The unparalleled Dina Martina takes cabaret by storm
Since her jaw-dropping debut at Seattle’s Center for Contemporary Art at the tail end of the 1980s, Miss Martina has continually taken the cabaret world by storm, spreading her unique talents coast to coast and around the world. She owns performance spaces with the grace of a giraffe slipping down a water slide, transporting audiences to a hallucinatory, fanciful world.
Her comic aplomb defies explanation or categorization. To the uninitiated, she appears at first to be devoid of all stage charisma. Then, the tape loops around again until, finally, she triumphs as a paragon of showbiz elegance. Like a cross between Mrs. Miller and Liza Minnelli, she commits to songs with jazzy pizazz and every bit of lung power she can muster, occasionally hitting a note or two.
She may be the anti-American Idol, but Simon would still admire her moxie.
A one-woman compendium of malapropisms, social gaffes, and left-field cultural references, she routinely baffles and bewitches audiences as she perches on the precipice of the whimsical and bizarre. She weaves curious stories, reminiscing about times such as the period she was roommates with Charo or the evening she toe-tapped the night away with Fatty Arbuckle at the local discotheque. She leaves audiences as shocked and non-plussed as if they came upon a fiery car crash, mouths agape yet unable to look away.
She is your eccentric aunt who shows up for the holidays and tells off-color stories before swan-diving into the Christmas tree drunk on Drambuie. She is not merely camp, but camp squared, blared, and shot out of a canon. She is an off-key symphony of fractious foibles and her own brand of fearless fabulosity.
A grace note of pathos accents her traveling circus, too. You may walk out of one of her performances ready to forgive yourself for not always looking fresh-faced and Instagram-ready, or to finally laugh at the memory of spilling dinner on your boss’ lap or falling off your heels in front of a high school crush. In a world of Photoshopped conformity, she invites you to not only embrace your clumsy inner weirdo but to celebrate it, warts and all. There is something brave and quite touching about that. She reminds you that offbeat is sometimes the most beautiful of all.
You either get Miss Martina or you don’t. If you don’t, she is either unbothered or blithely unaware. If you do, you’ll count yourself a lucky lemming, content to leap off the cliff of her off-kilter imagination.
She has been especially well-regarded within the LGBTQ community for quite some time. Since 2005 she has played Provincetown each summer to rapt audiences, although she is quick to point out she booked her first gig there over the phone, not knowing what she was getting herself into.
When she appears in the New York area she routinely plays to SRO crowds, with throngs of fans queuing up to secure tickets and surrender to her cavalcade of delights.
On March 11, she will perform her latest show, Chariots of Failure, at Manhattan’s Sony Hall. After the 7 p.m. performance sold out quickly, a 9:30 evening show was added by popular demand. As of now, a handful of tickets remain.
Miss Martina took time out of her chockablock schedule to talk with me about contending with the quirks of the pandemic, how she handles New Year’s resolutions and her quick fix for those pesky wintertime blues.
Miss Martina, thank you for taking time during your extensive traveling to chat with us! Where in the world are you now?
Dina Martina: I’m in the bedroom, but I think I’ll be in the bathroom before long.
I hear in London you were the toast of the town with your Christmas show. Did you have a traditional British Christmas, and did you get everything you wanted?
DM: Funny you should ask. Four performances into my planned twelve-show run, Omicron hit the U.K., shutting down all of London’s West End theatres and I came back to Seattle. So yes, I was the toast of the town; but I ended up just being toast. So that would be a “no” on the traditional British Christmas, however, I did have a traditional British breakfast, and the beans are still with me.
With those myriad holiday excesses, how do you maintain such a svelte figure? Are there any rich foods that tempt you the most?
DM: I think I have more of a ballpark figure. And yes, rich foods tempt me the most, but I try to always keep a tapeworm on hand.
You’re bringing your show Chariots of Failure to New York in March. For those ingenues who haven’t seen a Dina Martina show, what can they expect if they’re lucky enough to secure a ticket?
DM: They can definitely expect songs ranging from Off-Off-Broadway “hits” to B-sides from one-hit wonders. As far as the dance portion of the show, it’s really a unique blend of low-impact movement and sedentary dance that incorporates various soft sculpture set pieces. I like to refer to it as “elderly parkour”.
Do you have any haunts or hotspots that you favor when you come to town? I’m sure you do a lot of shopping!
DM: Mostly I love to go out eating and drinking on the town. There are so many great places, but two of my favorites are Ruth’s Crisis Steak House and Marie’s Chris Piano Bar.
You’re a proud daughter of Seattle. What differences do you note between east coast versus west coast audiences?
DM: I’m actually a daughter of Las Vegas, and while I wasn’t born there, I was breaded there. We Las Vegans are a proud people, full of “number 1” and vinegar. As far as east coast/west coast differences go, the main one I can’t stop thinking about is that whole Hellmann’s/Best Foods thing. I actually lay awake at night thinking about it.
In Provincetown, you’re a perennial favorite. What lures you back there to perform every summer?
DM: While it is wonderful to be able to perform there every summer, it’s really the fudge that calls me back. A lot of people don’t know this, but Provincetown really is the fudge capital of the tip of Cape Cod.
Do tell me—if I may be so bold—is there currently a Mr. Martina?
DM: Oh, I’m sure there must be one somewhere, but I’ve not yet met him.
What attracts you most in a mate? A chiseled chin? A shapely flank, perhaps?
DM: I don’t know why, but I’ve always been drawn to a protruding elbow, brought on by bursitis.
What lures and wiles do you use to draw the opposite sex?
DM: Lately I’ve been using Calgon’s Peach Body Spritzer, and the men really seem to like the SD Alcohol 40.
Winter is such a bleak and dismal time of year. Do you have any tried-and-true coping mechanisms to elevate your mood?
DM: I actually start every winter off with a quick visit to Provincetown, and then no matter where I go from there, it’s a mood brightener. Provincetown is so gorgeous in the spring, summer, and fall, but in the winter it’s… it’s… it’s hard to describe, but…did you ever see The Shining? It’s like that, minus the black man.
You speak with such parental affection of your adopted daughter, Phoebe. Is she going to make the trip with you to New York this time?
DM: Probably not since I already have two carry-ons.
You present as one who has a rich life of the mind. Do you enjoy or perhaps write any poetry?
DM: Yes, I love poetry, and I wrote a poem today:
Last night I dreamed
I lived near a tartar sauce lake
I was very happy
My New Year’s resolutions are already shattered. Yours?
DM: To avoid disappointment, I have but one New Year’s resolution every year, and it’s always the same: To wake up on New Year’s Day. So far, I’ve met my goal every year.
Finally—alcohol, or traditional medication?
DM: I love a brandy snifter of vodka, Kahlua, and cottage cheese. It’s called a Chunky Russian. But if I can’t have that, I’ll just settle for an old-school sugar tit.
For tickets for Dina Martina’s New York appearance visit Ticketmaster.com or visit her website for more information and additional tour dates.