Like many a gay man — and a few straight ones — Matthew Martin has always had a Bette Davis line or two ready in his hip pocket. This week he brings her and a posse of other divas to the Rrazz Room, noting that they are “All Singing, All Dancing, All Dead!”
Singing live and working the Tom Shaw Trio’s onstage musicians, Martin picks up the feather boa that long rested on the shoulders of Charles Pierce, San Francisco’s most famous “male actress” — an appellation Pierce preferred over “drag.”
Martin remembers Pierce. “I got into the Plush Room one night with a fake ID and sat in the side bar to listen to him,” he says. “I was really struck by how he handled the audience.” The Bettes finally met about a year before Pierce died, when Martin was performing in Los Angeles.
“I was about to make my entrance as Baby Jane from the back of the theater and the producer whispers to me that Charles Pierce and his good friend Bea Arthur are in the house. ‘Go for it!’ he says. I had this ‘fight or flight’ nanosecond where I could have just run the other way,” Martin laughs.
Pierce was praiseful and Martin is so good at channeling Davis that he starred in Billy Clift’s “Baby Jane?” — a feature-length homage in which Martin recreated the Baby Jane Hudson character with an almost eerie verisimilitude.
A sequel of sorts called “Hush Up, Sweet Charlotte” is in the works.
Calling it a “greatest hits” of characters he’s played for years, Martin recently performed his current show at Joe’s Pub in New York. “The hardest part has been editing the material,” he says. “I’m working on the ‘nip and tuck it’ principle of getting it as perfect as possible and them cutting just two minutes more.”
“I’m calling it my moveable feast,” he says. “I took it to Denver, and I’d never been to Denver before. So it seems like a great way to travel and see other places.” The ease of not having to tour with a cast of thousands might be offset by the baggage fees to transport all the costumes involved with recreating Katharine Hepburn, Peggy Lee, Ann Miller and a host of other fabulous femmes.
“I managed to get it into two suitcases,” he says, “but lugging them around nearly pulled my arms out of their sockets. I was on the subway in New York and realized I was on the wrong platform and had to lug everything to the other side. I remember thinking, ‘Show business is so glamorous!’”
IF YOU GO
Where: Rrazz Room, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday
Contact: (800) 380-3095, www.therrazzroom.com