Performer Jeffrey Vause was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii– a biographical fact that colors many aspects of his showbiz trajectory. Vause acknowledges that his home state was indeed paradise: sunny most of the time, with gorgeous scenery and very friendly people. For someone like me who has never lived outside of New York, my question would be, “Why would you ever want to leave a place like that?” But as we learn from Vause himself, even in paradise there are fantasies about being “somewhere else”. The desire to explore life beyond the Aloha State, buoyed in part by his living five minutes away from Honolulu International Airport and far more by his desire to be a performer, led Vause on a new Iife journey. As the singer pointed out, there was only so far this self-described “one singular sensation… who didn’t belong” could rise as a performer at his all-boys’ Catholic high school. As Vause has often shared, a major moment happened when he first saw A Chorus Line on stage. (More about that later…) Shortly after college, in 1989, Vause traveled 4,965 miles to… where else? New York City. He never looked back. Or did he?
Fast forward to 2022, and Jeffrey Vause is looking back. He is sharing those memories with Aloha Oy!, a one-man cabaret currently enjoying a three-show run at Manhattan hotspot Don’t Tell Mama. Via stories and songs, Aloha Oy! musically chronicles Vause’s odyssey from showtune-loving drama club kid to finding his place in the New York City cabaret scene. He even finds L-O-V-E along the way, allowing him to sing some songs like Jerry Herman’s It Only Takes a Moment (from Hello, Dolly!) with conviction. He opens with Better, an underheard gem from the musical A Class Act. The humorous and endearing style of the song really suit Vause’s’ particular style, which is… well, humorous and endearing. Throughout the show he incorporates numbers from the likes of Kanter and Ebb (Married, AKA Heiraten, from Cabaret), Harold Arlen (If I Only Had the Nerve, made famous by the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz), and others. He even also throws in some one-hit wonders (Ma! [He’s Making Eyes at Me] from Lena Zavaroni). The culture shock experienced upon his first arrival to The Big Apple is perfectly captured early on in the show with Sondheim’s Another 100 People (from Company) ornamented with truly fine piano work by John Bowen. This may be a good time to give a more complete shout-out to Bowen, who is also the show’s Musical Director. Throughout Aloha Oy!, Bowen shows to be a hardworking pianist, who can go from bouncy and light in Irving Berlin’s An Old Fashioned Wedding (in which he joins Vause with background vocals) to bittersweet with the show’s closing number, What I Did for Love. That song pretty much embodies not only Vause’s love for the formative A Chorus Line, but also pretty much summarizes why he sought a life on stage. But back to the subject of weddings: Vause deserves a lot of credit for throwing the fantastic Hawaiian Wedding Song into his mix. This truly lost treasure is from When Pigs Fly, the award winning, unapologetically gay off-Broadway show which delighted New York City audiences in 1996 and almost had the chance to delight them again in 2017. Vause is perfectly suited to sing this funny gem, which is loaded with deliciously naughty double entendres (“On the night we’re legally wed, we’ll give a whole new meaning to ‘Diamond Head’!”). He does equal justice to Flair from the 1970’s show Starting Here, Starting Now, making this musical theater bibelot truly his own.
By now you may be wondering about the “Aloha” in Aloha Oy! As an homage to eternal LGBTQ icon Bette Midler, who is also from Hawaii, Vause gave the audience one of Midler’s biggest crowd-pleasers, Stuff Like That There. Lest we forget the lyrics, how could you resist the Divine Ms. M singing:
“I want some huggin’ and some squeezin’ And some muggin’ and some teasin’
And some stuff like that there.
I want some pettin’ and some spoonin’ And some happy honeymoonin’
And some stuff like that there!”
And of course, no Polynesian-flavored show would be complete without Tiny Bubbles, which became Don Ho’s signature song and a timeless piece of pop culture as ageless as the coconut-shaped cup. Vause delivers an appropriately campy version.
Jeffrey Vause’s Aloha Oy! is earnest to the nth degree and deeply personal, imbued with Vause’s unique sense of humor alongside an aura of candor which is rare for many cabaret performers. The intimate space of Don’t tell Mama really works in this artist’s favor. There was indeed an encore. I won’t give it away, but I will say that it’s one of those neon-lit numbers that embody the eternal, transgenerational spirit of The Great White Way. Aloha Oy! proves that “paradise” can be found in many places… and anywhere you hang your hat (or Hawaiian shirt) is home.
Aloha Oy! continues at Don’t Tell Mama, 343 West 46th Street, on Saturday, September 24, 5PM. For reservations, or more information, visit here.