“Taking It To The Streets” by the Doobie Brothers is joined with Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” and Michael McDonald’s “Shine Sweet Freedom” for the glorious closing medley of the euphoric cabaret show John Burns is a Sexy Beast. With a witty tribute to Shirley Bassey and a quirky holiday extravaganza, John Burns distinguished himself as a cabaret performer of note in the last year. He outdoes himself with this energizing presentation.
“All I had to guide me were the stars at night and those songs on the radio” wistfully describes the rural New Mexico native Mr. Burns of his terrific rapid-fire 60 minute act. It relies heavily on 1970’s classics and has a celebratory slant commemorating the 50th anniversary of Gay Pride. Harvey Milk, Harry Hay and Ellen DeGeneres are cited as gay heroes and Colin Kaepernick and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are lauded for their universal heroism.
Gracefully clomping around in silver pumps and clad in a short-sleeved black jumpsuit, the upper portion adorned with shimmering multi-colored sequins in the configuration of the rainbow, the heavyset, bald, mature and bespectacled Burns is a triumphant vision of gay pride. This visual quality is matched by his outstanding vocal abilities. Possessed of a soaring tenor voice, distinctive phrasing and absolute aural clarity he richly mines each well-selected song to optimum effect.
Then there is his innate superior comic timing, limber physicality and gregarious presence. One is smitten by his rich singing and sincere zippy patter that is flawlessly delivered. RuPaul’s “If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” gets much play along with personal moments of inspiration.
“Midnight at the Oasis” is given a ravishing rendition with every note and lyric beautifully rendered. The oddball “Muskrat Love” is rescued from the nostalgia dustbin with a sterling treatment. “We’ve Only Just Begun” is an aching highlight. The majesty of disco is represented by a driving mashup of the Donna Summer landmarks, “Love to Love You Baby” and “I Feel Love.” The Meatloaf epic, “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” gets a thrilling brief nod. Burns’ abridged “My Sharona” is a giddy delight. “You Spin Me Round” and “Do You Wanna Funk” become rousing anthems as Burns dances and wildly gestures.
“A Secret Love” and “I Wanna Be Loved By You” were the accompaniments to a hilarious audience participation segment. At the performance under review, a game young straight man was coerced to go to onstage and jovially endure Burns’ antics. An obverse mood was Burns somberly recalling the premature death and funeral of a gay high school classmate.
Music director Michael Holland is on piano and wryly joins in on a few numbers. Assisting Mr. Holland in vividly channeling the pulse of the disco era is Matt Scharfglass on bass and Don Kelley on drums.
With its showmanship, thoughtfulness and topicality John Burns is a Sexy Beast is grand entertainment. It’s playing at the Duplex Cabaret Theater on Christopher Street, which is close to the Stonewall Inn, the site of the historic 1969 riots.
John Burns is a Sexy Beast (June 7, 26 and 29, 2019)
The Duplex Cabaret Theater, 61 Christopher Street in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.johnburns.live
Running time: 60 minutes without an intermission