Photo by Allison Michael Orenstein
The Duplex, located in New York City's Greenwich Village, has hosted many celebrities on its quaint stage. Joan Rivers, Woody Allen, Barbra Streisand, and Rodney Dangerfield are just a handful of performers who have tested their acts and proved their mettle in the West Village location. Currently, self-proclaimed “ascendant gay icon” Molly Pope is following in their footsteps with her monthly cabaret offering Molly Pope Likes Your Status. (the next is scheduled for Friday, July 10).
When it comes to Pope, it seems like everyone in town knows her, has seen her perform, or both. So it's no surprise that her June 12, 2015, concert was sold out. The girl has better word of mouth buzz than pretty much anything running in Manhattan. Waiting for her to take the stage, it was obvious that a good portion of the audience were returning fans as they excitedly chatted up the newbies — myself included — to let us know we were in for something special.
Complete with a perfectly coiffed beehive and pristinely applied eyeliner, Pope took the stage looking like Babs circa 1964. She entered to cheers from her diehard acolytes, causally glanced around the bare stage and, finding nowhere appropriate to lay down her retro black patent leather clutch, tossed it haphazardly to the ground and let loose with a decadent cabaret lounge inspired rendition of “Dark Horse,” yeah the one you know from Katy Perry. Instantly, the appeal was apparent. With pipes like a young Bette Midler and stage presence like a top-of-her-game Liza Minnelli, Pope draws the audience in with ease.
In between numbers, Pope swills whiskey and shamelessly tells tales of her dating misadventures. The heartache and awkwardness of the experiences pair well with her smoky alto, and allow her to connect the audience to the songs she performs. Even though her stories are told with humor and keep us tittering with laughter, we feel every emotion she packs into the show. Last Friday night, tears rolled down her cheeks as she performed “If Love Were All” (Noël Coward). In a show in which Pope often pokes fun at her own self and topics like contemporary social media-induced narcissism, this display of raw emotionality ensured visceral responses from the audience, adding emotional weight to the concert.
While the stories of Bathhouse Betty, accompanied by Barry Manilow on the keys, creating “the Divine Miss M” in The Continental Baths in the basement of the Ansonia Hotel speak to a bygone era of gay pop culture, Pope’s Molly Pope Likes Your Status gives us a peek into what that world may have been like. She takes us back to the time when a chanteuse had to be able to work a crowd, sing, and belt with poise and control — and have a personality that was audaciously attention-grabbing but still relatable. I can’t imagine we’ll ever hear Pope’s voice autotuned or see her in a dress made of some unsavory and unconventional materials. Instead, we’ll be consistently treated to powerhouse vocals and enough sassy wit to make us daydream of seeing Pope star as C.C. Bloom in a stage adaption of Beaches or Dolly Levi in a revival of Hello, Dolly! on Broadway.