They say that lightning never hits the same place twice, but this is hardly true, neither in nature nor at Feinstein’s/54 Below, the cabaret venue in the basement of what was once Studio 54, where Real Housewives of New York’s Luann de Lesseps brought back her show #CountessAndFriends for another sold-out run. Naturally, as die-hard RHoNY fans with an embarrassing amount of experience following in the cast’s footsteps, Jezebel Senior Writer Ellie Shechet and Managing Editor Madeleine Davies had to be there.
In a poetic twist, Tuesday night’s show began at the tail end of a freakish storm—and much like the heavily Instagrammed rainbow that followed, Luann, dressed to the teeth in a colorful array of body-skimming dresses and jumpsuits, was a sight to be seen.
On Wednesday, they reflected on their experience.
Madeleine: Hello, dearest Ellie. How are you feeling the afternoon after our worlds were rocked by #CountessAndFriends (please note that the hashtag is officially a part of the title), Luann de Lesseps’ cabaret show?
Ellie: Here’s how I am feeling: 1) Tired. 2) Overwhelmed? Thrilled? I also feel embarrassed that I had to text you to ask where the door was (there was a big red door) and you responded “The...door.” I felt like we were attending a children’s recital for our daughter Luann, who was so loved by the audience that everyone was consciously overlooking her desperate lack of talent. As you know, this was not the first time I’d seen Luann up close; I met her at a “white party” a few years ago where she ruffled my hair, a moment I have never forgotten. I remember wondering if this would feel as exciting to me, or if I am now just a cynical old-timer—but fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, my feelings of awe towards The Countess have not faded.
How are you feeling?
Madeleine: Invigorated and inspired after learning that all it takes to perform at an iconic New York cabaret venue is the shamelessness and hunger for attention of a reality TV star! I personally found the show delightful: Luann looks amazing (confirming my long-held theory that she is the most beautiful of all the Housewives), and I loved her slinky costumes, one of which was literally see-through. I also felt like the show was quite brilliantly directed—Luann maybe sang 5 songs (all fit for her register, with guests appearing seemingly out of nowhere to sing the more difficult high notes) and would disappear for a costume change, while another performer (most of them actual Broadway stars) would appear as the titular “friends” and do all the heavy vocal lifting.
To be honest, that part left me mildly depressed because they were all so talented (much more so than the headliner) and no one in the audience was interested in watching them. By the way, did you happen to hear our very charming waiter sing the opening bars of Les Mis’ “One Day More”? It was beautiful! Get him up on that stage!!!
Ellie: I did hear him, and it would have been really nice to have him up onstage instead of the Jersey Boys actor who did a ukulele rendition of “I’m Yours.” (Although the vibe of the night was so nice that I did sing along.)
I want to set the scene a little bit: it was a very luxurious-seeming basement-level room with a crowd that was similar to the crowd at Housewives hotspot Beautique, though less sexually frightening. There were many people who I would describe as “blonde dames” in the room. Two breathless women who had taken the train there from Boston to see the show asked Luann during the Q&A session, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you hate Carole?” (She tactfully flipped the question around, to which they screamed, “TEN! TEN! SHE’S SO MEAN TO YOU! TEN.”) I agree that Luann’s costumes were incredible, particularly the see-through one—I was shocked and inspired to see her entire butt.
Fellow Housewife Sonja Morgan preened at a table in the middle of the room, adjusting her hair and pursing her lips, resplendent in a dress made out of what looked like chainmail. It was interesting to watch her being watched—unlike your average celebrity, Bravo-lebrities make a living by completely relinquishing their privacy, and Sonja, as an audience member (and briefly, backup dancer), was putting on nearly as much of a performance as Luann.
One inevitable theme of the show was the fact that Luann was recently arrested and charged with two misdemeanors and a felony for allegedly resisting an officer with violence, trespassing, and disorderly intoxication (she plead not guilty). How do you think that played?
Madeleine: I don’t think they could pull off the show if she didn’t make fun of herself a little because Real Housewives references are what the audience is there for (not, I’d guess, for her rendition of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends,” though maybe I am wrong). Any mention or allusion to RHoNY or, more specifically, her ex Tom D’Agostino elicited primal screams from the audience that would have chilled me to my bones if I hadn’t been whooping along with them. I was definitely surprised by how specific she got, even mentioning that humiliating footage of her post-arrest in the back of a West Palm Beach cop car.
I do wonder, though: How much of a sense of humor does Luann really have? My impression has always been that she takes herself very seriously (unlike Sonja, who knows her kookiness is a part of her brand), so either I’m wrong about her OR the director explained to her that she needed to be self-deprecating if she wanted the show to be a success. I actually found her off-the-cuff Q&A answers very funny, especially the way she asked those women, “Well, how much do YOU hate Carole?” Or when asked if she still goes to the Regency, her response of “Are you fucking kidding me?” What’s your take, Ellie?
Ellie: I don’t think Luann really has a sense of humor, but that’s kind of what makes her inherently funny, right? She sits in this pretty silly position in society, but takes herself very seriously. And she was definitely taking this show seriously, which is, I think, why it was so enjoyable—she really seemed to be reveling in the performance of it all, and there was clearly real effort behind it.
I think I told you this in the cab ride back, but I feel like we sit in this strange place between being fans and critics of reality television, where we can genuinely enjoy an event like this and also appreciate that it is completely bizarre. Sitting there while Luann read from her “diary” (“Today I’m at the premiere of Michael Moore’s new movie Sicko…”) and referenced Real Housewives episodes and sang with limited skill to a screaming audience, it occurred to me that it would be really, really weird to go to something like this without context. You mentioned to me that although a lot of people watch Bravo with a big grain of salt and a dose of humor, you were unsure how ironically our fellow guests were taking it. If you’re a fan of the Real Housewives, you’re kind of part of this weird semi-alternate universe where the line between what you enjoy ironically and what you are actually emotionally invested in starts to blur, and you find yourself, like, begging Sonja Morgan for a selfie. And there’s some line-blurring going on the other end, as well! I felt like Luann was doing a performance of a cabaret performer—dressing up like Audrey Hepburn and draping herself languidly over the piano, cooing to her accompanist, “It’s just been a dream working with you, Todd.”
Madeleine: It is absolutely a bizzaro world where things that shouldn’t make sense somehow do, and I think you describe our fan conundrum perfectly. While waiting in line just inside the door you somehow missed, I was right in front of people who actually know Luann and they were talking about how proud they are of her—both for the show and the way she bounced back after hitting rock bottom. It was a little sobering to be reminded that this is a real person and not just a character invented for my amusement. But on the other hand, she greatly benefits from being this character—it’s what got her this cabaret show that she so clearly loves and this screaming group of drunk fans. (Additionally, when I start to feel too guilty, I think back on that moment in Season 1 when she, speaking with a group of underprivileged youths, advised the girl who wanted to be a model—a bad career goal, to be fair—to start losing weight.)
Ultimately, she is a clown, but one I enjoy deeply. An American woman so attached to the meaningless title of “Countess” that she continues to use it long after divorcing the Count. A true tragicomic figure! And you have to enjoy her joie de vivre (that’s “joy of life” for those of you who, unlike Lu, do not speak French) and willingness to keep on keeping on despite the obstacles (be it Carole Radziwill, Tom, or reality) standing in her way.
The true success of #CountessAndFriends is that I left liking her more than I did going in, which is saying something because she has always been my favorite to watch. Ya habibi, what was your favorite moment of the night?
Ellie: I have to say, I was excited to hear Luann belt out her classic 2010 single “Money Can’t Buy You Class”—and I particularly enjoyed Sonja’s backup moves, which kind of reminded me of a home video of myself as a four-year-old dirty dancing to Hanukkah music. (Her dress stayed on this time, thankfully.) It is a testament to Luann’s strange and riveting personality that an entire sold-out room was joyfully singing along to one of the dumbest songs written in the history of music. I walked out of the venue feeling like #CountessAndFriends had been one of my weirder New York City experiences, which is, in its own way, a triumph.
Madeleine: I just can’t stop thinking about that white “waiter” who, at one point, pulled a microphone out of his sleeve and started beat-boxing, striking terror in my heart that I had somehow wandered into my worst nightmare, i.e. an Improv Everywhere event. Also, shoutout to our new friend Jill (not Zarin), the very stylish Jezebel reader who came up and said hi to us. I think everyone at Feinstein’s/54 Below bonded that night, and not only because we all now want the contact info of Luann’s dermatologist.