If you’re not the type of person to crack open a bottle of grape juice, light candles and bake a challah this Friday night, consider spending Sabbath eve with a fellow Jew, Isaac Mizrahi. Best known for his fashion designs (including his well-publicized line at Target), Mizrahi is a graduate of New York’s High School of Performing Arts (now the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts) and is reliving those “Fame” acting days most Fridays this month with a shmoozey-cabaret variety show at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan.
At a recent show, Mizrahi was dressed in a black long-sleeved T-shirt, black pants and a black hoodie sweatshirt, and accessorized with a glittering ring on his left hand. True to his craft, he analyzed his new hair color (Is it bluish? Not dark enough?), as well as his gladiator-style sandals, with the audience. Openly gay, Mizrahi spoke happily of finally being able to sing to his boyfriend and not only to his dog, Harry.
Mizrahi asked the standing room-only crowd of mostly women and gay men if he could borrow some lip balm before beginning his shtick of cabaret performance, audience banter and “Oprah”-style gift giving. After a rousing maraca-infused rendition of “I Left My Hat in Haiti,” Mizrahi pulled out a large shopping bag and proceeded to gift the audience with various trinkets he has received at awards shows and celebrity events, including a ham, dog treats — and a Christmas-themed shirt that he made sure to give to a Christian.
Mizrahi performed mostly jazz classics, improvising with his own comments and chatting with Ben Waltzer, his pianist, midsong. When introducing a song in German, Mizrahi explained that he “learned it phonetically, because I’m the biggest faggot in the world listening to Marlene Dietrich.” Next, Mizrahi channeled another classic diva, Eartha Kitt, with “C’est Si Bon” sung mostly in French, his head tilted back, a mic in one hand, his other arm extended and an accent that’s pas mal.
Mizrahi, 45, grew up in a traditional Sephardic family in Brooklyn and attended the illustrious Yeshivah of Flatbush when he was a child. His Web site states that he “got kicked out of school for sketching dresses in his Bible.” In addition to having his own line of clothing, accessories and house wares at Target, Mizrahi creates couture pieces sold at such shops as Bergdorf Goodman (a theme of his performance) and had his own show, “Isaac,” on the Style Network.
While he might be remembered not for the musicianship but rather for his strong stage presence, Mizrahi was affable and engaging, keeping the show moving with self-deprecating jokes and light chitchat with his band. Joe’s Pub is a small venue, and Mizrahi maximizes the space’s potential, drawing in people via questions and tacky giveaways.
It might not be how your grandmother wishes you were spending Friday night, but it’s better than that date you had scheduled with your goyish neighbor (or maybe take him along?).
This story "Multi-Talented Mizrahi Takes the Stage" was written by Caroline Lagnado.
She sometimes writes for the Forward.