2017 Hanson Award Winner; 2018 MAC Award Nominee and self-proclaimed Gay Geezer, Ira Lee Collings, did a run of 4 shows in September and October at Don’t Tell Mama called “Naked from the Neck Up” to high acclaim by many of my fellow writers and certainly by his loving, sold out audience.
For the record, I am a fan…a BIG fan. Ira has a way with delivering a sincere interpretation of the lyric that is so pure and unaffected. It is just so refreshing these days to sit back and be able to listen and just take in the music. His voice is lovely, and he has quite the range! At times, he is a pretty jazzy cat singing some of his old charts arranged by Ken Thompson and beautifully played by Musical Director, John M. Cook. Ira has been called “a celebration of life” and he certainly is all that and more. He’s fun, sweet, smart and he takes good care of the audience.
Ira’s patter in this and in his previous show, is striking in that we get to be in his shoes, in an historic place in time when a gay man could not walk the streets safely and where he, and many men of his age, had to stand up so that a LBGTQ person can live authentically and safely today. I always feel like we owe a huge THANK YOU to Ira’s generation. (This is noting that here in New York it is different from many other places across the country and that things seems to be changing back to a time of fear for this community so new heroes, like Ira, are needed.)
The most emotional and moving part of the show was when he invited his long-term partner, Owen to the stage for a lovely dance as John M. Cook played and sang, “Strangers in the Night” into “Do You Want to Dance?” It was STUNNING! There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
His 11:00 number, “This is My Life” (Canfora/Amurri) has become a signature tune for Ira. He sings it with every ounce of passion in his body!
Ira is a delight and I would go to see him again however, I do have some constructive observations and a condition for seeing him again:
He did a program of 18 wonderful, familiar tunes but he did a few of these same songs in his last show. He also has a show “formula” that he used in the previous show and again in this show…the rose bit and the pot-smoking bit which, I would advise him to now let go of and come up with something new for his next show. Director Sally Darling did some great work on this show so, if she’s working with Ira again, I would ask her to help Ira move forward more in whatever he does in the future.
The show name, “Naked from the Neck Up” was also never explained. The show name was mentioned but there was no connecting this material to any show concept. I was left to try to figure it out myself and it just wasn’t clear.
The rose bit may be a signature bit which is great, it’s fun but the songs must change. The pot bit, to me, must go. I get that he was pretending to get high to deliver the tunes in a funny way but, Ira is an elegant man in a tuxedo so if he were sipping a martini and pretending to get drunk, it would visually and intellectually make more sense to me. He also does not fain getting high that great so, while it’s funny, it was funny in the first show, not as funny in this show (he did it twice) and it would not make me laugh if he repeated this bit. There are so many other options open to you Ira…you are very talented…take a risk and come back with something completely new dear man and I’ll be first in line!