Provincetown is a destination that draws people from all around the world for a variety of reasons…the natural beauty that is the national seashore and the tip of Cape Cod; the LGBT community and the acceptance of everyone here; the history of this Portuguese fishing village, and of course, the electric and inspiring art in a variety of forms.
Everyone who comes here has a “To Do List.” Many of those items include: a whale watch, The Pilgrim Monument, a meal at The Lobster Pot; some taffy and ice cream, a gallery stroll and the array of beautiful beaches on a dunes tour. Visitors also want to enjoy some renowned entertainment while they are here, and with a town known for amazing drag shows and celebrity performances there is no shortage of choices. But one show that has become a tradition over the years, much like walking barefoot on the beach or having a slice of pizza at midnight outside Spiritus Pizza, is Lip-Schtick: One Boy’s Journey to Fabulous and Back, created and performed by David “Scarbie” Mitchell.
The show was conceived and written by Mitchell for the Logo network documentary Ptown Diaries, in which he is featured. Originally staged as a variety show, David transformed Lip-Schtick into a hysterical and inspiring one-person autobiographical mini-musical and debuted the production at Sarasota Florida Metropolitan Community Church in the fall of 2006.
Since then Lip-Schtick has been performed over 300 times at many churches in the MCC network, the prestigious Venice Theatre, The Crown & Anchor Cabaret, Florida Studio Theatre, and now as a summer-long offering in Provincetown at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House Theatre, where David has presented over 50 performances each summer for the last seven years.
You’ll find Scarbie throughout the summer riding her bike up and down commercial street with expressive and extravagant hats (her trademark touch) barking for her own show which is performed at the aforementioned UU. This marks Scarbie’s 10th season doing the show and I was fortunate to catch a performance one evening not long ago.
If you’ve never seen Lip-Schtick, then, you should definitely make it part of that Provincetown “To Do List!” And if you’ve already been fortunate enough to experience this show, it’s well worth a re-visit to remind you about what it’s like to “find yourself” and live honestly and with a sense of humor. You see, unlike most other performances that involve drag, while Scarbie does put on women’s clothes…that’s the only thing “put on.” The truth about this fabulous performer and this high voltage show downstairs at the UU is that it’s honest and straight from the heart. There is no pretension here…no distractions. Sure there are impersonations and lip-syncing and jokes galore but every nuance and every story is rooted in something deeper than a high heel or a wig or an accent.
The show itself presents us with two characters: Scarbie and David. We first meet Scarbie making a distress call to a mental health hotline after she finds out her boyfriend is gay and of course, as all fabulous drag queens do, she breaks into song about it! As the opening sequence plays out, Scarbie asks the audience to “gimme a woo!” and we do! That call and response becomes a recurring mantra for the show and a personal connection between performer and audience.
Displaying yet another talent, Scarbie plays the flute followed by a sort of strip tease number to “I Am What I Am” where she reveals David. It is this stripping away of the layers that is so poignant. Not just to reveal the boy underneath but the boy inside. That little boy or girl that exists within all of us. David, who will now share the storytelling with alter ego Scarbie, reveals the fears and shame of being different as a young man and trying to fight through that as he sings “Sweet Transvestite” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Some of the musical numbers are lip-synched and some are sung live. Both forms of entertainment are quite wonderful; just as the use of two personas to tell this story is a unique touch and I got the feeling that at least some of David’s story is autobiographical. Not to be over-heavy or maudlin, David suddenly dresses and becomes “Ernestine the Telephone Operator” who us old timers remember as one of Lily Tomlin’s signature characters. It is during this section of the show that it appears to me there is a freedom with the audience and some political banter that I can only assume changes night to night. Ernestine evolves into Edith Ann (another Tomlin character) and then we are suddenly back to the world of David as he shares that his parents encouraged him to “dress up” and be creative and use his imagination. A lesson that so many of us could remind ourselves of when we get lost in the day to day struggles and shackles of life.
Next up is the amazing Julia Sugarbaker “Beauty Queen Monologue” from Designing Women, and in powerful form, David sings “Don’t Rain on my Parade.” No question that he’s singing live on this one, as he belts it out of the park! Then Scarbie/David return to another freer and more ad-libbed section asking the audience questions and interviewing various folks with the hope of falling in love with one lucky man. The performance I attended there was an older gentleman, (who may have hit the bottle a bit before the show) and he was shouting out loud almost unintelligibly. The retorts from David/Scarbie were so hysterical without missing a beat – the audience was screaming with laughter. It is that type of “quick on your feet” ad-libbing that is a true sign of a seasoned talent at work. Scarbie then brings one lucky audience member up on stage for a flash card presentation which highlights how similar we all are despite our differences.
In the last part of the show, David morphs into a perfect Carol Burnett wowing the crowd with this dead-on impression. He then shifts back to David once again to tell us a story of a friend who died of AIDS and then gives us some “laughter through tears” as he takes on Burnett’s Eunice character ultimately bringing us to the home stretch with “I Will Survive.” The show closes with a powerful rendition of Linda Eder’s, “Gold.”
It may seem cliché to say that a show “has it all” but this show certainly seems to deliver a bit of everything. There’s song and dance, great costumes, brilliant impersonations, heart wrenching stories that will bring a tear to your eyes, lightening sharp ad-libs that will make you gut laugh, and as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, an honesty and truth that mesmerizes and gives this show something special. And the shifts between characters and stories by David/Scarbie are handled with a chameleon-like grace. The show is never the same twice or from year to year as Scarbie is always throwing in new numbers, keeping up to date with politics and letting the audience participation guide the dialogue for some of the show, which always makes for unique theatre.
Tip your hat (or maybe Scarbie will let you tip hers) to a fantastic performer and wonderful show that ultimately reminds us that we can never give up on our dreams and that we just have to believe in ourselves and we just might find the gold!
Here’s hoping Provincetown gets to enjoy David Scarbie Mitchell for another ten years! For more information on the show and to find out how to get tickets visit Scarbie.