Nicholas Guest

| September 23, 2015

Nicholas Guest

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, September 11, 2015

Reviewed by Victoria Ordin for Cabaret Scenes

Nicholas-Guest-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212Nicholas Guest is that rare film, theater and television star from an illustrious family who makes you feel like an old friend from the moment he takes the stage with his acoustic guitar. Playing to a small crowd at the 9:30 PM show on the 14th anniversary of 9/11 and ably backed by drummer/guitarist Joe Carroll and cellist Brandon Ellis, Guest covered a dazzling amount of personal and political history in just one hour. A master of impressions—think Kevin Spacey—he breathed life into some 20 characters from a half-dozen countries in what is more a one-man show with musical interludes than a typical cabaret performance.

A consummate storyteller with a commanding voice, Guest kept the audience in stitches with stories about his teen years in New York and Geneva. Field trips at his progressive private school on the Upper West Side in the late 1960s consisted of rallies in protest of the Vietnam War at which, well in advance of having made love, he wore “Make love, not war” buttons. When he struggled with geometry, his math teacher suggested that he write a poem on the subject. It would not be the last time a teacher would propose a creative remedy for an academic block.

The son of a British diplomat and an American mother of Russian-Jewish origin, Guest traveled in rarefied Manhattan circles: Bob Dylan was a neighbor on MacDougal Street in the Village upon his return from a year at the International School in the 11th grade, and his girlfriend’s mother—who always wore a nightgown in Guest’s presence—was none other than Maureen Stapleton. But you’d never guess from his easy, warm manner that his father later became the fourth Baron Haden-Guest. Some of the show’s funniest and most poignant moments center on his father’s bemused reactions to his less-than-focused son. When a young Guest decides to join the Black Panthers, his wry father says only, “I don’t think they’ll be awfully interested in you.”

In Geneva, Guest met a Russian history teacher who quizzed him about the Russian Revolution and concludes that he’s “not terribly bright” (Guest had studied only the French Revolution in New York), a distracted but kind Irish teacher named Flynn, who told him to research a wind from the North, and a Belgian teacher who introduced him to Jacques Brel’s music. Brel’s “Ne me quitte pas” is one of several songs (or parts of songs) in other languages that recreate the performer’s year abroad.

Guest’s interactions with Carol, his 12 th grade guidance counselor in New York at a school preparing students for the Ivy League (or European universities) provided some of the evening’s biggest laughs. Carol—whose favorite things were wine, pot, and sex (not necessarily in that order)—looked despairingly but compassionately at the student’s transcript and suggested a school in Paris (St. Louis was the other option: “a tough choice,” he quipped).

In Paris, the young man met Jean-Claude, who would become his surrogate European father and arrange for him to stay at various homes. In one, the home of a wealthy old woman in the 16th Arondissement (the “Park Avenue of Paris”), Guest personally experienced anti-Semitism for the very first time. After learning that his Russian mother is also Jewish, the Parisian called him “a dirty Jew” before chasing Guest—and the friends who come to rescue him—out of the apartment screaming obscenities all the way. Beyond liking Zabar’s, Guest joked, he’d never give much thought to being Jewish before this. Things didn’t go substantially better for him with the father of an idealistic, left-wing friend, an Italian aristocrat with a villa on Lake Como, who unabashedly announced that he preferred horses to people.

It was at this point, in 1969, that Guest decided to be a revolutionary. After an obligatory, ironic rendering of “L’Internationale” came a funny version of “Foxy Lady” in the persona of Andrea, his friend with the “Italian afro.” During his brief career as a revolutionary, Guest was arrested just once. It’s hard to know who was more disappointed, Guest or the police officer, who curtly told him, “I have looked at your record. You have no record. You are meaningless.”

In Paris, Guest encountered a fired-up Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, both disapproving of the ex-pat’s “Hemingway trip.” “Down with capitalism!” was perhaps more convincing before Hoffman’s Wall Street stint. While funny in retrospect, the performer’s time in Florence and on the Seine were among the loneliest and most painful of his life.

When back in New York, Guest happened upon an acting class with the legendary Bill Hickey. Before long, he had his first real job, a touring show for which he received $200 a week. Unlike so many shows about journeys of self-discovery, Guest’s show was long on entertainment and short on confession (or worse, preachiness). Only in its final moments did the actor arrive at a message: for much of his young life, he was trying to be other people. Great material, but ultimately not a recipe for a successful life. Acting allowed him to get paid to “play” rather than “be” others, and in so doing, to become himself.

The show closed with “In My Life,” a powerful duet of the Beatles song with Guest’s talented, beautiful daughter Elizabeth. It was a fitting choice pregnant with meaning after a show that made you feel as though you yourself had traveled with Guest to all the places in the show. The palpable love between the father and daughter left not doubt that Guest succeeded in finding himself—and peace—both in art and family.

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Category: Cabaret Reviews, New York City, New York City Cabaret Reviews

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Too Blondes

These immensely talented, lovely young ladies are in the "don’t miss" category.