When Isaac Mizrahi takes to the stage at the Bay Street Theater on October 9 with his six-piece jazz band, fans of the entertainer, fashion designer, creative icon and peripatetic personality know one thing: Expect the unexpected.
Sure, Mizrahi prepares a carefully crafted set list of songs — this show promises to cover some of his favorites by Barbra Streisand, Cole Porter, Billie Holiday and Madonna. In between the music he offers his unique musings on life that engage and enthrall. He says he likes “to prepare patter” and is “always changing it because there is so much going on, so much to talk about.”
But when Mizrahi veers from the plan, watch out. The man loves a tangent, and when he’s in the moment and on fire with an idea or tale, you’re in for a wildly entertaining time.
“I always also pray to the muses that I will go off-book and just talk about stuff that occurs to me, because I feel like, to me, that’s what I’m supposed to do,” Mizrahi confesses. “I respect the audience enough to prepare a lot, but at the same time there is something wonderful about discovering that there is something onstage to talk about and then talking about it.”
Politics, dieting or why he likes to read The New York Times obituaries — a peek at his “Hello Isaac” website, Instagram and YouTube prove that no subject is off limits.
What will he riff about at Bay Street?
“I talk a lot about social media, and (how) sometimes I’m upset by it,” says Mizrahi. “I talk about sex … my husband or things I see out there related to that topic — it’s such an interesting topic. … I talk about prescription drugs I take and over-the-counter medication. … There’s always new stuff and it gets re-embroidered with even more stories, so it’s a really fun thing for me.”
Doubly fun for the audience is the fact that Mizrahi will be back at Bay Street the day after his show performance for a special screening of Unzipped, the 1995 award-winning documentary about his creative process when building his fall 1994 collection. The film has achieved a cult status and gives a behind-the-scenes look at Mizrahi and the fashion world as he engages with the likes of Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Kate Moss. Following the screening, Mizrahi will engage the audience in a talkback with Bay Street’s executive director, Tracy Mitchell.
“Between the show and the screening and the talkback, it almost feels like this weird Isaac weekend,” says Mizrahi, sounding slightly sheepish.
“I don’t ever prompt Unzipped,” emphasizes Mizrahi, adding, “The screening was their idea, not my idea.” That said, he clearly has an affection for the film.
“I think it’s a groundbreaking and award-winning doc about me, and I love it but there is something so self referential about it — it feels like a little odd when I see it,” he confesses.
He is looking forward to connecting with a live (socially-distanced and vaxxed) audience at Bay Street.
“Since the pandemic, I haven’t really performed that much,” he says. “I’m doing some music that I’ve done in the past and a little bit of new music, but I’ve never done this show in Sag Harbor so it’s brand new to Sag Harbor. And a lot of the material is new — a lot of the patter is new.”
Fans and newbies to his unique cabaret act can expect his exquisite version of Madonna’s “Borderline,” a slower, more drawn-out arrangement that adds texture and deeper layers to the otherwise surface-level pop song. He may, he says, do “You and Me” from Victor/Victoria, as well as a rendition of Sondheim’s “One More Kiss” that he is “really proud of.”
Mizrahi’s song selection and arrangements are a collaboration with his musical director Ben Waltzer. “He’s great,” says Mizrahi. “He has, like, a shorthand.” The six-piece band provides him with a rhythm and horn section that Mizrahi describes as “hot.”
He seems particularly excited about doing a new Brazilian jazz song called “Listen to Me.”
“I just love it — it feels like good advice. … All the songs I’m doing feel like they pertain to my life or the dramaturgy of the show or what is going on in the world.”
For those who have followed Mizrahi’s career over the past 30 years as an American fashion icon (with television stints as a judge on Project Runway and All Stars), it may be surprising to some that he seems to care more these days about the Metropolitan Opera than he does about the Met Gala.
“I don’t feel like I’m involved in the fashion world much more than the clothing I make for QVC (as chief designer for the Xcel Brands, Inc. Isaac Mizrahi label) and other licenses,” he says. “It’s not really fashion, it’s really more a cute little t-shirt or cashmere sweater — useful, really practical, wonderful things that are really cut well and wash well.”
To hear him talk about his evolving stage act, it seems like a perfectly natural expression of his creative self.
“Where I used to sketch ideas and keep a journal, now I’m collecting stories and songs as opposed to ideas or dresses or embroideries.”
His love of performance is rivaled by his love for the rescue dogs that he and his husband Arnold share: Dean (a beagle-jack russell terrier mix) and Kitty (a collie mix).
Hours before he takes to the stage at Bay Street on Saturday October 9, Mizrahi, who lives in Bridgehampton, will be with his pet pooches at “his favorite event” — the Animal Rescue Fund (ARF) Stroll to the Sea Dog Walk at Mulford Farm in East Hampton.
“I wouldn’t miss it,” says Mizrahi, “That is the best day of the year, and I was so sad last year when they canceled it because of COVID. I can’t wait to get back to it.”
Mizrahi’s enthusiasm — for life, ideas, dogs, his upcoming performance — is so great, it’s hard to believe him when he says he “gets really nervous” and has “terrible stage fright” before a show.
Luckily, this time around he has a home court advantage and a familiar level of comfort.
“Bay Street feels like my living room, I feel so at ease with that crowd,” says Mizrahi. “I’m really looking forward to it because I love it in that room. I really feel people are there to enjoy themselves.”
Isaac Mizrahi performs in concert at Bay Street on Saturday, October 9 at 8 p.m. The screening of Unzipped is Sunday, October 10 at 4 p.m. followed by a live Q&A with Mizrahi and Executive Director Tracy Mitchell. Masks and proof of vaccination are required for entry. Tickets for the concert start at $69, and tickets for the film screening are $15. Visit baystreet.org or call the box office at 631-725-9500. For all things Isaac Mizrahi, visit helloisaac.com.