For seven years, the Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret has melted faces and shattered skulls with its deep well of badass covers and riotous between-song improv. The show is “monster drag” at its finest. At the helm, of course, is Dito van Reigersberg, one of the city’s finest thespians and a co-founder of Philly’s venerable Pig Iron Theatre Company. As Martha Graham Cracker, he’s never met a stage he didn’t own or a sequin gown he didn’t wear the shit out of—no easy feat for a hairy, 6-foot-something man.
MGCC celebrates their seven-year anniversary with what will no doubt be an unforgettable show at Johnny Brenda’s this Saturday. We sat down with the group’s keyboard player, Victor Fiorillo, for a quick chat.
You are all celebrating your seventh year. When MGCC began, did you think it would go on as long as it has? Did you have any expectations in that regard?
I don’t think any of us ever gave it any thought one way or another, really. But part of the reason it has gone on for so long is that it didn’t have to. None of us were hanging our hats on making a career in music via this band. It’s an incredible amount of fun with very few expectations. But it certainly doesn’t surprise me that it has gone on for as long as it has. There is no night out in Philadelphia quite like this one.
MGCC has no website, no recorded music, and so every crowd member that’s come to see you play is there because of word of mouth about the live experience exclusively. Do you feel more pressure to make every performance as memorable and entertaining as possible because of that?
My impression is that Dito gets up and does what he does without a huge amount of preparation. In my mind, he is improv at its finest. Then again, he could, after seven years, tell me that he actually scripts every single show and has plants in the audience. And that would just ruin it all for me. Or make it even more amazing. I am not sure which.
I do feel a ton of pressure with the shows, and I am sure that some of the band would say that I am a bit of a control freak as a result. But that’s OK. We have our balance. And we all genuinely like each other and have a helluva time doing what we do. Otherwise, what would be the point?
What are some of the covers you all are playing right now?
It really varies from every show. We have a pretty vast arsenal of covers and are always trying to come up with new ones. And though Martha tends to stay out of the fights, the rest of the band can have its share of them about song choices. My favorite covers are the ones that you would never expect a “drag queen” to do—and that Dito kills. For instance, we absolutely rock the shit out of “I’ll Wait” by Van Halen, and when we do, the crowd goes nuts. But it doesn’t really matter what song we play, to some extent. If Dito is “on,” he can make anything work.
What does Dito get out of performing with MGCC that he doesn’t with performing at the Pig Iron? Does it offer him some release the theater company doesn’t?
Who doesn’t want to put on a dress and platform shoes, sing Prince and David Lee Roth, not bother shaving and have people go wild? ■
Sat., Aug. 25, 9pm. $7. With Bang! + Bearded Ladies. Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 N. Frankford Ave. johnnybrendas.com
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PW's Music Issue 2014