Isaac Mizrahi: Moderate to Severe

  • Post author:
  • Reading time:4 mins read

Isaac Mizrahi

Moderate to Severe

Café Carlyle, NYC, January 30, 2018

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Isaac Mizrahi
Photo: David Andrako

Isaac Mizrahi returns to the Café Carlyle determined to lead his audience into a more liberated future, said The New York Times, “where few subjects are off-limits.” And so he does. His show, Moderate to Severe, opening just about a year after his debut appearance at the prime night spot, moved into a deeper shade of blue with his audience eager to follow along.

Mizrahi, of course, is best known as a fashion designer and television commentator, writer, producer of a documentary, and he shows no indication of slowing down.

Having trained for over 18 years with pianist and music director Ben Walzer, Mizrahi opened singing André and Dory Previn’s “I’ll Plant My Own Tree” (from Valley of the Dolls), and you can interpret the lyrics as you choose. He has proven he has substantial vocal strength and breath control, all supported with verve by a A+ jazz quintet, and has performed at Joe’s Pub and other clubs as well as the Carlyle. 

He may not have the purest vocal sound, and some viewers commented that he over-focused on being gay with a straight band. Some, although not many, were uncomfortable with his outspoken disdain for the Trump administration, an aversion so strong it caused him to gain weight. 

To my mind, however, Mizrahi seems comfortably settled in his own skin, exploring his talents, and continuing a life-long battle with weight. His comic instincts are sharp and, after asking for a Rosé Spritzer, he easily reaches out with some dishy gossip.

He freely adds sporadic political theories and touches on personal annoyances, including robocalls, huge handbags, excessive plastic surgery, Spanx, and the pluses of Klonopin.


Subtly, he suggested that his New York audience is sophisticated enough not to sing along with the “beautiful simplicity” of “Nevertheless” by Bert Kalmar/Harry Ruby. He performed Cole Porter’s “The Laziest Gal in Town,” and added some of his own ribald innuendo to Porter’s “You’re the Top.” Debbie Harry and Chris Stein’s “Heart of Glass” was given some jazz spirit, and he persuasively delivered the intent of “You’re Nearer” (Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart). Stellar solos were added by trumpet player Benny Benack III.

Those who remember last year anticipated the swag bag moment of re-gifting: a gold wine bottle, some paper eyeglass cleaners, a year’s worth of throwaways. Whoever wants it, gets it.

Everything went. Even the Carlyle crowd appreciates something for free.

His ending was a full-throat, full-hearted “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (Bob Merrill/Jule Styne). Congrats to Mizrahi for choosing a red-letter band led by Walzer.  In addition to Benack, the musicians were Daniel Freedman on percussion, Joe Strasser on drums, and bassist Neal Miner.

Elizabeth Ahlfors

Born and raised in New York, Elizabeth graduated from NYU with a degree in Journalism. She has lived in various cities and countries and now is back in NYC. She has written magazine articles and published three books: A Housewife’s Guide to Women’s Liberation, Twelve American Women, and Heroines of ’76 (for children). A great love was always music and theater—in the audience, not performing. A Philadelphia correspondent for and InTheatre Magazine, she has reviewed theater and cabaret for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia City News. She writes for Cabaret Scenes and other cabaret/theater sites. She is a judge for Nightlife Awards and a voting member of Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.