FACES OF CAPE COD: Lea DeLaria – Singer, Comic, Unapologetic Badass

Photo Credit Tina Turnbow

Actress Lea DeLaria is living her dream. She talks about her current and upcoming projects with genuine excitement, passion, and with an ecstatic, yet humble gratitude for the good fortune for which all of her hard work has been culminating. You can actually hear it in her voice.

Most of us came to know DeLaria through her character, Carrie “Big Boo” Black, in the Netflix blockbuster series, “Orange is the New Black,” but her history as an entertainer goes back much farther. In addition to acting, DeLaria is a renowned comedian, accomplished jazz vocalist, musician, and voiceover artist.

She has a multitude of television, film and Broadway credits to her name, and she also holds the distinction of being the first openly gay comic on television in America, appearing in 1993 on The Arsenio Hall Show. And while famous for her loud, crass, often curse-laden, bigger-than-life roles, she’s much more than the characters she portrays.

Born and raised in Belleville, Illinois, DeLaria credits the support of her parents for influencing her career. “The always supported me,” she said. “They were a little nervous, of course, but they always encouraged me to go get it.” She also said an enormous influence in her life was legendary actor Andy Griffith, with whom she had a recurring role in “Matlock” – her very first TV gig.

“He was definitely my TV mentor,” she said of Griffith. “Acting on television is a lot different than acting in a movie. In a movie or in comedy, you’re usually allowed to be loud, but TV is different. Andy knew how to be still and how to be quiet. It was his way, and he taught me how to be like that for TV. He really helped me. He was just a lovely man.”

This past summer, DeLaria and her business partner, Frank Christopher, bought and remodeled the former Pied Bar, located at 193A Commercial St. in Provincetown, renaming it, simply, “The Club.” The existing establishment, she said, was in need of some serious TLC and had been for a long time. So she and Christopher donned their tool belts and each dedicated their own shares of sweat equity to get the look and feel of the venue just right.

“Provincetown is the closest thing to a second home that I have,” she said. “I’ve been coming here since 1984. It’s an amazing place, full of fun-loving people.” Her vision for The Club was to create a place that hasn’t existed until now – a jazz nightclub.

“I wanted to have a place that was classy,” she said, “Kind of classy, but not snobby. Here, you can get classy drinks, classy food and classy music. Sure, you can still come in casual dress and enjoy the great ocean view, but I wanted to provide something that you couldn’t already find here. It will give people on the Cape a great place to go when the summer season is over. In addition to that, we’ve created jobs – a place for people on the Cape to work.”

DeLaria has no plans of being an absentee owner, either. She will be on hand at The Club throughout Women’s Week (Oct. 11-20) in Provincetown, as well as at other events throughout the year, such as Holly Folly and other holiday shows.

The Club will celebrate Women’s Week with special shows and performers, like Maggie Cassella, Qya Crystal, Emily Tarver and Vicci Martinez and, of course, DeLaria herself will be performing. In fact, DeLaria and Maggie Cassella will host a Women’s Week party on Oct. 16 at The Club from 3 to 6 p.m., with no cover charge.

As if she isn’t busy enough with running a new club and making other appearances, DeLaria is also filming a new femme fatale thriller, called “Reprisal,” that will air on HULU Dec. 6. In this new series, she plays Queenie, a high-ranking gang member who runs a burlesque club.

“People should totally give it a shot,” she said of the new show. “It’s a little sci-fi, very dark noir, and it’s different from anything else out there, just like ‘Orange is the New Black’ was. That’s what drew me to it.”

In addition to her other accomplishments, DeLaria was the featured vocalist at the 50th Anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival, and has performed in some of the most prestigious houses in the world, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Chicago Symphony, Hollywood Bowl, The Royal Albert Hall and the Sydney Opera House.

She has five records on the Warner Jazz and Classics label, and her book, Lea’s Book of Rules for the World, is in its third printing at Bantam Doubleday and Dell. Her sixth record, “House of David: delaria + bowie = jazz,” (Ghostlight Records) examines the works of musical icon David Bowie, and was released in the summer of 2015 to critical acclaim.

At the end of the day, however, and on the rare occasion that she finds a little her-time, DeLaria likes to read and go to movies. “Just like anyone else,” she said. “And like anyone else, I also like to ‘Netflix and chill’ now and then.”

As her star continues to skyrocket, DeLaria remains fully aware of her good fortune. The best part of all of this, she said, laughing, “is being able to pay my rent!” She also mentions – but discloses no further breadcrumbs of information – that we should look for her on Broadway again “very soon.”

Of her multifaceted and amazing career, “I love all of it,” she said. “I’ve never wanted to do anything else. I’ve always wanted to do all of it.”

About Ann Luongo

Ann Luongo has been writing for Cape Cod and South Shore publications for over 15 years.

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