TRANS Formative

Tammy Fay Starlight as Nico, with co-host Eric Schmalenberger: Sonny and Cher for the 21st century. Photo by the Mad Marchioness

The Mad Marchioness and I had a date night last evening, the first in ages that was any farther than a block from our home thanks to that miserable winter and lots of projects that kept us occupied. After the fabulous (and historic) Musty Suffer DVD launch event at Anthology Film Archives, we grabbed a bite at Noho Star and went over to Joe’s Pub to see (and hear) an event called TRANS Formative – Songs that Propelled Us: A Benefit for Joe’s Pub New York Voices Commissioning Program and the Ali Forney Center.  Let’s see you put THAT on a tee shirt! 


In addition to raising money for good causes, the event was a showcase for the students of Barbara Maier Gustern, one of New York’s most beloved singing instructors and one of those rare figures who bridges seemingly ALL branches of New York’s highly diverse show biz community: downtown, uptown, cabaret, musical theatre, pop, rock, avant-garde, drag. Her showcases (I’ve  been to a couple over the years) are astounding and joyous in this regard. I’m someone who loves bridges and hates walls, and I try to achieve the same kind of eclecticism in assembling my own vaudeville bills. A show ought to be regarded as an opportunity to expose people to new things. In Barbara’s case that’s just how it works out. Everybody loves her, so everybody takes her class, and so when she produces a showcase, we get a glimpse of every conceivable human pattern.

The show was hosted by Eric Schmalenberger (chap in a tutu who does bird calls!) and one of our favorite performers, Tammy Fay Starlite here in her Nico guise (she sang “I’ll Keep it With Mine”, with a voice unavoidably better than Nico’s). I took what notes I could about the rest:


Machine Dazzle did an interesting, moving self-penned vocalized poem. That’s him pictured above

* Natti Vogel brought a whole band with back-up singers and a horn section and they were completely amazing

Danny Backer sang the Harold Arlen standard “Come Rain or Come Shine” in a husky, bluesy voice and blew a horn solo. He’s a class act and you can catch him at Le Cirque on May 5

Louisa Bradshaw, star of recent Marilyn Monroe musical Siren’s Heart sang an original tune more in a contemporary pop vein

* Gender bending star Miss Guy  sang the rock inflected “Don’t Stop”

* Russian-American radio and tv personality Oleg Frish  came out in an amazing flowered blazer and sang “I Wish You Love” with an enthusiasm only someone from foreign shores could bring. You can catch him at the Metropolitan Room on May 11 & 18

* Argentinian singer Sofia Rei , accompanied by an incredible guitarist, sang a tune from her country

Seth Bedford sang the funny “My Fetish is Vanilla” 

* I was particularly keen on the Mephistophelean David F. Slone Esq who did a Weimar sounding version of “It Was a Very Good Year” with Matt Dallow on accordion. That was my cup of tea, and within spitting distance of my own passions and proclivities. He’s currently in Lissa Moira’s Nicholas Nickleby adaptation at Theater for the New City through May 4. 

I wish we’d had a printed program in hand. It was waxing late so the Marchioness and I ducked out during the set of the Bulgarian trio, but now I look at the ads, and I see that I probably missed some folks I would have liked to have stayed for. Ah, me.

It’s great fun watching all of these highly diverse performers stream by and try to find the common thread. What do they have in common? What characterizes Barbara’s “school”? I noted a couple of things. My theatrical brain of course latches onto costumes. They all put great care into this element, no matter what style, they all put effort into visual presentation.  And how they sing? Barbara seems to have a lot of success helping people get out of their own way. They all seemed rather free and confident and the sounds appeared to come out of them rather effortlessly, without impediments or blocks. Undoubtedly they all put in a great deal of preparation, but on stage, it was all performance. In short they looked and sounded great. 

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