Raven O, Up Close and Personal

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The face frozen between devilish imp and blushing innocent belies the years. Raven O has been banging around this grand old town for decades. A three year stint with the Cirque de Soleil gave him a sort of marketable legitimacy that landed him at The Box, where he was the face that launched a thousand ships. Now, he’s thinking outside the box with an every-Tuesday performance at the Bleecker Street Theater. It’s jokes, songs, and deeply personal stories that take you inside his heart and soul. We learn of his ex-boxer dad who got more than he expected from his son but less than what he wanted. We hear how his mom nurtured his creativity and his love of music; the stories of his transition from Hawaii to NYC; and all the highs and lows and those other types of highs that dominated his journey. It’s the glamour of the night, the survival on the street, and the determination to thrive and always perform.

It was the naked truth and it had the audience laughing and often close to tears. We became moths attracted to a light in his eye that we had to be near. Raven’s charisma, wit, and considerable charms are always charged with a sexual energy that flips from seedy to sweet. There is always the implication that he is best when naked. His stunning form in tight attire creates a “Puck the Streetwalker” image. He is masculine, macho, sure of himself, and then in a breath fragile and feminine and in need. Sometimes his face, so polished at being a mask, reveals the pain and hard road to this stage. He is as youthful in his near-50s as any of us were as tykes. He is flirtatious when speaking of a relationship that has grounded his life and left him at an unexpected place—happiness. I loved the show and can’t recommend it more. I caught up with Mr. Oh and asked him a few questions.

I had a great time last night. Thanks for coming to the show. It was great seeing you there. It’s always cool for me when someone is in the audience from my past who is part of the story. Even though I don’t mention names, I don’t have to tell you how important Limelight was for me. I have nothing but good memories of that time.

It was always a purpose of mine to support the creatives who were on their way to someplace grand. Michael Alig and myself felt it was our duty to pay their rent and stuff, so that they could survive. So many didn’t make it. It is always a near paternal moment to see the fruits of this design. You were great fun last night. It was beautiful and sad as well. You have matured in so many ways. Thanks Steve. It’s funny, but because of all the things I went through, I feel the same way about supporting artists. I remember all the support and kindness people like yourself gave back then. Now that kind of support is lacking. I’ve always tried to help up-and-coming artists anyway I can, with advice and work. It’s important to be a positive force in the world. I learned from the best. I’m so happy we are still around doing our thing.

What I saw tonight was an evening typical of a Sinatra, Mel Torme, or Peggy Lee. The music, the stories with jokes, was more like an Atlantic City or Vegas classic dinner theater type act. Where will you take this show and to what audience? I want to tour the show and do small to medium-size theaters and concert halls, and then see what happens from there. As for my audience, I think the show has a wide appeal. It’s very funny, but I have always had a huge female following. That desperate housewife demo seems to love me.

Part of your schtick has always been your boyish charm, which I assume has always gotten you in and out of trouble. It is evident in this performance that you seem to be embracing a more mature self. Is it about time? A result of purging many demons, finding love, and actually maturing across the board? Ha! Yup, I have used that charm a lot and it’s saved my ass many times, and it helps me get away with some of the shit I say in my shows. As far as being mature, I’m sure my manager would disagree. I still can act like a total asshole punk

The audience loved the show. What I saw was a post-club crowd that typically went out and banged to house music. Is the song selection of show tunes and torch songs appealing to their closeted love of music that isn’t on the radar at the clubs you’ve been associated with? Well, I have no idea why an audience likes what they like, but I will say that good music always come across. These are well-written songs by amazing songwriters and I love singing them. I’ve always been a song stylist and people can’t help but love these songs. I sound like a Time Life commercial.

The Box made you even more of a legendary performer. This road you are on now takes you away from that edge. You embrace your edges in the show but in a classier manner. Is this more you, and where does edge for edge’s sake become a bore? It’s funny, Steve, people actually think when they see me do the show at The Box or any of the late night gigs I do, that I am that crazy, edgy son of the devil person up there. I guess I’m a good actor because the truth is, that’s a character I created to activate the house and get people into the show. I don’t think I will ever lose my edge, but what I’m doing at my show at Bleecker Street is me 100%. For me the “edge” is boring when it’s coming from someone who is faking it and when it’s thrown in peoples faces.

Is a maturing “pride” community ready to embrace classic love songs, slow dancing and all the trappings of the supper club and cabaret? Old school 8th Avenue gay theater bars and places like the Duplex have gone this route, but are not part of the chic gay club community. Are you bridging that gap? This question is tricky for me because I’ve never had a strong “gay” following. I have been getting more attention from the gay media now, but overall I’ve always played in straight venues more than totally gay ones, all over the world. The gay community started to warm up to me after I was in The Cirque Du Soleil show Zumanity. I’ve tried to always keep myself open to people in general. I hate being put in a category as an artist, it’s the kiss of death. All my stalkers are women and straight couples. As far as all these gay venues, I have no idea what’s the deal with them because I don’t go to them. I hope they are doing well. It’s important that venues likes these, and all clubs and cabarets, stay open. It’s part of the landscape of New York and nightlife.