Max Vernon

October 2, 2018 | By

Max Vernon, award-winning composer/lyricist of the off-Broadway hits The View Upstairs and KPOP, has taken up residency at Joe’s Pub with Existential Life Crisis Lullaby, which each month will present songs from works in progress. The opening salvo gave us a preview of The Tattooed Lady (written with Obie Award-winning playwright Erin Courtney). In addition to being a terrific singer in the Bowie/Wainwright school of “downtown” performance, Vernon was an affable, witty, self-deprecating host for the proceedings. His involving and informative patter glued the disparate elements together under the smooth, seamless direction of Ellie Heyman. The talk breaks also served as a wildly surreal fashion show as the host appeared in one outrageous outfit after another, leading to a stunning reveal for the climactic title song, which I won’t spoil here.

The costuming was not just fun; it had a narrative connection to the evening as well. Vernon is drawn to the outsider, to those on the edges of society who too often keep their “otherness” buried inside. Both in his life and in his characters, he strives to bring what is hidden to the surface—to bring the inside out and put the outside in. What better allegory for this than the story of the first women to embrace tattoos, either getting tattooed or creating tattoos on others? The evening opened with a female announcer intoning the audience to “…set your gender to airplane mode and feel the delight in your anus.” What followed was a kaleidoscope of exciting musical performances by some extraordinary actresses bringing to life the tattooed ladies of history.

The host and his cast were covered in tattoos of various sorts and sizes. After Vernon opened with the raucously revealing “Make Your Mark,” Chrissi Poland gave us “Long Forgotten Song” from the aforementioned forthcoming musical. She made the song a sensual and serious take on “Lydia the Tattooed Lady”. The haunting refrain of “I hope that you don’t live long enough to see the world pass you by” reflected a recurring theme of being seen for oneself and not judged by others’ standards. Veronica Swift explored the physical toll of being tattooed in “Are You Done Yet?” which also featured some of the night’s most impressive musical moments as her strong, stirring voice was heard in counterpoint to backup singers Cathy Ang, Avery Draut, and Morgan Meadows. Vernon himself took on the roll of one of the ladies in “Waste of Ink,” and with electrifying relish proclaimed, “I’d sell my body before I’d sell my style…”

Tonya Pinkins raised the roof, brought the house down, or whatever other architectural phrase you might choose with the fiery “Home at Last.” Annie Golden took over the stage with an anthemic “Last Woman Standing” that made me long for her return to the cabaret stage in her own show. The evening closed with a delightful, infectious pop confection called “*A++++++++,” from KPOP, sung by MJ Rodriguez with the ensemble, which left the audience hungry for more and no doubt already planning to buy tickets for the shows to follow.

Pianist/Music Director Rodney Bush, guitarist Paul Heaney, bassist Alan Hewitt, and drummer Tristan Marzeski provided perfect support throughout the night, always in service to the material. Max Vernon’s songs are remarkable not only for his obvious talent with both word and melody, but also for their breadth of style and intimacy of detail. The promise of major works to come is thrilling. Add to that his by-turns hilarious and dramatic onstage persona and you have the ingredients for a most entertaining and enlightening show.

Existential Life Crisis Lullaby
Joe’s Pub – September 25, October 23, November 27

Category: 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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