Bistro Bits: Where’s That Rainbow? Kelsey Seaman, James Beaman, and Pride 2024

June 6, 2024

Happy Pride Month 2024, everyone. Let your rainbow flags unfurl and fly!

Just remember that, while we celebrate, there are always new concerns percolating.

The first Pride event I ever attended was in San Francisco, I believe it was 1978, less than a decade after the Stonewall uprising that instigated the modern gay-rights movement. At that point, California would have been fighting the “Briggs Initiative,” a measure aimed at keeping gay people (and anyone who stood up for gay people) out of public education. The measure failed at the ballot box.

At later Pride events I attended, in Portland in the 1980s and 1990s, those celebrating were worried and heartsick not only about the AIDS crisis but also about the Oregon Citizens Alliance, a group of anti-gay activists who managed to pass a statewide ballot measure that put a ban on job-protection rights for gay people into the statute book. (The law was later declared unconstitutional by the Oregon Court of Appeals.)

As support for LGBTQ+ people grew in more recent decades, I would drop in on Pride festivities in New York City, but since the 2015 codification of nationwide same-sex marriage following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, I’ll admit it: I’ve gotten in the bad habit of taking LGBTQ+ rights for granted.

No longer.

This year’s Pride celebration takes place in the shadow of a right-wing movement to undo the protections that those of us in the LGBTQ+ demographic enjoy. And with a U.S. Supreme Court in place that has already overturned abortion rights, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to assume that legal protections for Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people will always be there, at the ready. At least one U.S. Supreme Court judge reportedly even aims to re-criminalize same-sex sexual acts. And don’t get me started on all the anti-trans, anti-drag, and anti-library campaigns across the country.

Despite everything, there is much that we can still celebrate this June. And New York’s cabaret clubs are a good place to do so, having offered gay performers and audiences a wonderful oasis since long before hard-earned pro-LGBTQ+ laws and ordinances were put in place.

Today, I’m writing about two shows I’ve seen recently that have an LGBTQ+ component. Kelsey Seaman, who performed her show Postpartum at Green Room 42 earlier this year, is a young performer who began embracing her newfound sexual orientation while in the middle of some other big life changes. Questions about acknowledging her sexuality cropped up for her personally, of course, but the cultural and legal changes that have benefited the community over recent decades made it much easier, at least in some respects, for her to come out of the closet than would have been possible in earlier decades.

James Beaman, on the other hand, has been around for the last half century of LGBTQ+ ups and downs. In his recent show, Lived Experience, he recalled a chldhood where he was bullied by other kids and, later, being told by gay drama teachers that he needed to butch things up if he ever hoped to have a career as an actor.

Both of these shows (and performers) gave me optimism about the future for LGBTQ+ people in America and beyond. (“Resilient” is my favorite adjective, and queer folk tend to have resilience in spades.) But I have to keep in mind also that the tide can quickly turn for the worse in this extremely volatile decade.

“I know a lot of babies,” singer/actor Kelsey Seaman confided to her audience at her The Green Room 42 show Postpartum earlier this year. “I’m really popular with them.”

Seaman recently became a mother herself for the first time, but birth and birthing have long been something she has focused on. She revealed, early in the show, for instance, her special girlhood fondness for her Pregnant Barbie. In addition to her career as actor and singer, she works as a professional doula: specifically, a “birth and post-partum doula.” That’s to say, she’s there for new mothers during the delivery and into the days and weeks that follow.

Kelsey Seaman

Much of Postpartum was focused on the challenges and satisfactions of her vocation, and yet Seaman also used the theme of childbirth as an emblem of transformation and change. And change is something she has personally seen a lot of in the last few years. She ended her primary relationship (heterosexual) at about the time she gave birth. And, to complicate things further, she also came out as queer while settling in to her life as a single mom. [PLEASE SEE UPDATE BELOW.]

It’s a lot—to use the popular catchphrase of the day.

Seaman has a bright, clear, supple voice and a charismatic stage presence. The show’s songs were largely pop favorites. She opened with the 4 Non Blondes number, “What’s Up,” on which she produced a rather country-ish sound. I expected some more Nashvillian turns, but soon she switched over to vintage musical theatre with Frank Loesser’s “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm.” Later, her equivalent of an 11-o’clock number erupted: a string of lively song excerpts (“I Kissed a Girl,” “Cool for the Summer” etc.) that she categorized collectively as “the Sapphic medley of my dreams.”

Kyle Branzel was the musical director, and singers Kayley Anne Collins and Sydney Parra joined in on numbers toward the end of the set.

The one number Seaman might reconsider is “I Won’t Mind” (Jeff Blumenkrantz, Annie Kessler, Libby Saines). It’s the song of an auntie (not related by blood, but as close as or closer than family), who knows she’ll never replace the mother of the child she adores, but who is happy to establish an authentic and loving relationship with the kid: one with its own particular facets and contours. It’s a lovely song and one that’s gained something of a foothold in cabaret. But the fact that Seaman presented it after having actually gained the perspective of a mother with her own newborn somehow detracted from the poignancy of the auntie’s situation.

That quibble aside, there was plenty of earnest emotion and good-humored self-examination throughout the show. And Seaman’s talent and poise are undeniable.

In short, this doula delivers.

(Postpartum viewed April 8.)

[6.7.24 NOTE: After publication of this review, I learned from Kelsey Seaman that the birth of her child was, in fact, only a metaphor for her new life and that she is NOT, in fact, a new mother! All I can say is: She was certainly convincing when she told this story. Among other things, this revelation erases the problem I had with her performance of the song “I Won’t Mind.” It now seems like a perfectly fine song for her to have sung in this show.]

When James Beaman brought Lived Experience: a Cabaret to the Triad Theatre last fall, it marked his return to club performance after a long break that began when he dropped the final curtain on his formidable career as a drag performer. (Back in the 1990s, he was heralded for his depiction of star ladies Lauren Bacall and—especially—Marlene Dietrich.)

This June 1, he brought an encore performance back to the Triad in order to personally kick off Pride Month in New York City. For the most part, Lived Experience was an autobiographical program, touching on his family and professional life. But—maybe more than anything else—the show was, at its heart, a party, a bash, a do.

James Beaman (Photo: Conor Weiss)

It wasn’t that Beaman didn’t have some more sobering things on his mind. He touched on them late in the show. But for the most part, this was truly a joyful celebration: one with singing, dancing, and campy wisecracks aplenty. And if it had a few rough edges—a technical glitch here, some oopsie-daisy lyrics there—that seemed no big deal. Who wants a party host who is over-rehearsed, who can’t go with the flow?

The evening opened with a big, funky, up-tempo number: “And You Don’t Even Know It” (Dan Gillespie Sells, Tom MacRae) from the British musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. Beaman was backed for this selection not only by musical director and pianist David Maiocco (a longtime collaborator), Matt Scharfglass (bass), and David Silliman (drums), but also by “Beaman’s Beauties,” a trio consisting of Sierra Rein, Goldie Dver, and Alexandra de Suze. Soon after came a big tap number, a mashup of Kander and Ebb’s “Steppin’ Out” and Billy Goldenberg and Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s “A Terrific Band and a Real Nice Crowd”). Dancing doesn’t always work smoothly on a cabaret stage, but Beaman’s nimble moves fit in just fine on the Triad boards. (Ann Cooley was the show’s choreographer.)

Aside from his uptempo numbers Beaman proved he’s no slouch as a singer of ballads. He gave us some warm, unassuming vocals on such songs as “An Older Man Is Like an Elegant Wine” (Darlene Cooper, Bill Sample), “You and Me Against the World” (Paul Williams and Kenny Asher), and—especially good—Stephen Sondheim’s “Loving You.”

Beaman’s patter covered a number of aspects of his lived experience. He spoke of growing up with showbiz parents (his father designed the set for TV’s Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood; his mother was a maid-of-all-theatre-work, including playwriting). He also told of transforming future linguist and author John McWhorter into a musical theatre queen when the two were teenage pals. During his performance of “This Was Me” (another Everybody’s Talking about Jamie number), a screen came down across the Triad proscenium, against which were projected an array of stills and film clips showing Beaman in some choice moments from his drag career. Geraldo Rivera, Quentin Crisp, and Jamie deRoy all had cameo appearances in this entertaining montage.

Somewhat less enjoyable to me were the portions of the show in which Beaman backed away from the autobiographical thrust of his show to opine on social ills. “A culture like ours needs a little sassy gay tough love,” he declared.

I agree. But was this show the best occasion at which to do this? I’m not so sure.

Like so many parodists before him, Beaman updated Gilbert & Sullivan’s “I’ve Got a Little Little List” (from The Mikado) in order to decry the cultural nuisances of the moment (in this case, “flexing egotists” at gyms and “all Karens of the MAGA sort,” among others). He also took on political correctness—and was especially focused on theatrical trigger warnings. He used Noël Coward’s “Why Must the Show Go On?” to call out pampered, self-absorbed “A-list” entertainers. Parts of these sequences were fun. But they seemed like digressions from his main task: sharing his life’s story.

Toward the end of the evening, Beaman turned once again to Pride Month. He noted how far the LGBTQ movement has come, and he spoke to the younger members of the LGBTQ+ community—those of Kelsey Seaman’s generation, perhaps. He applauded their determination to continue the fight for equality and justice. But he also asked them to “know your history” when it comes to past battles and the pioneers who fought them.

“You can’t do Pride without Gratitude,” he added.  

I’ll close today’s column with a mention of one truly fab thing about this show: Somehow, in the course of the evening, Beaman managed some quick wardrobe changes. He wound up wearing three different shirts (by my count) during the show. The first one was red, the second green, the last black. All of them were festooned with sparkle.

Which only goes to prove: You can take a drag artist out of his evening wear, but….

(Lived Experience viewed June 1.)

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About the Author

Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. He began writing reviews for BistroAwards.com in 2011. More recently he has contributed "Cabaret Setlist" articles about cabaret repertoire. Other reviews and articles have appeared in theaterscene.net and clydefitchreport.com, as well as in American Theatre and Back Stage. As a dramaturg, he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival. He is currently literary manager for Broad Horizons Theatre Company.

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