Billy Christopher Maupin’s ‘This Fish Needs a Bicycle’: a song cycle of love, loss and liberation
Billy Christopher Maupin (or B.C. to anyone who knows him) is a man of the theatre. He is an award winning theatrical director, an accomplished actor and a gifted singer of songs. Like many gifted artists, his artistic inspiration is based upon a personal life that largely resembles a roller coaster. As a single, 35-year-old gay man, the dizzying highs and the unfortunate lows of his life have given him enough material to fill several evenings of smoky nightclub warbling. Luckily, he has the wherewithal to put it all together and throw himself on a stage to share it with us.
The most recent incarnation of his psyche through song is up and running at The Camel, a music venue/nightclub on Broad Street near Lombardy. The food is good, the drinks are reasonable and B.C. opens his soul and let’s everyone watch.
The show’s title, “This Fish Needs a Bicycle,” is an homage to the catchphrase “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” coined by Australian writer/social activist Irina Dunn.
Whether you agree or not, I have gone over the playlist several times and cannot connect any song to fish or bicycles. Women need men, Men need women, Men need men, Women need women and fish need water. And all of them would like bicycles.
What you will find in the playlist is a lot of Broadway. Gershwin, Porter, Rogers and Hammerstein, Sondheim, Arlen, Schwartz, Kander and Ebb, Comden and Green, Bernstein, Newly and Bricusse, Herman, Berlin and Loesser topped with the themes from TITANIC and FROZEN. A veritable cornucopia of musical theatre gems. All suited to Maupin’s story of found love, lost love, emptiness and eventual self-love and peace. If this fish needs a bicycle, I’d say he’s earned one.
The music is excellently rendered by Joshua Wortham on piano and Tristian Dougherty on the guitar.
The evening started with bombast full of hopeful sentiment with Jerry Herman’s “It’s Today,” quickly followed by the lamenting Cole Porter song “Nobody’s Chasing Me.”
The lament makes sense as Maupin explains that he has a habit of thwarting his happiness by being attracted to straight men.
Finally, Maupin finds a “right guy.” He sings about “The Man I Love,” written by the Gershwin brothers and though traditionally sung by a woman, here Maupin tweaks the lyrics a little to suit the Gay Eros.
The “right guy” always comes with baggage and bumps as Maupin explains that one of the two of them is “Just a Guy Who Can’t Say No,” Ado Annie’s song from Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma,” again tweaked to suit his particular appetite.
As a nice diversion Maupin gave us the Fats Waller tune “I Wish That I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate,” which was really a clever excuse to get Emily Berg-Poff Dandridge on stage to dance as his sister Kate. Ms. Berg-Poff Dandridge is a beautiful sleek redhead who has made quite a name for herself as a quadruple threat singer-actress-dancer-choreographer. She shimmied and slithered and hysterically tried to teach Maupin to move to little success.
Maupin then sings a Broadway/Movie medley where he’s “Down with Love,” but his “Heart Will Go On and On.” And after he “Dreamed a Dream” he found “It’s a Lovely Day Today.” He hopes that “Maybe This Time” he’ll be happy but ultimately decides “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.”
Ah. Such is lifecycle of love and romance.
In his first set Maupin is somewhat overwhelmed at the great audience affirmation he is given. He gets slightly flustered in a most adorable way. He needn’t have worried. His nerves are our nerves. We’re with him every step of the way.
In his second set, Maupin takes control and command, delicately manipulating the mood to suit his will. He is tender, vulnerable, and wounded yet resilient and hopeful. He croons “Love is in the Air” and “I’m So Lucky to Be Me.” He explores his pain and recovery with an indefatigable spirit.
The highlight of the night is the performance of an original song written for Maupin by his friend, International songwriter/recording artist Psalm Swarr who wrote the piece, “If Only In Dreams” based on Maupin’s life. The quiet strength of the lyrics was matched by the deeply resonate feeling Maupin gave the piece with backup by Arielle Swarr and the absolutely mesmerizing guitar work of Tristian Dougherty.
In his last song, Billy Christopher admits that a role he would love to play is the Grandmother in Pippin who advises the audience that “It’s time to Start Living.” Maupin invited the audience to sing the chorus with him. That’s when you could tell who the theatre junkies were. (Guilty!)
His encore is very telling. It is a song that Richard Rogers wrote by himself for the movie version of The Sound of Music after Oscar Hammerstein died:
“Perhaps I had a wicked childhood. Perhaps I had a miserable youth. But somewhere in my youth or childhood. I must have found something good.”
Something good is an understatement for this cabaret. Cabaret singing is about delivering a story through song. Billy Christopher Maupin has a clear powerful tenor that suits his body and his personality. He tends to stray into ballsy belting diva territory on occasion, but that’s just his inner Patti Lupone. He delivers emotion. He communicates feeling. He brings us on his journey. He is affecting on a deeply personal level. He should not be missed.
You have one more opportunity to see “This Fish Needs a Bicycle” at The Camel on August 22nd at 8 p.m. at The Camel, 1621 W. Broad Street. Doors open at 6:30 for dinner. General admission tickets are $15; a limited number of reserved tables are available ($15 for GA, $40 for a front row, two-person pub table; $75 for a four-person table) and can be purchased here.
“And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth …” John, 11:43-44. King James edition. Bruce Ward’s play, “Lazarus Syndrome,” is having its second ever production right here in Richmond at Richmond Triangle Players. In the Bible, Lazarus was of course, raised [...]February 29, 2016
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