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NUNN ON ONE For Isaac Mizrahi, life is a cabaret
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2017-09-27

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New York City fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi is taking it on the road with a new show called Does This Song Make Me Look Fat? After a two-week, sold-out run at Cafe Carlyle, he's ready for City Winery.

He began sewing at an early age, eventually leading to his own clothing line and major success with Target and QVC.

Mizrahi made appearances in the films such as Unzipped, about his 1994 collection, and television shows like Sex and the City. Most recently, he was on Project Runway: All Stars as a judge.

Windy City Times: When was the last time you were in Chicago?

Isaac Mizrahi: I believe last year for a speaking engagement. I used to go all the time. I have a lot of friends there that I adore.

WCT: Describe your show for our readers.

IM: It is like sitting in everybody's lap. It happens in actual time, which is what I love about cabaret. Every show is so different, not just a little different. I am not saying it is extemporized because it is prepared. The music and patter is very well rehearsed, although so much will occur in the room based on the crowd. I am looking forward to Chicago, because it is a fun bunch of people there.

I have pre-show nerves, but once I am in the room it all goes away the minute I walk onstage. Chicago will be a celebration for me. I tend to gage cities by my first impression.

WCT: What was your first impression of Chicago?

IM: It was genius. I never have not had fun in Chicago. I am almost looking forward to it more than the New York City Winery show, because it is a whole new bunch of people.

WCT: You are singing "Figure Eight," from Schoolhouse Rock?

IM: Yes, it is the best. I am working on a new show for the Carlyle for 2018. I am looking for something to hold the place of "Figure Eight" and there is nothing! It is such a singular, beautiful thing.

WCT: Did you watch the cartoons, like I did as a kid?

IM: Of course I did. I am 55 and I always wonder if people will know the song.

WCT: When you launched your own clothing line at age 15, did you think you would still be in fashion 40 years later?

IM: Well, that was with a partner and we were hustling around making clothes and selling them at small boutiques in New York City. I was good at it so it was inevitable. I could make dinner, sell clothes, and play the piano. There were a lot of things, but that was just one of them. It became a focus in my life, because people were interested in my ability to do it.

I was a female impersonator when I was 10 years old. I was doing Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland impersonations to anyone who would listen in my alleyway. I had a puppet theater even before that so I was writing and directing. I made puppet shows from scratch in my garage. It has been a long creative road.

I went to a performing-arts high school. I was in drama with lots of singing and dancing.

In 1996, I started appearing at cabarets. In preparation for a one man show in 2000 I did a bunch of cabaret gigs. That show was called Les Mizrahi and monumental for me. I worked on it for three years and it ran for months. A show like that isn't as exciting as a cabaret show because of making itself different every night. I worked at Joe's Pub and a million places in New York. I hadn't really gone out of New York so I decided to take my work to one of my favorite places Chicago. I am going to Atlanta and Boston. This is my first mini-tour so we will see where it takes me.

WCT: Was there anyone that inspired you to do a cabaret?

IM: There are so many. I loved Eartha Kitt. She was a friend of mine and I would go see her. She was inspiring to me. I also like Bobby Short. It seemed to revolved around Cafe Carlyle.

I saw Elaine Stritch there at least twice. She was an unbelievable performer and great musician. I knew her vaguely and interviewed her on the telephone. She was an insomniac like me so I called her at two in the morning. She thought of herself as a raconteur. She could put a song across but was insecure about her singing. I thought she was a great musician and was always on key. She's no Mariah Carey. I'm not Mariah Carey or Ariana Grande, but I defend my ability to sing.

WCT: Describe the recent Jewish Museum exhibit "Isaac Mizrahi: An Unruly History."

IM: It was surprising and great. When a museum honors you, then you have to be an artist. I was reviewed for the most part by art critics. It was so well received. I was very pleased.

Having that exhibit for six months after working on it for so long, when it closed I was bereft. What would I work on next? I am such a bore for not having an exhibit anymore!

WCT: What celebrity friendship has been a surprise to you?

IM: I have a memoir coming out and there is a big subject about that in it. I was friendly with Sandra Bernhard and Liza Minnelli. Those were the two. Sandra remains in my life and I see her all the time. When we get together, it is like old home week.

Liza and I were close at one point. I miss her in my life. She was a warm and dear friend. I am sure she felt how excited I was to meet her at the beginning. I was obsessed with her when I was 11 years old. I did impersonations of her and studied her. She was one of the highlights of my show as I kid that I mentioned to you before. She's a seriously good person and I love her.

Look for more of Mizrahi's stories at City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph St., on Friday, Sept. 29. Visit CityWinery.com for tickets.


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