Club Review: Zachary Clause’s “On a Beach”

July 7, 2022 | By

Zachary Clause

In the new show, On a Beach, written and performed by Zachary Clause, the singer/actor presented a kaleidoscopic journey through beaches, Hollywood, gay life, the Great American Songbook, mortality, history, survival, therapy, air travel, age, and his own past and present. He established a beachhead of sorts on the tiny stage at Pangea as he prepared for a potential end of the world. Along the way, aided immeasurably by music director Mark Hartman on piano, Alex Kerckhoff on guitar and bass, Jojo Soul on drums and percussion, a stellar Brandy Knox on backup vocals, and the impressive direction by Reed Whitney, he presented a remarkable collection of smart, inventive, surprising song choices sung with assurance, style, and electricity. That the show is still a work-in-progress shows mostly in the stories and storytelling but what was there was at the diamond-in-the-rough stage just waiting for a final polish. 

The one big flaw in this jewel of a show was the opening five minutes in which Clause wandered through the audience in platform sandals, a bathrobe and a turbaned towel upon his head exhorting the audience to join him on a trip to a beach for a party. Unfortunately, the exhortations were neither witty nor sharp nor memorable and fell with a resounding thud. Such a misstep might well have ruined another show, but the minute Clause returned to the stage clad in an itsy bitsy not so teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini with a large beach bag stuffed with the baggage he wished to jettison during the evening and declared that, “…this is a show about the end of the world,” it’s as if this was the actual beginning of the show and the previous 5 minutes had been a fleeting phantom of a lesser show.  

The back and forth time jumps in his narrative came fast and furious from a “We’re Still Here” Haley’s Comet party in 1910 to 1959 for the movie of On the Beach to 2021 for his first post-COVID return to the stage to 2016 for his first viewing of Death in Venice to 2022 for a day trip to Jacob Riis Beach, with stops along the way at Stonewall, conversion therapy, Anita Bryant, Jerry Falwell and a dizzying assortment of other personal and historical high and low points. Ultimately it all made sense, and even at its most campy—and it did indeed get campy—the show managed to retain a gravitas and heft that in no way diminished the hilarity and joy that were also present. The show might well have been titled Beach Blanket Armageddon.

The song choices, as I indicated earlier, were adventurous, varied and often quite out of the cabaret norm.  The B-52s’ “Theme for a Nude Beach” (Keith Strickland, Kate Pierson, Cindy Wilson, Ricky Wilson, Fred Schneider) was the opener and proved irresistible. The vocals by Clause, Hartman and Knox set a very high bar right at the top of the show and the level of musical excellence stayed there throughout the evening.  The good time feeling of the Bellamy Brothers’ big hit, “Let Your Love Flow” (Larry E. Williams), left the room in the high spirits one associates with a great night at a favorite piano bar. “No matter how much you get to have you will still die…you gotta have boots if you wanna lift those bootstraps,” was the message of “4 American Dollars” (Rich Morel, Meg Remy), deftly and pointedly delivered by Clause with particularly memorable accompaniment. “Little Girl Blue” (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart) was not only a fresh, moving take on a classic, but also offered the thrilling promise of future exploration of the standard repertoire. He made the song his own without reference to the many jazz classics that have come before him.

Laurie Anderson’s “From the Air” swirled around memories of nightmare flights to faraway places, while The Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” (Chris Frantz, David Byrne, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth) and REM’s “Night Swimming” (William Berry, Peter Buck, Michael Mills, Michael Stipe) magically became the inevitable soundtrack underscoring a trip to Fire Island, complete with underwear parties, molly, and skinny dipping.  Brief snapshots of the beach buddies that helped him survive led to the fateful meeting with his husband, in the throbbingly romantic version of Modern English’s “I Melt With You” (Robbie Grey, Stephen Walker, Gary McDowell, Richard Brown, Michael Conroy). Returning once more to the world ending, he closed the show with REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” (Berry, Buck, Mills, Stipe) combining thumping, explosive rock delivery with cabaret attention to lyric detail for an electrifying end to a bravura evening. The inevitable encore could not have been more apt—“1999” (Prince) gave the effusive audience a party to take out into the city with them.  

In the course of the journey on which Zachary Clause took the audience, his initial declaration of “…this is a show about the end of the world,” had morphed into a mantra of “Anywhere you’d like to be is where you are!”  It was a transformation that added a grace note to On a Beach, a beautifully conceived and brilliantly performed show that I won’t soon forget.

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Presented at Pangea on May 19, 21, June 22.

Category: News / Reviews / Commentary, Reviews

About the Author ()

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”

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