Murray Hill and friends in Santaland
From skating under the big tree in Rockefeller Center to visiting Macy’s Santaland, New York City has a wealth of holiday traditions all its own. But if watching the Rockettes kick their gams to canned music isn’t your cup of tea, and the office Pollyanna has you wondering what to do with that large bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream sherry, downtown celebrity Murray Hill has created a holiday tradition worth adopting.
On December 8, Hill opened “A Murray Little Christmas,” a holiday cabaret show at the new Lower East Side venue Mo Pitkin’s House of Satisfaction. From a stage set with blue and silver decorations, an inflatable deer head hanging over a fireplace stocked with Rheingold beer, Hill welcomed an audience of about 50 people. He led a rousing round of “Jingle Bells,” and did a little soft-shoe accompanied by piano player Lance Cruce, who looked resplendent in his burgundy velvet smoking jacket.
Among that evening’s guests was Miss Saturn, who performed a hula-hoop routine to Johnny Cash’s 2002 cover of the Depeche Mode hit “Personal Jesus.” Miss Lower East Side Dynasty Handbag defied categorization with a psychotic inner dialogue and song, and Dirty Martini thrilled with a striptease, her red fishnet stockings landing on the white Christmas tree.
All did their part, but what separates Hill from downtown celebs who wear their persona like a costume is that Murray is always Murray. “When I’m stage or out on the town, I’m sporting a 100% polyester three-piece suit, and for chilling with my boys playing poker, well, that’s time for the polyester track suit,” said Hill. “You know what, the curtain never falls. Showbiz is my life, so I like to stay lit like the Rockefella’ tree.”
Murray maintains the image and persona of a straight, middle-aged man, elevating it from mere cross-dressing titillation into a credible and lovable character. He even joked about his popularity with the gay community.
“I love the gays, they are so much fun…and very colorful people,” said Hill. “Let’s face the music, I’m not like the other guys. You see, me and Rudolph, we are a couple of misfits. And I think the gays can relate to that. But when they come to my shows, for the night we are all misfits together. What a feeling!”
In between performers, Hill sang, joked with the audience, held an impromptu pole-dancing contest, and, as Santa Claus, bounced comedienne Marga Gomez on his knee in the guise of giving a pony ride. The evening was hilarious, bizarre and unexpectedly intimate, embodying a genuine spirit of the season.
When Hill first began hosting cabaret and burlesque shows, his Borsch Belt patter was punctuated by appropriating customers’ drinks and chugging them onstage. Hill has largely retired the gag, joking about both his fear of catching bird flu and saying, “I did have to cut down on the Buds because my suits weren’t fitting anymore. I hit the gym and pumped it out; I feel great.”
The Pilates paid off, because Hill is, as he freely admits, “In the best shape of my life.” His act has only gotten funnier over time, and his guests even more talented. Though the due may not have the stuff of the Rockettes, the acrobatic Wau-Wau Sisters will do their bit to raise holiday cheer at Murray’s December 17 late show. “Sisters” Tanya and Adrienne are known for their comic and ribald songs, risqué costumes, and tumbling prowess. But their thrilling routines comprise only a small part of the talent.
“This year, we’ve got the best of the best, the scariest of the scariest, and brand new acts ready for their big break,” said Murray. “I’m looking forward to the Lesbian Overtones, and People Lution, to singing groups featuring many gay youngsters. My good friend Bitch is going to sing a song…it’s her first time in the holiday show.”
Other talents that pepper Hill’s revolving roster of guests include burlesque dancers Dirty Martini, the bawdy Julie Atlas Muz, the almost always naked Dazzle Dancers, plus former Mr. Lower East Side Neal Medlyn, Scotty the Blue Bunny, and the World Famous *BOB*
Hill acknowledged that “A Murray Little Christmas” pushed the envelope on the traditional idea of holiday cheer, saying, “Risquè? Well, any show with the Dazzle Dancers in it means trouble…and the best kinda trouble you can think of. I booked ‘em in the late show so the kids wouldn’t come. I can’t have any more lawsuits this year.”
But he simultaneously asserted that the show was traditional, adding, “Santa is stopping by, I’m re-enacting a pivotal scene from ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,’ a lesbian choir group is going to warm the joint up. My show is as Christmas-y as an over-spiked bowl of eggnog!”
If you miss “A Murray Little Christmas,” you can always ring in the New Year at Hill’s special New Year’s Eve show, also at Mo Pitkin’s. The opening earlier this year of this venue by Howl! Festival founder Phil Hartman and his brother Jesse gave a much-needed boost to a flagging cabaret scene. The club’s popularity is testament to the fact that New Yorkers are hungry for the bohemian scene with which the Lower East Side is synonymous.