Raven O Does Sinatra And Then Skips Town (And What To Do This Weekend In New York)

Two rare treats will make Sunday and Monday shine for those in the know. That will include you, if you read on.

This Sunday, March 23rd, that rare treat known as Raven O will perform at the Metropolitan Room (34 West 22nd Street) at 9:30 p.m. His show — Raven O, Sinatra “My Way” — will be his take on classic Old Blue Eyes’ tunes. It will be a last chance for many to see the brilliant former front man of The Box before he shuffles off to Miami Beach. He’s lived here for 35 years and this move will leave us missing him. Tickets are $20 with a two drink minimum . V.I.P. packages are available, too.

This Monday, March 24th my very special friend Eric Schmalenberger along with Barbara Maier Gustern present “Songs That Propelled Us” at Joe’s Pub (425 Lafayette Street) from 9:30 p.m. This show, hosted by Tammy Faye Starlight, includes nearly every bold faced name in downtown performance art. There are so many performers that even if nobody else shows up it will be a great crowd. The players are Justin Vivian Bond, Michael Cavadias, Angela DiCarlo, Earl Dax, Eisa Davis, Mai Fujisawa, Miguel Gutierrez, Nicholas Gorham, Soozie Hwang and the Realastics, Our Lady J, Carol Lipnik, Heather Litteer, Amber Martin, Nancy Magarill, Carlos Ponton, Chris Rael, Lady Rizo, Viva Ruiz, Eric Schmalenberger, Sofia Tosello, Sonda Weigl . Pinky Weitzman with Not Waving But Drowning, Geo Wyeth, and Roseanna Vitro. Plus there will be surprise guests! The rest of the town will be empty. It’s all for a great cause as proceeds will benefit New York Voices, Joe’s Pub’s artist commissioning program, and the Ali Forney Center.

Hawaiian Warrior Raven O on Turning 50

Raven O, best known for his gig as the main MC and choreographer at The Box, is turning 50. I have shoes that are 50 years old so I understand the magnitude of the day and all that it takes to get there. Raven O is marvelous. He is talented and unpredictable and well…delicious. He can turn on a dime from the sweet and innocent imp to the monster we keep bottled up inside. I have caught his act a zillion times on stage or on a street corner or a coffee shop. He is always on. He is the consummate downtown performance artist. You can catch him at The Box, 5 nights a week, Tuesday through Saturday. Some say The Box isn’t what it used to be… what is?…except Raven. I like The Box better now. It’s worn-in and true, like an old leather jacket. It has less to prove and therefore seems more natural, less forced, and not necessarily for the slumming swells that played there way too much for my satisfaction years ago. It’s fun now, especially late at night when it gets real sexy. The Box has always been sexy and I lay a lot of that at Raven’s door. I caught up with the maestro and talked up about the past, present, and future, which includes a celebration at the Lounge at Elmo, 156 7th Avenue between 19th and 20th Street this coming Sunday, June 10th. I think you got to know him but he makes everyone feel like that, doesn’t he?

Turning 50 is a good time to reflect back and to look forward with purpose…it’s like standing on some big hill. Tell me what you see looking back and forward, spiritually, not a list of your accomplishments and goals.
My parents raised me to be fearless, never a follower, and always reminded me to be myself and be honest, above all things. I think that being fearless…being the "Hawaiian Warrior" in me…got me through incredibly tough times in my past which included homelessness, drug addiction, and constant rejection from the mainstream-show-business types. I also feel fearless on stage which has helped my career. Looking forward, I believe that all religion is bullshit and I don’t think about "spirituality." I’m a naturalist. I listen with my heart and try to let my instincts guide me. I’ve learned that if I think too much, I fuck shit up – so I fucked up a lot in my past. I’m much more confident these days in my choices and hope to get through the next 50 years without getting jaded or pessimistic about life.

That last question covers a lot of ground.. let’s talk about how you got here. You’ve certainly followed a road less traveled to the beat of a different drummer. Give us a CliffsNotes version of your career.
I started performing as a child in Hawaii. One of my first paying gigs at 18 was as a male stripper in a women’s only club in Waikiki. I was practically raped every night on stage…crazy bitches! I loved it. Got to New York by winning a dance contest. Limelight was my first job as a go-go dancer…that was awesome! I was a Cat Club dancer. Don Hill gave me that job. RIP Don, great man. Did everything from dancing in contemporary dance companies to singing in hardcore bands to performing in drag shows and acting in feature films. Was homeless sleeping on the streets, a hustler, a drug addict. Did “Bard’O” for 10 years (a cabaret show). Went to Vegas with Cirque du Soleil show Zumanity, and I’m now at The Box NYC and in London.

I caught you at The Box a couple weeks ago. It wasn’t the same but it had a different energy – still a sexy energy. How do you balance the art of what you and yours do there with the plain old shock and awe?
The Box is six years old but I try to always approach it like its opening night. It’s always about "sexy,” not shock. I’m turning 50 but I’m still very much a sexual animal. I would honestly say that I look at everything I do as a performer first on a sexual level and then the rest follows. I have no education in theater and I know very little about literature and art but I feel that’s a plus for me because I have to just go with my talent, instincts, and years of experience. 

When I caught your one-man show about a year ago, I and of course everyone around me were taken by your humble-pie manners and old-world gentlemanly approach to the sleaziest of subjects. Under it all you seethe and boil and are charged with a hard energy to control. This has affected you throughout. Without the bad-boy imp inside and its demands on you, could you be happy and how do you control that monster these days?
Hahaha Steven, you know me so well. I don’t know if I could be happy without that boiling energy. I think it’s that "warrior" part of me. I control it by accepting it as part of my nature and I just try to not hurt people and myself. Being in love has been the greatest blessing. I’m still a hard ass and can go off, but my fuse has gotten much longer as I’ve grow older. Also, it takes much longer for my body to heal from "incidents," like when I started a bar room brawl in Tokyo.

What are you planning and scheming now, and what challenges you?
Honestly Steven, I have no fucking idea! Haha. Fifty years old and I don’t know what’s coming next. That’s what keeps me going…the unknown…that’s the challenge. I do love living on the edge I guess.

Industry Insiders: Raven O., Box Office Hit

Raven O, former host at outré burlesque haunt, The Box, moved from his hometown in Hawaii to New York after winning airfare at a dance competition. He calls his childhood in the tropics that of a “country boy.” Raven’s life in New York has had its ups and downs, but recently, things have started coming together for the eccentric performer. He’s in the recording process for his first solo album and his one-man show at the Bleecker Street Theater, “One Night With You” was such met with rave reviews. More on the superstar’s crazy past after the jump.

On starting in entertainment: I started out as an actor. When I first saw dance, I thought it was gross. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. But in my teens, I was in a school library looking for something to read. I’m part Russian and I was in this section about Russia and I grabbed a book about Rudolph Nureyev, the ballet dancer. I didn’t know what that meant, but I opened the book and there was a picture of him jumping through the air, and it was the most striking thing I’d ever seen. I borrowed the book and got caught up in his story. After I read the book I told my parents I wanted to be a ballet dancer.

On getting to New York: I really wanted to go and my friend, Pat Briggs, wanted to come with me. I won this dance competition and the prize was a ticket to New York. I got us tickets to New York, and I never came back. I was supposed to stay with a friend, but the night that I got there I found out I couldn’t stay with them anymore. I stayed with him one night and then I was homeless. I slept on floors. I’d just have to find a place to sleep. I’d sleep in cars, too. People would let me stay with them. But I did that for about a year, and it got really bad. I’d stay with people who would run out of money or who were drug addicts and they would use their money on drugs and couldn’t pay rent.

On finding an alternative: Pat was staying with a friend, but he worked at this gay bar and he would go home with guys. And he would tell me when he was taking a guy home and he’d say, “Okay, when they fall asleep, I’ll let you in and you can crash on the couch. But you have to leave before they all wake up.” I was only 18.

On his first job in the big city: I was a waiter in the gay bar that my friend Patrick worked at. I was the only person of color. The owner of the bar was very racist. But the manager, he was the coolest guy ever, gave me the job. A couple weeks into the job, the owner came in and saw me working. He went over to the manager and told him to fire me. I was a good waiter, so the manager was confused. He was like, “It was the request of the owner.” And I was like, “Who’s the owner?” and he showed me the owner and I went up to him, tapped him on the shoulder, and I pushed him up against the wall and I was like, “You got a fucking problem with me?” and he was like, “You can stay. I like this kid.” So from then on, he was like, “This kid stays.”

On returning to The Box: It was a great time, but as a performer I want to do different things. I would do special events for them, but that’s about it.

On his past vices: I used to be really into drugs. I did cocaine; I was a crack addict. There was a three-year period that was all crack/cocaine usage. I’ve done everything. Every kind of drug. With alcohol, it makes me sick. I’ve never liked smoking. Now I just live a healthy life.

On eventually opening his own place: I’d be involved at a creative level, but having my own place just doesn’t appeal to me. It’s a lot of work. I get my greatest joy from being on stage. Family, friends make me happy, but the only other thing I care about is performing. Making people laugh, cry. It’s my way of keeping safe. I keep everything in, but when I perform I let it all out.

Go-to places: My favorite restaurant is Elmo on Seventh Avenue, La Mela in Little Italy, Indochine. The “F-Word Party” at Rebel on Friday nights is really fun. Barracuda has a really funny drag show.