Issue No. 621, August 23-29, 2007

Photo by John McRae

The Spiegeltent; Sun 26, Sept 2, 16

He comes from the opposite side of the globe, but he acts as though he fell from another planet. Australian singer Paul Capsis is Ziggy Stardust on LSD: a gender-bending, gospel-shrieking, glitter-rock hippie who juggles pathos and camp in a dizzying blur. At 43, Capsis has flaunted his manic persona back home on concert and cabaret stages; in films (he made an award-winning turn as a defiant drag queen in 1998’s
Head On); at the open-minded Sydney Olympics; and at the 2003 wedding of Russell Crowe, who hired him to perform. Capsis has come to town to host Absinthe, the down-and-dirty neocircus inside the traveling Spiegeltent. He’ll also give three (or maybe more) solo shows there, his first ever in New York.

The singer will draw you into the bizarre world of a character caught in a maze of fun-house mirrors. Capsis wails black music in a freakishly ecstatic falsetto, and takes Billie Holiday torch songs past the brink of tragedy. Sputtering and twitching, he channels the unruly spirits of Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich. Some of his humor evokes a Fire Island drag show, but Capsis can’t hide his fragile soul; throughout the performance, he strains to keep his one-man circus hopping without falling off the tightrope. This past June, though, at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in South Australia, he made his deepest mark when he dropped the masks and sang Kate Bush’s “The Man with the Child in His Eyes” accompanied by just piano. The wounded bird proved even more compelling than the clown.-James Gavin