There’s no “I” in “Cabaret” — but there are three of them in Isaac Mizrahi’s name, and one in the title of his new show.
“I&Me” finds the iconic fashion designer drawing from the fabric of his life to create a surprisingly intimate performance whose swatches of gay, Jewish, and Mama’s boy identity serve to preview the early 2019 release of “I.M.: A Memoir.” Add to that an idiosyncratic set list, id-baring patter, and spontaneous moments of audience interaction.
“When you’re on stage in a cabaret setting,” Mizrahi said, of playing the Roxy Hotel’s cozy, downstairs Django room, “there’s a kind of freedom to go off book. That’s what you’re being paid to do, challenged to figure out… If there’s a truth about the saying, ‘the audience makes the show,’ it could not be truer than when you’re talking about cabaret… So that’s what I love, and that’s what I’m so scared of. Before I get on stage, the thing I panic about is that it won’t happen, you know what I mean? Or it will happen to a lesser degree. But the thing I realized is, the moment I hit the stage, it’s inevitable. And that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a good show, it just means it’s inevitable that something living is going to take place in that room.”
Based on what went down at last week’s premiere, the veteran talk show host and current “Project Runway All Stars” judge need not stress about his delivery, or the audience’s reception. A sardonic demand (“I would like a pronoun”) garnered laughs, as did a quick scan for Diazepam fans (“Do you all take pills? It’s okay, this is a safe space”), and a regifting segment with content from his vast collection of swag, personal and acquired.
Entertaining as that may be, this is, after all, cabaret — which makes it all the more pleasing to report the show’s musical content both anchors the evening and gives it wings. Mizrahi’s vocal chops are capable of telling a story as well as carrying a tune, and the Barbra-meets-Blondie set list respects the genre, while stretching its boundaries in unexpectedly odd directions. (“Don’t Rain on My Parade” is daffily defiant; “Heart of Glass” was done as slowed-down duet, with droll comedian Dave Hill; and Mizrahi’s custom-made lyrics for “You’re the Top” were a window into his politics and peccadillos.)
But don’t necessarily expect any of the above at The Django’s two remaining shows.
“This [rotating] set list,” Mizrahi explained, “is, like, some of my favorites I’ve done throughout my cabaret life. I’m always collecting songs and trying material with my band. We’ve been working together for so long. To me, the music is the easy, safe place, because it’s about me performing with these gentlemen who I adore. (That’s the Ben Waltzer Jazz Quartet — whose members, Mizrahi quipped, went “from drug abuse to exchanging balsamic reduction recipes.”)
For the man fronting the band, live performance “kind of really has opened the door and shown me what I’m supposed to be doing.” While Broadway performers “are able to rediscover something eight times a week,” Mizrahi said cabaret’s flexibility and immediacy make for “the thing I really adore… I’ve been doing lots of shows for so long, and so I had this idea to merge a book tour and these performances, instead of doing book signings.”
And so, a Mizrahi show, like life itself, is hard to predict. But he did assure that for the final shows at The Django, “The stories I’m developing are glimpses of my mother, and this woman who raised me, Maureen — she was kind of, like, a nanny — and the female impersonations I did as a kid, and how that influenced me.”
The next big reveal happens with a “real nightclub thing” at his February 5-16 Café Carlyle residency. Then, on the road in support of his memoir: “I’m booked into music halls. At that point, I want it to be a little more autobiographical, even at the risk of not being terribly, terribly funny.”
Mizrahi said “I.M.” is also in lock step with this theme of evolution. At one point during its development, he recalled, “I called the editor and said, ‘You know, what if it was the story as told through my mother’s eyes?’ I worked for quite a long time under that premise.”
Finally, he added, “by the three millionth pass of the book,” it came to be “this classic, straightforward memoir.”
Asked what kind of work will be in fashion down the road for him, Mizrahi speculated, “As I get less and less able, physically, to perform, because I’m getting so fucking old… Twenty years from now, I see myself as a writer, which is a crazy thing, and I would love to write a novel… So that’s my answer. I think writing, and producing, and developing — entertainment, and books, and things.”
And then, pausing for the beat every savvy comic or singer knows how to work, Mizrahi brought it back to the present, exclaiming, “That’s what I’m doing!”
ISAAC MIZRAHI | “I&Me” | The Django, at the Roxy Hotel, 2 Sixth Ave., btwn. Walker & White Sts. | Nov. 27 at 8 p.m.; Dec. 4 at 10:30 p.m. | $45, plus two-item minimum | TheDjangoNYC.com or 212-519-6649