“I had my share, I drank my fill/And even though I’m satisfied/I’m hungry still to see what’s down another road/beyond the hill and do it all again/ So here’s to life and all the joy it brings/ Yes, here’s to life and dreamers and their dreams.”
These lyrics, taken from the Artie Butler and Phyllis Molinary’s classic song, “Here’s to Life”, have become an anthem of inspiration for cabaret singer Ira Lee Collings.
Collings, who has a long history in show-business, returns to the popular hotspot, Don’t Tell Mama, on June 15th and 20th. With music director John M. Cook, he’ll be singing classic Broadway tunes and other well known American Standards in his auto-biographical solo show entitled, Simply, Ira Lee (a Gay Geezer Celebration Through the Looking Glass…Warts and All). At 80 years old, he is a treasure trove of tales and will share those stories of growing up gay in his native state of Indiana, facing performance discrimination for “being too gay” , and other highlights from his 60 years of living in New York City.
In a recent phone conversation, he briefly discussed his career trajectory. “I was the youngest of eight kids, all of whom were performers,” he said. “I had an act with my sister called the Lois and Lee show. She played guitar and I sang. Then she met a guy and got married, so that was the end of that!”, he added.
Collings continued to perform in the Chicago area and at regional theaters throughout the country before moving to New York. Eventually, he moved into the corporate world, accepting a job at Forbes magazine. The jovial midwesterner stayed there until his retirement at age 65. After a 25 year hiatus, he returned to the stage in 2015, selling out two nights of performances at Don’t Tell Mama’s. He’s also placed in the top 10 at the establishment’s “Mama’s Next Big Act Competition” and he sings at Mark Janas’ The Salon, an open mic held weekly in Hell’s Kitchen.
At 80, the spirited and congenial performer is over-joyed to be presenting his new show in honor of both his birthday and for gay pride month. “I do it now for the fun of it”, he said. “I love being part of the cabaret community,” he continued. “Everyone is so supportive of one another and it’s exciting.” He also cherishes the support from his 30 year partner, Owen. Collings promises to share the story of how they met at his show. “It’s a great blessing to have someone there with you”, he said.
The rest of us are blessed to have this enthusiastic elder in our midst.
Simply, Ira Lee (a Gay Geezer Celebration Through the Looking Glass…warts and all) performs on Wed. June 15th and Monday June 20th at 7 PM Don’t Tell Mama, 343 West 46th Street, NYC, on June 15th and 20th at 7 PM. $20 cover/2 drink minimum. MAC members/$15 cover Reservations recommended: (212) 757-0788 or http://www.donttellmamanyc.com