- Lady Rizo performs at the Ancram Opera House on July 7.
Lady Rizo (aka Amelia Zirin-Brown), exploded out of the early '00s New York cabaret underground like a glitter-packed grenade. The singer, comedienne, and actress's dynamic and occasionally risqué shows combine theater, vaudeville, burlesque, performance art, classic torch songs, and kitsch pop tunes. Besides appearing at top venues around the world, Rizo has performed and recorded with Moby, Yo-Yo Ma (2008's Grammy-winning Songs of Joy & Peace), and "The Late Late Show with James Corden" emcee Reggie Watts. The sequined siren released her second album, Indigo, in 2017, and will light up the Hudson Valley with her new show, "Red, White, and Indigo: My Love-Hate Relationship with America," at the Ancram Opera House this month. She answered a few questions for us via email below.
Lady Rizo will perform at the Ancram Opera House on July 7 at 8:30pm. Tickets are $30. (518) 329-0114.
You were raised in a small town on the Oregon coast by hippie parents—a much different environment than the glitzy New York cabaret scene you've made your name in. What was it about the world of the Great American Songbook and singers like Peggy Lee, Dinah Washington, and Edith Piaf that most spoke to you when you discovered it?
I was raised in a granola-crunching environment, yes. But theater was queen. I had the benefit of being raised by a renegade community theater company that performed Brecht and Shakespeare in barns and basements. The masters of the [Great American] Songbook are most adept at expressing longing, drama, story, pathos, [and] joy in an incredibly economic fashion. You get a picture in four minutes.
You're known for adapting a lot of contemporary music to fit the classic torch song style. What qualities does a "modern" song need in order for it to work, such settings? Can you give us some examples?
When there is a yearning behind the song...I love singing Britney Spears's "Toxic," for example. This conflict of wanting something that you know is wrong gives it the tension that torch songs have. And it's such a great pop song on its own—I've actually performed my version for Britney!
Besides being a glamorous artist with a hectic performing schedule, you also have a very young a son. How has being a mom manifested itself in your music? Yes, Tennyson is two and a half now. It's funny, at that age the "half" makes a big difference. I'm not quite sure how it's affected my music yet, but I know that it's informed my performances. I did a show where I explored the concepts of motherhood, and I sang a lullaby with him nursing while I did it. It made straight, grown men weep effortlessly.
Your local appearance this month is at the Ancram Opera House, a former Grange Hall in a farming community—an unexpected spot for cabaret, to be sure. What was the most unusual or memorable venue you've played in, and what made it interesting?
Every once in a while, I get to do a little secret show at an outdoor sauna/shower venue inside a festival in Oregon under the stars, where most of the audience is naked but I'm not. In order not to be nervous, I imagine them without skin.
Can you tell us a little about your current show, "Red, White, and Indigo"?
I make my shows focusing on what has occupied my mind most lately. This was a new experience of having the topic shared by many of my countrymen—and that is patriotism, what we feel about America, how to save it, should we save it? I wish for audiences to walk away with some pride about the idea of the "melting pot" and to rejoice in the pure feeling of liberty that often gets coopted by the machinery of political maneuvering. And to be eased by the healing power of glitter.