The multi-talented Isaac Mizrahi, whose resume includes actor, host, writer, designer and producer, is showcasing his vocals as part of Music Monday at Bay Street in Sag Harbor.
We recently caught up with Mizrahi to learn more about the show, his musical inspirations, the Hamptons, and more.
Have you ever performed at Bay Street before?
IM: No and I’m really excited. I love that room.
What about in the Hamptons?
IM: In short of here and there at a benefit I’ve spoken at or told a couple of jokes, not really. I haven’t sung in the Hamptons, so there’s a whole new level of stage fright.
What can the audience expect?
IM: When I sing, I’m really earnest about it, but I’m not like Christina Aguilera or something. I’m more of an older jazz singer. The band is so good so I feel like what I might lack in terms of vocal range and control at this age, there’s this ability to really put a song across, feel the song, and do it justice. Honestly, I have to say, to me, I’ve always preferred that type of singing. I’m not sure if I tell myself that because of sour grapes or something or because I really believe it. I always prefer singers like Nina Simone, who are really good at putting a song across.
What goes into curating each set list?
IM: It’s so funny. Almost every year I revive my set based on my shows. Usually, it starts at the Carlyle. It’s almost like working on this mini one person show because I tell stories, too. It always starts with the songs I want to do. They just speak to me over the course of time. It’s like, oh wow, that’s a really good song. I should do that and I know it would sound really good with the band and I have this kind of idea about how to approach it. Then, as I’m working on the song, it occurs to me that there are thoughts in the song or ideas that occur with stuff I want to talk about. So, that’s the way it all gets put together.
What musicians have influenced your career?
IM: Definitely Blossom Dearie. Definitely Nina Simone. I would say when I was a kid I was very obsessed with Burt Bacharach, but that was a whole other popular kind of thing. There are other singers who I think are great – like Streisand who I listened to as a kid a lot, but I don’t think it influenced me as much as Blossom Dearie or Nina Simone. What they lack in something, they make up in spades in terms of the idea of how they perform. Blossom Dearie really lays off a song so well. There’s no one who does less than Blossom Dearie and it’s always devastating. Or Nina Simone, she really sits into it emotionally more than anything. Nobody really cares how she sounds. It’s more like what is she thinking? She’s such a thoughtful, thoughtful soulful performer. Those are my two biggest inspirations.
Let’s talk about the show’s title: Moderate to Severe. What does that refer to?
IM: Well, you know, it’s like since November of 2016 it went from moderately insane to severely insane. And so, I’m not really sure what I’m going to call the next show. Totally insane, maybe. But, I literally find that I am unraveling and it’s not a joke and yet it is a joke. That’s basically what the show is about in so many words. It’s thinking and surviving and living in this crazy, crazy time since November of 2016.
Have you done any formal training?
IM: Sure, lots of formal training. I started as an actor and performer. I used to be this female impersonator, when I was a baby, a kid, I did female impersonations. In 1975, you’re not exactly going to encourage a little boy to do that. Then, I went to performing arts high school where I majored in drama and from there, I always had performance gigs that were outside of the realm of people – like little tiny theater groups and venues around the City. And so, it’s been a part of my life, and now I want it to be the better part of my life. Here I am at Bay Street, which I tend to think of as a very, very important venue.
How many performances do you typically do each year?
IM: I do between 20 and 30 performances throughout the year. I do a lot of different things. I do my cabaret about 20 times, I do this show at the Guggenheim every winter – a version of “Peter & the Wolf” that I direct and I narrate that. I do a number of those shows. I do a lot of different kinds of shows. I’m doing more standup these days, too. I’ve been doing standup gigs at these small venues in Brooklyn that are very gratifying. One called Butterboy that I did the other night – that was really fun.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
IM: Everyone needs to come see my show because it’s great.
Isaac Mizrahi: Moderate to Severe will take place on Monday, August 6 at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $69.
Bay Street is located at 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call 631-725-9500 or visit www.baystreet.org.