/"It's a Grand Night for Singing"/"Ten Minutes Ago"/"Do I Hear a Waltz?"
"I Think I May Want to Remember Today"
Betty Comden Tribute: "I Said Good Morning"/"Pass That Peace Pipe"/"He's Got Designs on Me"
Kay Thompson Medley: "Love on a Greyhound Bus"/"Isn't It Wonderful?"/"The Holiday Season"/"Think Pink"/"I Love a Violin"
Christine Jorgensen Medley: "Wonderful Copenhagen"/"There'll Be Some Changes Made"/"They Can't Take That Away from Me"/"What Did I Have That I Don't Have?"/"How Lovely to Be a Woman"/"I Enjoy Being a Girl"
"Where is Love?"
"Rumble, Rumble, Rumble"/"Wrong Note Rag"
Encore: "I'm the First Girl"