The Pleasure of Her Company: Lucy Lawless at the Roxy 2009

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This past weekend, the Cute-Little-Red-Headed-Girlfriend and I made the now annual trip to the Roxy in West Hollywood to see Lucy Lawless perform in concert. Owing to personal circumstances, we knew we could only attend one night. So we chose Saturday and decided to go all out: we wanted front row standing-room seats and we were ready to do whatever it took to get them.

What it took to get them turned out to be seven hours of waiting, including six hours baking in the sun on the utterly filthy yet justly legendary Sunset Strip. Once the Girlfriend and I realized we were engaged in an urban version of camping, we immediately became more comfortable with our situation, since camping is of course an in-born lesbian skill.

I spent my time on the Strip socializing and occasionally Twittering on my mobile phone. That morning, I had used Twitter to poll my fellow Lucy fans on what shoes I should wear to the concert. They voted for the glam-inspired silver-spray-painted Doc Martens, which can be seen resting on the pavement outside the Roxy in the photo below.

This year's Roxy show was to be different from prior years in that we were promised a stage show, rather than a musical concert. Pleasuredome is based on an unproduced musical co-written by Xena creator Rob Tapert. The script is set during the AIDS crisis and chronicles some of the highs and lows of that period. To create her stage show, Lucy developed a plot around one of the lesbian characters, named Sappho, contained within the original script.

As soon as we entered the Roxy, the Girlfriend and I rushed to take up standing positions in the front row, at the very edge of the stage. We then settled in to defend our territory until the show began. A mix of tunes consisting of 70s disco--the unofficial classic soundtrack of all gay pride events--with a few odd ball hits, like Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman" thrown in, played over the sound system. The mood was joyous and inclusive, especially when Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" came on, resulting in a group sing-along.

As the waiting continued, the sing-alongs became more boisterous and maudlin, especially when Celine Dion's ballad, "Power of Love," played over the loudspeakers. Swaying in sync to the music, the mostly lesbian crowd screeched their way through lines such as "'Cause I am your lady / And you are my man / Whenever you reach for me / I'll do all that I can." There was a drunken-Girl-Scout-camp-counselor-type vibe in the air that I'm sure brought back positive memories for many on hand.

Call to confession. The evening began with a short but funny set by stand-up comic Cat Crimins, back for her third opener at the Roxy. Not too long after Cat left the stage, a stern nun by the name of Sister Mary Catherine, bearing a striking resemblance to Cat Crimins, appeared in order to deliver a message of penitence to the audience.

"Sinners!" Sister Mary Catherine called in greeting. Zeroing in on one female audience member, Sister Mary Catherine asked pointedly, "Do you have a boyfriend?" When the audience member answered that she did not, Sister Mary Catherine tried to impress upon the large crowd of women the urgent need to find boyfriends. The nun humor went over like gangbusters and everyone appreciated the nod to Lucy's role as the Mother Superior in the forthcoming film Bitch Slap.

Finally, the curtain rose on Pleasuredome with an exuberantly campy rendition of the Gloria, which gestured to the religious themes that would continue throughout the evening. It also held out to fans the promise of a reprise of Lucy's rendition of Patti Smith's "Gloria," which Lucy had previously debuted at her London concert. In addition to the band, three women dressed in religious robes were present on stage, forming a chorus.

Lucy appears on stage in a Catholic schoolgirl outfit that brought to mind the sexualized school girls of Yuri anime and manga. Her hair dressed in pigtails and swinging a school bag, Lucy launches into the show's first song, Queen's "Somebody to Love." Mixing heartbreaking earnestness with a determined naughtiness, Lucy's character Sappho sings of her desire for worldly experience and, especially, the tellingly gender-neutral "somebody" to love.

As Sappho imagines the somebody who awaits her, her fingers reach for her own nipple, only to stop short and pluck away the school cardigan instead, revealing a white blouse worn in a saucy halter style. (The outfit was actually not that risque, as Lucy was wearing a full bodysuit underneath the schoolgirl outfit, which allowed for a later costume change.) Next Sappho's hand creeps down and fastens itself between her legs.

Suddenly, Sister Mary Catherine walks on stage, calling out in dismay, "Sappho Warrior Princess! What would your parents think?" Sappho's adolescent swagger wilts in the face of religious authority, providing a launch point for the next song, Nina Simone's "Go to Hell." Sister Mary Catherine remains for the song and gets well into the spirit of the thing, busting out some dance moves and joining in for the recurrent damning choruses of "Hell!"

Despite the humorous references to the trappings of Catholicism, I found the underlying message concerning Sappho's conflicted feelings to be quite serious. Over the many years I've been out as a lesbian, I've met gay people from a variety of faiths who have been tormented by the threat of their religious sect's version of hell. I've met Mormons worried about Outer Darkness, Baptists and Pentecostals who have undergone exorcism, and still others who have submitted themselves to the ex-gay movement in an effort to avoid eternal flame.


Even more disturbing are the many secular gays and lesbians who have spoken to me of their fears. How, in the middle of the night, despite their education or modern outlook or secularism or other mitigating factors, they will waken and hear a voice in their head that says it's all true: that they will go to hell for their sexuality. My own life has been decisively and negatively impacted by the Catholic Church in ways that have left me feeling helpless, even though my own relationship to the church is to say the least tenuous. And so, the central conflict in Pleasuredome, however comically presented, struck me as an extremely relevant one to Lucy's lesbian following.

With hellfire at her back, Sappho is introduced to the discotheque known as "The Pleasuredome," where she will be sorely tempted by the figure of Gloria (interchangeably called Laura) bearing a platter of cocaine. Sappho wasn't the only one struggling with temptation. I found it increasingly difficult to concentrate as Gloria emerged from the chorus, removed her robe and began to parade about the stage in electric blue hot pants and a flimsy halter. The other two singers, who had less developed roles, also removed their robes. One singer had such an ample and inviting bosom I found it necessary to discipline myself to not look at that corner of the stage unless she was singing solo, lest I become lost in reverie.

Laura "Needs Warning Label" Sperrazza. The Frankie Goes to Hollywood song "Welcome to the Pleasuredome" became the soundtrack for Sappho's dynamic seduction by Gloria/Laura. Now, I don't want to take anything away from Sperrazza's talent as a singer, or her considerable capabilities as a dancer, or for that matter, her acting prowess. But HOLY FUCK let's talk about this woman's body for a minute or three.

In this time of homogenized Hollywood breasts, Laura Sperrazza is indeed a potent reminder of just how much havoc one woman with a full A/small B cup can cause in a room. My best attempt to convey to you the effect Laura Sperrazza's body has is to say she is the kind of woman that might lead otherwise upstanding people to commit grave crimes.

I ran into several lesbian fans in the 24 hours after the Saturday show with a dazed and absent look in their eyes, like they'd been caught staring too long at the sun. A little probing on my part revealed they had simply been gazing at Laura's gyrating ass too long. Sadly, the essence of Laura Sperrazza is lost in photos. You really needed to be there to experience the fine crease of her hot pants, savor the plushy softness of her flesh, follow the bounce and sway of those little heart stickers on her nipples.

Sappho did not stand up long to the temptations offered by Gloria/Laura. A portion of the audience hooted and hollered with glee as Sappho bent to snort her first line of coke. Once the show was over, another portion of the audience claimed to be confused by many of the drug references in Pleasuredome. None of my jaded citydweller friends had any trouble deciphering the visual cues, which I found clever and concise.

The Big Plunge. The next songs in Pleasuredome revolved around Sappho's pursuit of Gloria and the establishment of their relationship. As Gloria/Laura exits the stage at the end of "Welcome to the Pleasuredome," an intrigued Sappho begins to sing the Eurythmics' "Who's That Girl?" This song, like almost all included in Pleasuredome, was a gay club hit in the early 80s. I remember this one well from when I first started whoring around going to lesbian and gay clubs in West Hollywood, back in the day.


Next came Cyndi Lauper's "She-Bop," re-imagined as a wild and raucous celebration of girl-on-girl sexuality. As she has occasionally done at previous concerts, Lucy changed the lyrics to suit her lesbian audience, switching out "blue boy magazine" for "blue girl magazine." Wearing a blindfold over her eyes in mockery of the blindness said to be caused by certain forms of sexuality, a toppish Sappho grabs hold of Gloria's hair and guides her in simulated oral sex.

Although the oral sex scene was sexy, it was also hilarious. I was struck by how Lucy is able to convey incredible sexiness and be extremely funny at the same time. Hers is the type of humor one can laugh out loud at, but somehow the laughter never defuses the sexuality present. It's a unique quality and I can't think of another female actor who can do that. The looks on Sappho's face as she was being serviced were priceless. From our position down front, it was like we were mainlining the juiciness of it all.

The chorus of "She-Bop" was punctuated by Sappho rhythmically spanking Gloria and, sexiest of all, several segments where Sappho played air guitar. I feel certain that when I get to dyke heaven, it will be filled with large panel screens playing a loop tape of Lucy Lawless on air guitar.

Then came Jet's "Be My Girl," in which Sappho woos and wins Gloria. By the end of the song, however, it is Gloria who appears the more dominant partner. In an intensity-filled segment, Sappho sits on her knees facing the audience while Gloria straddles her legs from behind, gripping Sappho's tie as if to rein her in while driving her with a riding crop as if in slow motion.

Some fans interpreted this scene as bondage or S&M. I took the meaning to be more psychological. But whether the pussy-whipping was literal or symbolic didn't really matter to the progression of the story. I enjoyed the ambiguity and multiple meanings inherent in the Pleasuredome staging generally. Whatever was lost in terms of narrative clarity only added to the interactivity of the theatrical performance.


Following the show, some fans complained about the content of this segment, calling it "pornographic." When I told the Cute-Little-Red-Headed-Girlfriend about these responses, she replied, "They obviously haven't seen very much pornography, have they?" I thought she made a very good point. However, Pleasuredome does display some of the in-your-face sex radicalism that I associate with queer politics during the AIDS crisis. That's certainly not a bad thing from my perspective (I'm a devotee of shock aesthetics), but it's to be expected that it will alienate some people.

As far as I know, there's only been one musical that documents the AIDS era: Rent, which has been marred by accusations of plagiarism, among other criticisms. In a note dated 2/5/09 on her Official Fan Club page, Lucy states her interest in developing Pleasuredome further. Whether the show is scaled up or is repeated in its current form, it's one I would be eager to revisit. I value in particular its representation of the sexual adventurism that many urban-dwelling lesbians embraced at the very moment that the gay male community was forced to give up more libertine sex practices. It's also an interesting addition to the various Catholic-specific political and cultural protests regarding the Church's position on sexual orientation.

The Naked Soul. Having found love, Sappho revisits the meaning of faith through the R.E.M. song "Losing My Religion." But the move away from faith also signals a descent of sorts. Stripped down to a flesh-toned body stocking and under the blare of a strobe light, Sappho sings "White Lines" while she and Gloria doodle on her body with white paint, symbolizing further drug exploration.

The song "White Lines" proved a good showcase for the band, led by musical director and Xena composer Joe LoDuca, who played guitar. My one regret from the evening was that I didn't spend more time watching the band. I was aware of their presence because they were responsible for the flow of the performance, weaving a rich, seamless sound experience that left me rapt for the entire night. Besides being a great rock band, there was also an additional element of orchestration that raised the collection of songs to a level that merited the term "rock opera."

My favorite song from the show, "Gloria," was next. I was eager to see Lucy perform it, but I didn't expected her to deliver it with as much power and conviction as she did that night. It began with Sappho attempting to wipe the white paint from her body, only to leave dark greasy smudges in their place. Sappho stands there nearly naked, singing her heart out, while covered in what looks like mud or shit. Meanwhile, Gloria/Laura takes up pom-poms for a frenetic dance that reinforced the incantatory and hypnotic aspects of the song. It was completely mad and over-the-top and I just loved it to pieces.

The relationship between Sappho and Gloria deteriorates and doubts emerge in the Heaven 17 song, "Temptation." A sense of escalating crisis culminates in Soft Cell's song "Tainted Love." Although this was intended to express a moment of sadness and betrayal in the show, my reaction was led off track owing to the fact that this song--along with Pete Shelley's gay anthem "Homosapien"--always fills me with an immediate desire to shed my clothes. The dark, sexy musical arrangement and Lucy's suggestive delivery didn't help matters. Nonetheless, it was an excellent song choice in terms of plot development.

Redemption through Love. Forgiveness is asked for and extended in the duet "Power of Love," movingly delivered by Lucy and Laura Sperrazza. The song, which melds religious and romantic imagery in its lyrics, concluded with a dramatic bent-back kiss between Sappho and Gloria. Lucy's fans drew on years of pent-up enthusiasm as they cheered the kiss; meanwhile, many miles away, back at Lesbian HQ, a well-manicured hand picked up a sharpened pencil and deftly marked off one item on the collective "100 Things to See Before I Die" list.



The show ended with Hoobastank's "The Reason," further underlining the redemptive power of love in the painful journey toward one's personal truths and the acknowledgement of imperfection. I was pleased the show ended on a happy note for Sappho and Gloria, rather than an endpoint of spiritual decadence or heartbreak. For me, Pleasuredome seemed to last only an instant, and it was a show I could go back to see again and again.

She knows what girls like, she knows what girls want. I don't know if Lucy worked with her regular costumer on Pleasuredome or not. I often think of her costumer as a kind of Evil Mad Costumer occupying a basement lab/design studio where he tests out his creations on a group of test lesbians, all hooked up to the female lubricant-measuring plethysmographs used in various half-baked sexology studies. "Let's see what happens when I add silver studs to these chaps!" he cries out, a peal of maniacal laughter filling the room.

Lucy's outfit for her encore followed the existing pattern of costumes tweaked to create maximum pain impact on her core audience. Amid thunderous applause, Lucy strode on stage wearing men's trousers reminiscent of Marlene Dietrich, thick black suspenders and a skin-baring racerback camisole tank. To quote lesbian blogger Dorothy Surrenders, who has copiously documented lesbians' love of the tank top in her recurring feature, "Tank Top Tuesday," "Any woman wearing a tank top and suspenders automatically goes to the front of the crush line." Lucy's arms and torso were still smudged with black and white goo left over from when she'd been wearing the bodysuit. Her dirty and disheveled appearance combined with the menswear gave Lucy an appealing E.M. Forster-era rough trade look that made me want to reach for my wallet. Finally, just to add that little something extra that makes you lose your mind, Lucy topped off the look by removing her shoes so we could all sigh over her distinctive and adorable toes.

One of the musicians held his hands over his ears to block out the din of the audience while Lucy urged the overexcited crowd to calm down. As the opening to the fan-favorite "Hallelujah" began, the audience quickly became silent. According to information posted on her official website, Lucy was influenced by the Jeff Buckley version of "Hallelujah." Before writing this report, I assembled all the lyrics to the Pleasuredome songs (which you can download from here) and read up on some of them, especially those with multiple popular recordings. The Wikipedia article on "Hallelujah" was quite informative, providing a link out to a BBC article noting the many Biblical references in the lyrics and quoting Jeff Buckley as saying his rendition was about "the hallelujah of the orgasm." With its mixture of religiosity and sexuality, "Hallelujah" extended the themes presented earlier in Pleasuredome.

The final song was the 80s hit, David Bowie's romantic "Let's Dance." With colored lights swirling across the stage and a ceiling-mounted snow machine dispensing fake snow, the room took on a party-like atmosphere as Lucy sang and thanked the Pleasuredome cast. An evening with Lucy is always marked by a sense of fun and playfulness and "Let's Dance" captured that carefree spirit the fans enjoy so much.

After Lucy ran off stage for the last time, slapping the front-row fans' raised hands as she exited, we unglued ourselves from our positions at the edge of the stage and drifted among the crowd. Inevitably, we ran into more people we knew. And so the evening continued for us, outside of the Roxy now, but still in the company of fans, with thoughts of Lucy vivid in our hearts and minds.

Special thanks go to several of my fan buddies, Janna, Kathy and Van Lord, who let me use their photography in this report. Photo credits are as follows, numbered from top to bottom as they appear in this post: nos. 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 18, Janna; nos. 4, 10, 14, 15, 17, Kathy; nos. 5, 8, 9, 16, Van; nos. 1, 2, 3, 19, Teresa.

24 Comments

What can I say that I already haven't? This is the kind of reporting that could easily appear in any professional publication that reviews skilled, trained shows for the performing arts. I hope Lucy reads this and appreciates the time, effort and absolute love you have for her talent and her ass kicking energy. Nobody does it better than you, T.

I am proud to call you mine.

kazy

That's sweet of you to say, darling. I have fun just being a fan.

That is an incredible, awesome report! It was almost like being there! Thank you! I was on the edge of me seat for every word!! Gods, to have been there. I can only imagine! Thank you so much for writing this Teresa.

My Dear Charis,

I wish you had been there as well! But just think, she might do it again. I would love to see you next time around.

Teresa-
Fantastic report! Been waiting to see what your word on it would be and I was happy to share my photos to enhance it. Lucy is an amazing artist and I was thrilled to have been there to experience this particular show. It's obvious that she put a lot of heart and soul into it. Thanks for reminding me of all the little details Teresa, once again great job and great job Lucy!

Janna

Oh Teresa, I would so love that! I think we would have a good time drooling over Luce...if I survived the show! xX

Favorite line:

"From our position down front, it was like we were mainlining the juiciness of it all."

WOW!! Thanks for this completely enthraling report, it is so well written, as Charis said it makes me feel like i was there (sadly i was'nt)I truely hope Lucy repeats this show & that I can make it if she does.

Great job thanks again x

Janna,

Your photos are great! They were an inspiration to me as I wrote. Thanks again!

Joe, I'm surprised! I would have expected you to enjoy the line where I compare Lucy to rough trade more. You keep getting more lesbian every day. I think from now on I will have to call you Jo.

WOW!!! I was at the concert both Friday and Saturday and want to thank you for your report as I am hearing impaired and missed a lot especially when the mike covered Lucy mouth. You filled in a lot of the gaps for me. Were you at the convention on Sunday and have a report coming for Lucy and Renee???

Hi warriordebs,

Thank you for coming by and reading my report. I'm glad I was able to help you experience the concert. It was her best yet.

Thanks Julie. I'm glad my report was helpful to you. I was at the convention on Sunday. I don't know if I'm going to write something or not. I have to catch up on all the convention reports I've missed reading while I was writing this concert report. If I do write something it will not be as detailed as this; it will be more impressionistic. Anyway, glad you enjoyed reading my write-up.

2009 concert Bad :S:S

No low points, only high points for Lucy.. and you in this review. Someone better pass this along for her, and for Laura to read. She should know the professionalism that hails her performance. When will you write 'The Lucy Book'... by Fan Teresa? Thanks Teresa.

Dear XenaGabRenee,

I see from your IP address that you're from Turkey. I'm going to guess that you did not attend the concert. Perhaps your opinion has been unfairly influenced by my report. You may have liked it if you saw it in person. After all, it was Lucy.

Thanks Fran! So nice to read coming from you. And yes, by all means, Laura should read my ode to her various body parts and know how much the lesbians now love her! She was mesmerizing!

Hi. Texting from my phone in SOUTH AFRICA. (Trust good ol' Yahoo to peg me for an Aussie.) Anyhow, Teresa- what would my partner & I do without you? Mope, that's what. We haven't seen all of X:WP here- got cancelled 10 eps into 3rd season. Generally we're hardly done by & worse, misunderstood. We might just be the only 2 Xenites in RSA. So we watch your blog & wait for the best reporting available. Kudos!

LOL. Thanks for sharing your experience!! I love that little cat too <3

Nici, You only got 10 eps from season 3? OH NOES!! That's terrible! I am impressed by your dedication despite these obstacles. I feel honored to be able to bring you the news. Thanks for reading!

Dedication? Try this: I have Xena wallpapers- many- on my phone, & my ringtone is the X:WP theme, complete with voice-over. My message alert is 'Burial' sung by the Goddess also known as Flawless. A male client (I'm a tattooist, get yer mind out the gutter!) asked me who I think is the sexiest female in the universe. No hesitation- RENEE O'CONNOR! And I didn't mind reminding him of who she is. Nice thing, tattooing- he was stuck there and had to listen while I paid homage...

Hi Angela,

Thanks for commenting! How did people fully express themselves before LOLcats? I just don't know.

Nici,
I'd like to see your phone! Renee was looking good at the convention. She had a confidence about her that I haven't seen before. I really enjoyed seeing her short film and previews of the scifi web series she's been acting in.

Thank you so much for the great/thoughtful/well written report! I especially love all of the insights. Though, it does make me sad that I wasn't able to attend it. next time

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