Like the eternal cinematic character who inspired her name, Margoh Channing isn’t ready to let go of her stardom. Any obstacles — including but not limited to pandemics, diverticulitis, or a future conniving wannabe star named “Eve”–can just get out of her way. Like that OTHER Ms. Channing, Margoh with an “H” is bold, brassy, larger-than-life, and not averse to enjoying a cocktail or two (or three, or four, or five…) If the Margo Channing who starred in Aged in Wood in 1950 threw a party in 2021, she’d very likely greet her guests the same way our Margoh (who did NOT star in Preserved in Alcohol in 1950, despite the rumors…) greeted her audience at Pangea on Saturday, November 20th: “Why aren’t any of you wearing masks? Some of you look much better with them on!” But it’s unlikely, however, that the enduring actress from All About Eve would turn Neil Diamond’s Hello Again into a “revenge song”, do numbers with the word “Grindr” in the lyrics, or throw colostomy bags filled with miniature Hershey’s chocolate bars into the audience. More about that later…..
Margoh’s hardcore fans in attendance at the East Village cabaret hotspot loved the star’s over-the-top, bawdy humor. This is, after all, the world-weary diva who still has some life left in her, who never met a drink or a man she didn’t like, and who’s the equivalent of a stripper who doesn’t even bother stripping anymore, but comes out on stage completely naked and says, “Here I am! Take it or leave it!” . Yes, kids, this is “Simply MargOH”! But this glamazon can do more than just make sarcastic comments and shake a mean martini. Margoh Channing can indeed sing. Accompanied by the phenomenal pianist/arranger/conductor/singer/songwriter (Whoa!) Tracy Stark on piano and percussionist David Silliman on drums, Channing kicked off with her take on Peggy Lee’s I Love Being Here With You. For the audience, the feeling was reciprocal. The banter between the performer and the audience was so intense that even Channing herself joked, “We’ll NEVER get through this show!” But soon after, the audience was treated to Quarantine Blues, a song Margoh co-wrote with Stark , sung in Margoh’s trademark deadpan style. It was laugh-out-loud hilarious, and the audience couldn’t help but sing along. On a more serious note, Margoh then gave the audience the more somber New York is Closing, a melancholy tribute to the phenomenon of when the city that never sleeps was forced to hibernate. Co-written with Stark and Jeff Catlow, it’s a melancholy love letter to the town which, like Margoh, is thankfully enjoying a comeback. That song segued into the appropriate New York State of Mind. The song may be Billy Joel’s, but Margoh truly makes it her own.
Underneath the mauve wig, coral lipstick, and false eyelashes that threatened to tickle the last row of the audience, however, is Ms. Channing’s alter ego, BT Shea, who has been indulging in the art of drag for well over 20 years. And as is the case for all of us in 2020, the year of hand sanitizers, lipstick-stained masks, and cheesy Zoom dance parties was not a great one for either Shea or Ms. Channing. Although the performer made the most of the lockdown– including her popular “MargOH’s Cocktail Hour” fundraisers, there was trouble a-brewin’ in March 2020… But while so many of us dealt with pandemic-related anxiety, depression, loneliness, and even worse, Shea dealt with his own physical issues– specifically, an aggressive form of diverticulitis that led to a emergency surgery and an ostomy. As mentioned before, Margoh’s fans indeed expect this counterculture chanteuse to be outrageous and outlandish. But what we DIDN’T expect was the level of naked candor of which Shea/Channing shares their story– and in Margoh’s trademark style, there was no holding back– with vivid descriptions of one health-related setback after another. Also in Margoh’s trademark style, there was no shortage of humor, even when discussing such topics as Wound VAC’s (You’ll have to Google that…) In a year with an infinite number of survival stories, this one is a true saga of emotional and physical durability. Channing paid homage to all those who supported her– from the doctors and nurses to Facebook friends– with Your Song by Elton John– and yes, this became another audience singalong.
Due to the aforementioned health problems, Margoh admits from transforming from a “boozy diva” to a “floozy diva”. But no Margoh Channing show would be complete without the diva’s signature tune, I’m Not a Drunk, I Just Love to Drink... It became (all together now…!) another singalong… to which Margoh wasted no time in scolding the audience: “Don’t get carried away! It’s still MY show!” Wearing a turban designed by Suze Stutzman, who also designed Channing’s caftan, the audience was then treated to an homage to, ironically, the diva who was defeated by the OTHER Ms. Channing at the 1950’s Oscars: Sunset Blvd. And yes, there
was an encore were FOUR encores! I won’t say what they were, but I will say that one of them was one of Margoh’s signature tunes, and even the straight men in the audience were getting into the spirit and attempting to ‘bounce their boobies”… The others were classics just begging to be heard again– and begging to be heard in Margoh style.
That’s our Marg-OH!