Amelia Zirin-Brown — professionally she’s Rizo — will celebrate a homecoming of sorts in “Rizo: In the Flesh” May 27 and 28 at the Alice Silverman Theatre of the Newport Performing Arts Center (PAC).
In a show presented by Pacific Dance Ensemble, the chanteuse and raconteur will perform with a full band from Portland, with many of her own songs belted out in her signature caburlesque style.
“I’m choosing songs that are my favorites to sing,” she said of the music for her latest cabaret-style performance. “I’m celebrating a welcome home.“
That look at home not only means Newport, where she was raised, but is, she said, referring to the days of the pandemic, “a welcome back to a place where we can be less afraid.”
She returns to Newport after performing at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater in New York City, which has been a home to her for more than a decade. “I love that both of these places live inside me as much as I’ve lived in them,” she said. “I cannot wait to bring a sparkling, joyous party of a show to all the folks that attend.”
Billed as the high priestess of cabaret, Zirin-Brown is an international cult favorite. She has evolved as an artist over the past 17 years of performances, and the show takes a look at her spiritual home.
“I don’t have a temple or a church, but I have the stage, the nightclub, a concert — a way of connecting everyone in the audience’s light source,” she said. “We all have been through a collective trauma with COVID. I don’t think anything replaces the experience of coming together in a room. It’s a basic human need to connect in person.”
She will also be reflecting on what home means when it becomes a haven, as well as when it becomes a prison.
During the pandemic, she said she found she needed to get out of her home more often but thought she had lost some of the skills to do so.
“And yet when I push myself to get over that hump, I’m always so grateful,” she said. “Screens do not cut it for me. To actually feel enlivened, I have to change my clothes and get out and into a group.
“Part of our evolutionary survival is to gather in groups,” she added. “That’s how we’ve survived and thrived. And yet, for good reasons, gathering in a group was made all but illegal, while isolating at home was virtuous. We’re still a little rusty in our social ways to get back together.”
During the pandemic, she left her Brooklyn apartment, returned to Oregon and bought a house in Portland. She also attended film festivals in Europe with the dark comedy “Potato Dreams of America,” where she has a cameo role as the Virgin Mary and sings two songs.
Back to the concept of home, Zirin-Brown said she thinks of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey — leaving home to face adventure, confront challenges, receive help from a supernatural being, gain knowledge, and return home — although she notes most hero stories are about men.
“How does where you call home signify your place in the world?” she asked. “Having my things in storage for two years made me feel like a Gypsy, and there’s freedom in that and in seeing the world as my home. It’s almost as if that gave my life a foundation of importance, rather than a settling in. How do we separate the fables of society from the truth of reality?”
Saying it’s important for her to be in Oregon now, she seeks to portray in her show the idea of what it is to return home. “I lived here 20 years ago, and the ghosts of that time pop up, and I have to remind myself I’m not 20 anymore,” she said.
Making a change to a new home is not without challenges. For years, Zirin-Brown regarded New York City as home, and New York Magazine called her the “quintessential New Yorker.” She used that image as a way to promote her performances internationally, and was successful in creating her own show and securing a residency at Joe’s Pub — “my favorite home stage in the world” — over a decade ago.
But she found that despite the vibrancy of the people and what they create, New York was hard on the nervous system, and she missed trees and easy access to nature.
Dressing up in glitzy pantsuits and dresses and surrounding herself, literally, in glitter — almost a ritual of show business — “that’s what I can offer,” she said of her performance, a communally mending in chic metropolitan style.
A graduate of Newport High School, she is the daughter of longtime Newport residents and actors Ernie Brown and Deborah Zirin. She studied for years with Nancy Mittleman at Newport School of Artistic Movement and performed with Pacific Dance Ensemble while in high school. And she’ll perform at the Oregon Country Fair in Veneta in July.
“We’re really excited to be performing at the Performing Arts Center again after more than two years, and hope the community will join us in bringing live theater back to Newport,” Mittleman said.
So come gather in a group once again at the May 27 and 28 performances of “Rizo: In the Flesh.” Tickets are available at the PAC box office and online at coastarts.org.