Peaches Christ Superstar
Starring Peaches and Gonzales
The Concert Hall at the Society for Ethical Culture
Saturday, December 11
Better Than: Pussies, Peaches’ one-woman version of CATS.
So here we have Peaches, the bawdy, electroclash-affiliated next-millennium Mae West, doing a one-woman homage to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1970 post-hippie musical Jesus Christ Superstar, and why not. It makes more sense than you think it does.
The original production’s rock ‘n’ roll lineage is undeniable: It featured Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan and ’80s reject Murray Head as Jesus and Judas, respectively, with a walk-on by future stadium-rock pedo Gary Glitter. David Bowie also springs to mind, not only because the costumes look like spares from his Aladdin Sane tour, but because the whole thing is a garish, audacious high-wire act. And so is Peaches’ tribute: a bold artistic risk for a performer usually safely ensconced in a cocoon of drum machines, fake facial hair, and sexual come-ons. Accompanied only by longtime collaborator Chilly Gonzales on piano, the former grade-school teacher (real name: Merrill Nisker) tears through 90 minutes of vintage Broadway material; at times the show has a workshop feel, as if you were watching one long DVD extra of a performer’s gonzo, two-hour audition. She deserves the part.
The crowd is a bizarre mix of older, monied, uptown-society folk and the much younger downtown crowd: It’s like a Bret Easton Ellis novel exploded onto the playa at Burning Man, an indie Gleek fantasy. While the show is chock full of ribald religiosity, Peaches shows great restraint, for once: It’s an honest, bare performance, unadorned by her usual visual/sexual audacity. When she sings, “Touch me! Touch me, Jesus!” you can’t imagine lyrics more tailor-made for her, but she plays it (relatively) straight. “People had no idea I could sing so gently,” she admits to us, and she’s right — the first half of the show is all hushed tones and gentle reverence. She turns “Pilate’s Dream” into a haunting torch song; “Everything’s Alright,” the musical’s Free Design-esque signature song, is also well received, though the biggest applause is reserved for “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” perhaps because it’s delivered by someone who usually has plenty of ideas.
Chilly and Peaches reappear after intermission wearing matching, shiny gold parachute shirts, like a space-age Steve and Edie. Peaches also sports thick fake eyebrows, perpetually raised, seemingly in a state of anger, resembling Pris from Blade Runner with her Replicant lifespan extended another four years so she can study experimental theater at NYU. By the last few numbers, a few plants pop out of the audience and join her onstage as the angry, condemning crowd that raises her up into her Peaches Christ pose. The rest of the crowd is off its feet now, too — what began as a quiet solo performance is ramping up to a bombastic, Broadway-style climax, with a big (well, eight-person) choreographed finale. Peaches’ fans have always been fervent, but the more misunderstood she gets, the more devout their idolatry becomes. So consider this a very small, private service, her disciples mere steps from the shiny gold shoes of their god.
Critical Bias: I’m not much for musicals, but if you simply have to see one, best to have it filtered through your favorite Canadian dance-prankster.
Overheard: “Wanna go have a cigarette?” “Ummmm, it’s already freezing, and I’m wearing spandex . . . just saying.”
Random Notebook Dump: At what other show do you get to see Ellen Page, Kim Cattrall, designer Kai Kühne, and the Naked Cowgirl?
Heaven On Their Minds
What’s The Buzz?
This Jesus Must Die
I Don’t Know How To Love Him
Damned For All Time
The Last Supper
Gethsemane (I Only Want To Say)
Pilate And Christ
Herod’s Song (Try It And See)
Could We Start Again, Please
Trial Before Pilate