Milli Grams: Make Your Own Kind of Music

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Milli Grams

Make Your Own Kind of Music

Don’t Tell Mama, NYC, April 19, 2019

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg for Cabaret Scenes

Milli Grams is the most unusual drag performer: one of the first things she told the audience was “I’m a guy!” She followed that up with, “I speak honestly. That’s why I’m in drag.” And honest she was: telling the story of high school traumas as a gay boy in a brutal fashion, though not without laughs and a happy ending—his husband was sitting on stage looking admiringly but not totally comfortable being in the spotlight.

Decked out in a colorful ’60s-style sheath dress and blond wig, Grams vaguely resembled the youthful Joan Rivers, with flashes of Dorothy Louden and Karen Morrow popping up from time to time. To tell her story, she borrowed from the great pop songs of that decade, often with cleverly revised lyrics to reflect his experiences, so that “My Way” declared that he’d “come out, my way!

” and the Shirelle’s standard became “Mama said there’ll be gays like this.” And even a Broadway show tune of the era can become a gay anthem when “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?” refers to “the late straight me.

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” It is a tribute to the star vocalist that whether she sang the original or the adapted words, there was a delicious torch singer on stage, when she wasn’t rocking or swinging with flair and musicality.

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Not only were the additional lyrics witty, but so was the storytelling. Such comments as “my inner child needs to leave” and “I came out of the womb with a purse” earned very deserved laughs. And the more serious moments were just as involving: a Motown melody transformed into an anti-bullying cry—“stop with the names and shoves”—deserved the tears it drew. And when Grams raised her powerful voice in a straightforward rendition of “Sweet Caroline,” the audience enthusiastically joined in.

Musically, Grams received the usual excellent support from music director Tracy Stark on piano, who also offered fine backup vocals, and Joe Cogen on drums.

Bart Greenberg

Bart Greenberg first discovered cabaret a few weeks after arriving in New York City by seeing Julie Wilson and William Roy performing Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter outdoors at Rockefeller Center. It was instant love for both Ms. Wilson and the art form. Some years later, he was given the opportunity to create his own series of cabaret shows while working at Tower Records. "Any Wednesday" was born, a weekly half-hour performance by a singer promoting a new CD release. Ann Hampton Callaway launched the series. When Tower shut down, Bart was lucky to move the program across the street to Barnes & Noble, where it thrived under the generous support of the company. The series received both The MAC Board of Directors Award and The Bistro Award. Some of the performers who took part in "Any Wednesday" include Barbara Fasano and Eric Comstock, Tony Desare, Andrea Marcovicci, Carole Bufford, the Karens, Akers, Mason and Oberlin, and Julie Wilson. Privately, Greenberg is happily married to writer/photographer Mark Wallis, who as a performance artist in his native England gathered a major following as "I Am Cereal Killer."