The Grammy-winning Lady Rizo, currently on loan from New York where she is a "cabaret superstar", brings her own peculiar brand of metropolitan chic to London's Soho Theatre.
The chanteuse and entertainer mixes a decade-hopping repertoire with songs she's written herself, accompanied by a three-piece band: guitar, piano and drums. Her powerful, versatile voice alone is enough to captivate an audience, even without the wit, smut and charm that combine to make this a highly original act and an excellent fit for the late slot at Soho's downstairs cabaret space.
Lady Rizo tells us she was raised on a commune by hippies. It was at the age of six that she came into contact with the outside world: a world of clean little girls with fluffy white bread sandwiches and capri-suns in their lunch boxes. Her own drink came in a rustic jar, and her bread was brown and grainy.
She rebelled against her west coast upbringing with glamour. The enormous fake eyelashes, glitter, gowns and blonde beehive support the story, but as a performer there's a lot more to this diva than the usual paraphernalia. She's a comedian as well as a singer, and unsuspecting props, such as a jug of red roses and a cocktail, are absorbed grotesquely into the act: she tickles herself with a flower head before stuffing it angrily into her mouth and laps like a dog from a Martini glass.
Although completely charming (believe it or not), she has a knack for looking suddenly terrifying, especially when the gloss cracks to show a bit of the weird inner self that most people try not to show in public. A sweet rendition of Neil Gaiman's darkly comic torch song for our age, "I Google You", turns ugly with the line "I ought to blow up my computer", shrieked in red-faced frustration. Other songs include the mystical "Bali Hai", from South Pacific, Hendrix's "Little Wing", "Sinner Man" by Nina Simone, "One Way or Another" by Blondie and a gorgeous rendition of Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colours". She also sings a few numbers from her forthcoming début album, such as "My Quill is Dry". Unsubtle innuendos are her forte.
The way Lady Rizo moves between songs and speech is impressively fluid and she often breaks off mid-performance with some anecdote, or because someone in the front row has caught her eye, before picking up the next verse. She flirts with everyone in the audience throughout, moving through the crowd, tossing girls' hair and steaming up men's glasses. Sometimes she calls for her gawky, eager-to-please assistant to pick up her mic stand or to hoist her onto the grand piano. One particularly risqué episode involved a costume-change behind a screen. In rather well-defined silhouette, she undressed before a member of the audience while coaxing him into recounting early sexual experiences.
Lady Rizo behaves outrageously, but it's her surreal edge that makes her compelling. That and the breath-taking voice. All in all, there's a lot to recommend here, and with her warmth and generosity of spirit, she'll undoubtedly win a few hearts while she's in London.