Rizo delivers cabaret with a comedy twist

Jun 02, 2015

“There was never a moment when I thought: I’m going to rebel and become an accountant,” says Adelaide Cabaret Festival-bound New York chanteuse Lady Rizo.

The singer is explaining the origins of her successful showbiz career and her quirky biography, which states:

“Though it is rumoured that she is the product of a night of unrestrained indulgence between Peggy Lee, Mel Brooks, Nina Simone, Dean Martin and Janis Joplin, the truth is Lady Rizo was raised by theatrical gypsies with the highest show business ethics.”

Rizo (aka Amelia Zirin-Brown) tells InDaily her parents were in “a kind of theatre hippy community”. They performed plays by Brecht and Shakespeare in barns, gathering the children around to join in.

But for Rizo, the big smoke – or rather, the Big Apple – beckoned.

She co-created the cult “caburlesque” show Lady Rizo and The Assettes in 2005, went on to win a Grammy in 2010 for a duet with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, has recorded with Moby, entertained everyone from Prince to Jay Z with her pop arrangements at New York club The Darby, and has a regular show at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan.

Lady Rizo covers Nirvana’s “Lithium”.

She credits her success in New York and London partly to ambition and tenacity, but also to the fact that both cities embrace wisecracking women who can sing.

“I’ve always said I love New York because New York loves me. That was always my feeling – that the DNA of that city responded to what kind of person I was.”

A Lady Rizo show combines music, glamour and wit. She travels with musical director, cellist and guitar player Yair Evnine, and is hiring other Australian musicians for her tour of this country.

Rizo, who wowed audiences at the 2013 Cabaret Festival, says this year’s performance will feature both original pop songs and new arrangements of mash-ups of tracks by other artists which resonate with her or a particular story she’s telling or mood she is trying to create.

The Unescorted show includes a version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing”, which becomes more waltz than rock song. There are also mash-ups of Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colours” and Blondie’s “One Way or Another”, and Burt Bacharach’s “Close to You” and “Pure Imagination”, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

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Lady-Rizo-2“When I do that song I feel like I’m actually singing about the art of cabaret, because it’s based on the imagination and not relying on a heavy budget or lighting tricks to do the work,” she says.

“I love having an arsenal of songs to choose from and pulling from different decades and then twisting the arrangements.”

“It’s interesting to feel when songs resonate with audiences. It’s surprising to me who knows the song and has a vocal response.”

When she says “vocal response”, she means cheering, not singing along – which is not actively encouraged, except for at particular moments.

In addition to praising Lazy Rizo’s vocals and glamorous appearance – extra-long false eyelashes and a perfectly coiffed do are de rigueur – critics also regularly comment on her charisma and sharp wit.

The comedy element is an integral part of her routines. And it comes naturally, says Rizo, adding: “I’m a Jewish woman and I feel like I’m a continuation of a long line of Vaudevillian Jewish women performers.

“I think people want art to reflect life, and life is hilarious and also great; they [art and life] are sandwiched next to each other in ways that are hard to describe.

“I feel like when I usher people through an hour or two, it’s my job to give them a window into the gamut of emotions and I feel like my best shows have people really busting a gut with laughter and perhaps crowning a tear.”

Lady Rizo will perform Unescorted in the Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, from June 17-19 as part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, which opens on Friday.

More Adelaide Cabaret Festival stories:

‘Wayward octogenarian’ a cabaret hit
Marney McQueen: Hair to the Throne
High-flying SongBird bound for Adelaide
Christa Hughes set to rock the cabaret
Humphries unveils 2015 Adelaide Cabaret Festival line-up


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