The Bearded Ladies are once again at the helm of the Fringe Festival’s late night cabaret, this year in a former auto body shop that upstaged the shows this past mid-week with a dramatic L&I shutdown. But by Saturday the Percy Street South Philly space was not just fixed and reopened but also part of the show (when host and Bearded Ladies leader John Jarboe introduces the on-duty fire marshals as if they were performers, and leads the audience in a call and response identification of the exits.) Although the Bearded Ladies are in charge, the featured artists change nightly.
Sept. 14’s early evening opening act, Sapphira Cristal, showed off her opera training and lip sync expertise (the latter to warp-speed Ella Fitzgerald and a sultry Della Reese) but she’s mainly a dancer and hugely fun to watch. The headliner was an actual bearded lady: Nationally renowned mezzo Stephanie Blythe as egotistical tenor Blythely Oratonio, recounting his life story and current challenges via a number of pop song/opera aria mash-ups. Blythely’s Rick Springfield fetish—and other parts of this show—will be familiar to people who attended Blythe’s 2017 and 2018 Opera Philadelphia collaborations with local drag queen Martha Graham Cracker (Dito van Reigersberg). But with a talent as big as Blythe’s and arrangements this smart, who wouldn’t want a repeat? Indeed, just when the crowd thought the show was over (with a rousing sing-along of We Are the Champions”), in walks Martha in Wagnerian horned-helmet getup and she and Blythely launch into a rousing pop love song medley.
Saturday is one of four Fringe Late Night Snacks featuring opera artists in town for Opera Philadelphia’s concurrent Festival O19, which is designed to build new audiences for the art form. But it’s hard to imagine a show that would do that better than this one.