Entertainment » Music

My Dinner With Dito: A How to Be Gay Cabaret

by Lewis Whittington
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Sunday Jul 28, 2013
Dito van Reigersberg and John Jarboe
Dito van Reigersberg and John Jarboe  

The lobby of the Wilma Theater is the setting for "My Dinner With Dito: A How to Be Gay Cabaret," written by and starring Philly's trans-vocal powerhouses Dito van Reigersberg and John Jarboe. Each with legions of fans of their own -- Reigersberg a co-founder of the award winning Pig Iron Theater Company and Martha Graham Cracker, drag diva extraordinaire; Jarboe, artistic director of the Bearded Ladies Cabaret frequently channels Edith Piaf, among other iconic singers.

For this show, these huge stage personalities are quasi- reigned in by director by E. Elizabeth Stevens, with musical direction by Heath Allen, lest the combined arsenal of camp get out of hand. Their personal journeys as gay men folded into their own backstage stories served during a 'Gayder' (i.e. Seder) dinner, with each course symbolic of the gay life, loves, politics and uber-queer culture.

Over courses, Dito and John trade off stories about the trials of gay puberty, theater, jocks, bars, sex, love, coming out to family and friends, DOMA, equality, boyfriends, husbands and inevitably, divas at every turn. Jarboe from the Midwest, a high school soccer star, with a proud dress up secret and Reigersberg a breakout Broadway baby from the start. Their first song is The David Bowie/Queen anthem "Under Pressure." Reigersberg's blues rock baritone blending potently with Jarboe's translucent show voice.

There could have been so many musical entry points, but it was Judy Garland as a cultural flashpoint that provides the dramatic arc. Jarboe asserts that she is a relic of a sad, closeted era, Reigersberg insists she's still relevant, a gay touchstone because, if nothing else, of the symbolism of "Oz." They meet at the middle of the generational rainbow as Dito wins out, presiding over the gayder, affecting a caricature rabbi accent, because, he has Jewish ancestry.

Over courses, Dito and John trade off stories about the trials of gay puberty, theater, jocks, bars, sex, love, coming out to family and friends, DOMA, equality, boyfriends, husbands and inevitably, divas at every turn.

The Gayder is actually served by Francis, played by Sarah Gliko, who reveals herself as the incarnation of Judy Garland and more than holds her own as the third triple threat onstage, singing with fabulous punch and style.

Jarboe talks about playing Tony in a high school production of "West Side Story" and they sing and dance 'Cool' reminding the audience that this iconic musical was created by five gay men. They dance jaunty echoes of Jerome Robbins choreography as a code for hiding their sexuality in high school. The other Broadway number is Kander and Ebb's "Nowadays" from "Chicago." Mostly the songs go for a more intimate narrative like Harry Nilsson's 'One (Is The Loneliest Number)' to Bacharach/David's "I Say A Little Prayer."

A very poignant moment between Dito and John, not lost on this Philly audience, was the belted Judy number "The Man That Got Away." Jarboe feigns setting it up for both to sing and Reigersberg says, "No John, it's yours." Jarboe takes this vocal where there is nowhere to hide and makes it his own (to Allen's pristine accompaniment on piano) not trying to sound like Judy.

Allen composed the number "Christina Grows a Spine," a hair-raising musical tableau snatched from the movie "Mommie Dearest" when Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) attacks her daughter Christina. Jarboe, as Joan, sings the lethal dialogue ala Puccini and Dito responds with a blues vamp that defies description. This is off the hook theatrical madness.

The three divas end up in tux coats, with glamour gams full out a la Judy garb, but sing Hoagy Carmichael's tribute song "Judy." They didn't have to sing "Get Happy," because we all forgot our troubles 90 minutes ago.

"My Dinner With Dito" runs through July 27 in the Wilma Theater lobby, 265 S Broad Street in Philadelphia. For information or tickets, call 215-546-7824 or visit http://beardedladiescabaret.com/

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.


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