Pangea, New York City’s highly praised, aptly self-described “alt-cabaret supper club”, has never shied away from showcasing performance artists who “break the rules” and delight the audience in the process. But the unambiguously named “Granny’s Blue-Mers: Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll (Before 1950, That Is…)”, the latest show from Reverend Mary Whitebush (AKA Mary Elizabeth Micari), may very well be the first cabaret act to hand out “Granny’s Glossary of Terms For the Hep-Cat” to attendees as they entered the venue. The glossary features such vintage slang as “king sized pack”, “raising Sam”, “weaving on my loom”, and “mashed potato”. The same way that anthropologists love to remind us that the Eskimos had 50 words for “snow”, even the coolest of modern day “hep-cats” (Google that…) will walk away from Reverend Mary’s show knowing some new terms for history’s most beloved leaf: among them “420”, “blaze”, “bloom”, “broccoli”, “chronic”, “jive”, “nuggets”, “stinkweed”, and more. Damn, I’m getting high just writing this!… Indeed, Granny Blue-Mers’ Valentine’s Weekend show on Saturday, February 15th at Pangea kicked off with a duo of unearthed gems dedicated to America’s most popular party girl, Mary Jane: This Granny’s delicious renditions of Trixie Smith’s Jack, I’m Mellow from 1938 and Bea Foote’s tantalizingly hypnotic Weed from 1938 are hymns unambiguously dedicated to the sheer JOYS of smoking pot, as evidenced by such lyrics as “I’m so high and so dry!” and “Dreams come from my weed all day long!…” (Mary ends Weed with an almost orgasmic sigh.) Later on, Mary brings us the deliciously campy If You’re a Viper (AKA The Viper Blues), first recorded by Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys in 1936. This piece of vintage vice contains the famous lyric, “I dreamed about a reefer five feet long!”— and hearing our Reverend deliver that line is worth the price of admission to Pangea alone.
True to its name, “Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll” is all about the three essential joys in life. And, as we learn in this high-ly entertaining and high-ly hilarious show, humanity hasn’t changed much through the decades when it comes to S-E-X. Astonishingly, almost all of the dirty ditties in this Granny’s show were written before 1950, with one sole exception being from 1951 (It Ain’t The Meat [It’s The Motion]). Yes, kiddies, there were many songs from almost 100 years ago that were just as racy as Lady Gaga’s singing about taking rides on disco sticks or Flo Rida teeling us what makes his head spin right round. You won’t hear any of George Carlin’s famous “seven dirty words you can’t say on television” in any of these naughty nuggets, however: The lyrics of many of these songs were so cleverly coded that even your own great-grandmother probably sang along to Do Your Duty or A Guy What Takes His Time without realizing, at least at first, the more carnal intentions hiding underneath. That said, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone naïve enough to hear Reverend Mary teasingly croon, I Want A Little Sugar in My Bowl (performed in the past by Bessie Smith and Nina Simone) and not think twice about whether we are REALLY talking about sugar. Same for this Granny’s version of Lil Johnson’s Press My Button (Ring My Bell), with lyrics such as “Come on, baby, let’s have some fun; Just put your hot dog in my bun!”. With A Guy What Takes His Time, Mary pays tribute to yet another famous gal named “Mary Jane”: Mary Jane West, who would later achieve legendary status as Mae West. With this track, Miss West– long credited as the lady who brought sex to the movie screen– offered some advice for all men of all sexual orientations: SLOW DOWN IN BED! It’s some grandmotherly advice reiterated in Julia Lee’s 1949 (Come And See Me Baby; But Please) Don’t Come Too Soon. On the flipside, sometimes there can indeed be too much of a good thing, as we learn in Trixie Smith’s 1923 My Man Rocks Me With One Steady Roll (“I looked at the clock and the clock struck three; I said ‘Now Daddy, you a-killin’ me!'”)
Of course, pot can give you the munchies, and sex will make you hungry in a completely different way. Thankfully, two of Mary’s food-themed lyrics will be sure to satisfy your appetite: Lil Johnson’s Sam The Hot Dog Man, a high energey foot-tapper which is jam-packed with a seemingly endless buffet of dirty double entrendres; and the scintillatingly sexy My Kitchen Man, originally done by Bessie Smith: “Oh, his jelly roll is so nice and hot; Never fails to touch the spot! I can’t do without my kitchen man!” Of course, there was an encore– or shall we say, “happy ending”, which Mary noted had become a favorite among burlesque performers. But in the spirit of any good burlesque artist, I won’t give it ALL away in this review… not without great tips at least.
Backed by jazz pianist/composer Dan Furman on piano and actor/percussionist Titus Thompkins on washboard (!), Reverend Mary Whitebush’s voice is big, lusty, and hard-hitting. She belts, she occasionally roars, and she frequently leaves the audiences in a trance via some impressively complex vocal heights. Her stage persona is delightfully bawdy and dominating. Her onstage rapport with her two male musicians Dan and Titus, as well as with her audience, is a joy to watch. But Granny Blue-Mers shows are more than just great music. They are also educational. The audience gets a lot of titillating trivia about the artists who wrote and performed these songs– many who went by pseudonyms– as well as the American culture at the time which helped shaped them. This is a musical education you most assuredly NEVER got in high school — unless your (high) school music teacher was Mezz Mezzrow.
“Granny’s Blue-Mers: Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll (Before 1950, That Is…)” continues on Saturday March 28 and April 25 – both at 9:30 PM– at the East Village’s premiere supper club, Pangea NYC 78 2nd Ave, New York City. Tickets are $15 (PLUS a $20 food and drink minimum) . Call 347-497-4814 for reservations. Visit www.PangeaNYC.com for more.