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Sizzling: Bryan Batt’s Batt on a Hot Tin Roof at Crazy Coqs

Repost: with One Stop Arts closing, I migrated this review here.

Have you ever wanted to be propelled back to an era of long white gloves and cigarette holders? Coiffed hairdos, dinner jackets, highballs poured from silver cocktail shakers? Plush banquettes with little round tables that have candles on them? Then, my friend, the Crazy Coqs is for you. Bryan Batt’s New Orleans-inspired show Batt on a Hot Tin Roof enlivens the venue with true Broadway razzle-dazzle.

Tucked at the bottom of the stairwell in the massive Brasserie Zedel, Crazy Coqs is a glamorous yet inviting cabaret venue where Bryan Batt performs his Batt on a Hot Tin Roof, a one-man show that grew from a need for song to return to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Batt sings a repertoire of American classics interspersed with affectionate stories about his family, New Orleans, New York, and his past work. Accompanied by James Church on the piano, Batt brings a little piece of Broadway to the polished grandeur of the West End.

A classic all-around performer, Batt sings, dances and tells stories equally engagingly. His most compelling moments are when he uses song to explore problematic social issues. After a sunny rendition of “Downtown,” Batt tells us about his love of the 1960s and his excitement at getting cast in Mad Men because it allowed him to explore all that vintage styling. Once, he ran into a fan of Mad Men who concluded her rhapsody on how wonderful the show was and how wonderful the 1960s were by saying “Those were the good old days.”

“Yeah,” Batt says, “If you liked racism, sexism, antisemitism and homophobia, those WERE the good old days. Some of us had to fake it.” He transitions into a powerful version of the song “Wives and Lovers,” at once charming and chilling, reminding us that style, that social expectations of being stylish, can be a tool deployed for social control instead of an expression of personal choice.

Batt has a wicked sense of humour and after telling us that one of the rules of cabaret is that the third song must be a love ballad (“It’s like math, there are rules”) he launches into an opprobrious number called “The Sensitive Song” featuring lyrics like “That’s why I’m dumping you, b**ch… It don’t make you an actress just because you’ve been on Cops.” I’ll stop there for fear of offending your delicate sensibilites, but it’s a marvellously obnoxious song. Helpless gales of laughter were also heard during “I’m Becoming My Mother,” “The Cave Man Song,” and of course Gilda Radner’s “Let’s Talk Dirty to the Animals.”

Before this song Batt tells us about his first ever trip to Broadway with his mother and grandmother, both proper Southern women with Expectations (capital E) about what one wore to the theatre. They went to New York in Batt’s first year of high school and arranged a lineup of appropriate plays, allowing Batt to choose a single show for himself. He chose Gilda Radner’s Live from New York at the Winter Garden Theatre. The show was sold out but through his mother’s Southern belle wiles they managed to finagle some tickets. When the performance opened with “Let’s Talk Dirty to the Animals” Batt was convinced he was about to be bundled off into a taxi by his prim grandmother, never to see a Broadway show again, but to his surprise he saw his mother and grandmother collapse in paroxysms of laughter with tears running down their faces.

It’s no wonder that Batt describes this rauchy little ditty as a song that changed his life.   Batt also devotes some touching anecdotes to his father, notably the baseball ballad “What You’d Call a Dream.” His affection for the places he’s lived shines through in “New York State of Mind” and the haunting “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans.” I’ve never been, but I think I miss it now. Wrapping up with a triumphant execution of “I Am What I Am,” Batt reminds us all to sound the beat of our own drum, no matter how different (oh, how very different) our drum might be.

Originally reviewed for One Stop Arts on 8 August 2013.