A Girl Named Bill: The Life and Times of Billy Tipton
Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, January 26, 2017
Reviewed by Ron Forman for Cabaret Scenes
Nellie McKay is a truly unique cabaret performer. When she does a new show you never know what to expect. In fact, you never know what McKay is going to look like. In A Girl Named Bill: The Life and Times of Billy Tipton, she has transformed herself into a female masquerading as a male. Although often quite funny, the show dramatically depicts the life story of Billy Tipton, a pianist/bandleader who spent her entire career masquerading as a man. McKay ingeniously used 30 songs of different genres and different eras which, combined with her voice and piano playing, work beautifully to advance the story line. McKay’s vocals and piano playing work beautifully. She is aided by Alexi David (bass), Cary Park (guitar and mandolin) and Kenneth Salters (drums), all of whom frequently join in the vocals.
McKay enters the stage as a shabbily dressed female who is rejected by a local band. She sings “I Want to Be a Sideman” before returning to the stage as a young man, in a suit, who gets the job. At that point she delightfully performs “All My Life” accompanying herself on piano. The band followed appropriately with “You Don’t Know Me.” In a nightclub setting during World War II, Billy has to take abuse for not being in the service. Later, when the band bus breaks down, Billy cleverly has to explain why he had a box of Kotex which he uses to fix the bus.
As Billy becomes more successful, he becomes more sophisticated. McKay returns to the stage in a dinner jacket and, back at the piano, does a marvelous vocal of “Did I Remember” and then dramatically sings “The Nearness of You” to a girlfriend. As a woman living as a man, McKay hilariously asks in song, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” with the My Fair Lady number “A Hymn to Him.” The show ends with Billy on the Steve Allen television show with McKay and the band performing “This Could Be the Start of Something.”