Feisty octogenarian D’yan Forest brings her new cabaret show, featuring songs, jokes, saucy memories and a ukulele, to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the first time.
Appearing at Greenside @ Infirmary Street from 5th to 27th August, she looks back over eight decades of music, madness and foreign affairs, as she recalls her adventures after fleeing to France in the Sixties to escape a disappointing marriage.
Raised conventionally in puritanical Boston, D’yan quickly made up for lost time while working as a chanteuse in Parisian clubs, taking lovers of both sexes and extending her amorous horizons to Italy, Austria, Jordan and beyond. Her racy memories are punctuated by songs, both original and standards, accompanied by James Cleeve on piano and herself on ukulele.
What was the inspiration for this performance?
I wanted to share the exotic experiences I've had travelling around the world. I am 82 years old and feel I can use this opportunity to inspire others to travel and to find happiness. Coming from a more traditional standup comedy background, I wanted to use music and storytelling to move audiences a bit more than they would get with traditional standup.
How did you go about gathering the team for it?
Well, it's mostly me - but I did work with my director on the structure and developing some jokes and bits. It's so important to be on the same page...and luckily we both have a similarly radical sense of humor.
How did you become interested in making performance?
I had piano lessons when I was 5 years old. It was classical music. I don't know any better! I thought that was ALL piano playing. Then when I was a teenager in 1947, my mom dragged me to Boston to see the very first musical, "Oklahoma." I fell in love with the singing and dancing. I came home and acted out the show in front of my mirror.
I was hooked on musical comedy. So I took more piano lessons and singing, and my parents finally allowed me to do pop music - which at that time was a sin! I had a fight with my parents over it. My first song was "You Can't Get a Man with a Gun." Maybe I should add that to my repertoire?
Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
What process? We all have our own process. After making a living as a cocktail pianist and cabaret singer for 40+ years, and dabbling in standup for many years after that, it was time to marry my life experiences into this show. I guess my process was my whole life. I didn't want my whole life lived in vain.
What do you hope that the audience will experience?
That life can be adventurous even at 82. I want to give audiences hope and hopefully, they'll laugh and cry and wonder "Is this all really true?" Trust me...I can't make this stuff up.
What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
I worked to make the show an arc...like a good story should. I connect with the audience and joke with them and even have them sing along with me. I want it to be like an intimate cocktail party. Who doesn't enjoy cocktails?
Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
No. I do my own style. Just 100% D'Yan Forest. Let's hope it works over there.
the idea of the performance as a gig: what qualities do you think make this the case? what do they share?
This is my job...being an entertainer. And it's been that way for me for 60 years. So, I want people to get their money's worth. They get an exotic, erotic, charming entertainer who sings, tells stories, plays piano, plays a ukulele, and also rolls around the stage singing a song from "The Rocky Horror Show."
are there any musicians you'd point to as an influence?
Well, Ethel Merman certainly had a huge influence on me - even though I don't claim to have her singing chops. Cole Porter. Rodgers and Hammerstein. All the classic musical theater composers have influenced me - not only as a singer, but also as a songwriter. I have a great deal of fun with parody lyrics. I still love classical musical and I can still play it, but you won't hear any in this show. It's revenge on my parents!
what is gained by live musicians on stage?
It's more in the moment. There's an interactive element when the musician or musicians are with me on the stage. I not only need my pianist to accompany me, but I also use them as a secondary character as much as possible.
and is anything lost?
Unless their dress is more sparkly than mine, nothing is lost. I have to make sure my pianist doesn't upstage me so I ask them to dress down. Once you see my opening headdress, you won't be looking any further than the top of my head.
On returning to the US, D’yan became a regular performer in Manhattan cabaret clubs such as The Metropolitan Room, The Ukulele Cabaret and The Cutting Room, and – after launching herself as a stand-up ten years ago – comedy venues such as the Gotham Comedy Club, Caroline’s Comedy Club, The Broadway Comedy Club and Dixon Place.
It was in this milieu that she developed A Broad Abroad!, in conjunction with co-writer/director Eric Kornfeld, who has written for Bette Midler (Kiss My Brass, the Emmy-nominated The Showgirl Must Go On), Betty Buckley, Elaine Stritch and Rosie O’Donnell, amongst many others.
A Broad Abroad! premiered to rave reviews at New York’s Frigid Festival and D’yan performed it at the Orlando Fringe Festival in May before bringing it to the Edinburgh Fringe. Expect pithy songs, witty stand-up, risqué stories, ukulele-playing – and yodelling!
5-27th August (not 14-15th, 21st-22nd), 18.25 (60 mins). Suitability: 18+.
Greenside @ Infirmary Street (venue 236), 6 Infirmary Street, EH1 1LT.
£9 (£8); previews 5-6th August £5; 2-for-1 8-9th August.
Box Office: 0131 618 6967