Photos by Ebet Roberts
She’s played Nancy Sinatra, Debbie Harry, Loretta Lynn and Nico, but Tammy Faye Starlite’s Marianne Faithfull show included the cachet of Faithfull’s guitarist and songwriter Barry Reynolds onstage as well. Starlite’s shows combine the best of Saturday Night Live: music, comedy and timely commentary, but without the constraints of, well, anything. Profane, provocative and pun-y, Starlite’s cabaret patter references Sam Smith and Applebee’s, Goya and Francis Bacon. If you haven’t read the gossip pages for the two or three days before the show, you might want to bone up, or you’ll miss some of the fun.
Tammy Faye sang Faithfull’s 1979 album, Broken English, and cracked wise throughout the show in character, delivering her lines alternately at the breakneck or languorous speed triggered by whichever of Faithfull’s many drugs of choice happened to be in her system at the time. (At one point Tammy Faye blamed watching the Netflix series The Fall, set in Ireland, for a brief lapse from Faithfull’s posh speech into brogue.) “I don’t know what this is about drugs,” “Faithfull” said, comparing Ariana Grande’s drug problems to a fatal ferry accident in Asia.
Starlite’s mordant observations are not for the faint of heart. Quoting Thomas De Quincey, she observed, “For if once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing… and from that to incivility and procrastination.” As Faithfull, she explained performing a John Lennon song “to see if I could get the feeling of a different class,” and, as the woman who famously attempted suicide over Mick Jagger, said, “I envy L’Wren Scott. She made it.” Ouch.
The Metropolitan Room’s intimate, genuine-nightclub feel contributed significantly to the show’s hipness factor, as did the downtown—as opposed to Brooklyn hipster—audience. The excellent six-piece backing band was one piece too many for the tiny stage; saxophonist Craig Hoek played from the floor. Friends and colleagues of Faithfull were in attendance, and Starlite ribbed them regularly—all in good fun, but, like the drugs and alcohol which laid Faithfull low for much of her life, often with a price tag that stung.
Starlite’s not a world-class singer, but then again neither is Faithfull. If you’re looking for a tribute show, look elsewhere, but to anyone who seeks tough love, tougher commentary and entertainment that energizes your gray matter, look no further.
– Suzanne Cadgène