Lea DeLaria may be recognized around the world for her portrayal of Big Boo on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, but in Provincetown she’s a local legend, as synonymous with the town as tea dance, weekend rain, and fudge.
She’s also the marquee name behind and co-owner of The Club, the Commercial Street jazz venue that will be closing for the season after DeLaria’s New Year’s Eve shows. It’s not clear what happens after that; the property is listed for sale. But DeLaria isn’t dwelling on the uncertain fate of her jazz club baby. She’s gearing up to repeat last year’s New Year’s Eve celebration with one final blowout.
“Last year’s shows were a big success,” DeLaria says. “The dinners were fantastic, and people were very happy, so we thought: let’s do it again.”
These New Year’s Eve shows arrive on the heels of her superlative end-of-summer performances at The Club. Her voice is as strong and clear as ever, and her comedy still cuts with the sharpness of a razor fresh out of the package. In this era of jaded, seen-it-all audiences, it’s thrilling to hear someone who can still make your jaw drop. Even amid today’s onslaught of confessional comedy, DeLaria’s raw honesty is in a league of its own.
Although the theme of the summer shows was a kind of career retrospective, at age 65 DeLaria’s career is still hot. She’s still breaking barriers and forging new paths.
“I’m fully present and alert and in the now,” she says. “And I don’t censor myself, ever.”
The New Year’s Eve shows will be happening during a three-day break in a new off-Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’s Night of the Iguana. DeLaria is sharing top-line billing with Tim Daly and Daphne Rubin-Vega.
It’s a weighty play and not the sort of material you might automatically think of as right for DeLaria. Her most recent Broadway role in POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive hewed closer to the rowdy personality audiences expect from her. But that’s how it’s been her whole career. She’s always upending others’ expectations of what she can do.
“Theater people haven’t seen me in a part like this,” says DeLaria. “It’ll be new to them, and that’s exciting. But the play has laughs. Tennessee knew how to write jokes. The subject matter is very dark, so the laughs are needed.”
Iguana’s plot centers on a disgraced American priest who has been reduced to working as a tour guide in Mexico. It has all the Williams hallmarks: desire, sweat, secrets, and lots of alcohol. DeLaria plays Miss Fellowes, a tourist and chaperone of a teenage girl who falls under the spell of Daly’s defrocked priest.
Miss Fellowes is described by other characters in the play as a lesbian. DeLaria points out that the character is usually presented as closeted. In this production, however, Miss Fellowes’s sexuality is brought to the fore, a new interpretation.
DeLaria likes to remind audiences that she started out not as a comic or an actor but as a singer. Her father was a professional jazz musician. He would take her along on gigs and push her up on stage when she was just a child to sing “Summertime” and other classics.
“They had me trussed up in dresses, hair, shoes,” she laughs. “It was a whole look.” But the audiences took to her voice, and her confidence and musical influences grew.
“Dad liked bebop and mom liked swing,” she says. “My brothers and sisters all liked different things — pop, soul, even country. All of those styles were early influences, but when I discovered Judy Garland, that was my entrée into the American Songbook and musical theater.
“I’m going to be doing different things off my records,” DeLaria says of her New Year’s Eve shows at The Club. “I’ll be doing my stand-up and telling stories. We’ll watch the ball drop together at the second show.”
There will be two seatings: at 5:15, with a three-course prix-fixe menu, and at 9:15, with four courses, also prix-fixe. The second show includes party hats, noisemakers, and a champagne toast.
DeLaria will be backed by the Chris Grasso Quartet, with Chris on piano, Mike Flanagan on sax, Ron Ormsby on bass, and Bart Weisman on drums.
She’s looking forward to the intimacy and give-and-take with the audience at The Club.
“When you’re doing live theater, you have to let go of that a little because you are listening to the person you’re with in the scene,” she says. “But when I’m doing my own show there’s a part of me that is always listening to the room.”
Watch the Ball Drop
The event: New Year’s Eve with Lea DeLaria
The time: Sunday, Dec. 31, 5:15 and 9:15 p.m.
The place: The Club, 193A Commercial St., Provincetown
The cost: $125-$199 at theclubptown.com