Ryan Raftery has become known in the New York cabaret scene as an impersonator. But unlike those who opt for divas long gone or far away, he selects icons who live just a few blocks from the theatre where he’s portraying them. It’s a task that may seem daunting, but Raftery’s energetic and comedic portrayal of “media titans” has over the years made audiences fall in love with his subjects as well as the man portraying them.
His first show, The Anna Wintour Musical, had successful runs in both New York City and Los Angeles. It managed to catch the attention of the Vogue editrix herself, who donated a pair of her iconic sunglasses to an auction Raftery later hosted for a good cause.
Next Raftery profiled Andy Cohen’s unrequited love for Anderson Cooper in Watch What Happens — Live On Stage. Bouncing between Lady Gaga B-side ballads and the Rolling Stones, Raftery delved into the fictitious dark side of Cooper’s and Cohen’s infamous friendship. In the show, the friendship results in a fame-obsessed Bravo exec.
For the last installment in his trilogy, Raftery portrays domestic goddess Martha Stewart. Convicted of insider trading in 2004, Stewart’s brand barely took a hit, regaining profitability just two years later. A personality who’s seen yet another resurgence thanks to her own crafty rebranding with Snoop Dogg on VH1, Raftery says he’s never had more fun researching a subject. (Sorry, Anna and Andy.) The show’s title: The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of Martha Stewart.
We shot some questions Raftery’s way about his upcoming portrayal of M. Diddy (Stewart’s nickname in prison) at Joe’s Pub. Here’s what he had to say.
After I started writing the Andy Cohen show, I really started to see these shows as a trilogy of media titans. The list of possible subjects I could do next was a short one, and I like to stagger the genders of my characters, so finding a woman to play next made it even easier. Martha is the undisputed Queen of Perfect, and her timeline reads like a Shakespearean drama. It was a very quick decision and I began researching her immediately and fell waaaaay down the rabbit hole.
Compare this to your previous two works. How does it differ, how is it the same?
Well, it’s the same in that it’s a bio-musical using popular music with parody lyrics added by me. The structure is the same, but that’s where the similarities end. This Martha show is the first time I’ve really tried to emulate a celebrity.
No one really knows what Anna Wintour sounds like, so I was free to create a heightened, dramatic stage voice. Andy Cohen’s excited, frenetic energy was more important to capture than the quality of his voice, but Martha Stewart’s voice is known to millions. She’s been on television for over 30 years. I listened to hours and hours of interviews and YouTube demonstrations she had done, oftentimes leaving my laptop open next to my bed so I could listen as I fell asleep.
This is also the first show where I will wear women’s shoes. Luckily, Martha favors a chunky wedge.
What surprised you most when researching Martha Stewart for this role?
I always knew Martha was great at all things relating to the home, but I had no idea just how knowledgeable she was about everything. I’ve watched her demonstrate so many things on her shows. It made me think about how harrowing an experience it must be to have Martha over to your house for dinner. The judgements, whether communicated or not, begin with the invitation. Then, once she’s inside, she’s clocking every single aspect of your home, from the masonry of your walkway to your garden to your flatware to the wood paneling in your dining room — she’s the ultimate expert, and her eye misses nothing.
This inspired a song in my show, where I perform a parody of Beyonce’s Fifty Shades of Grey version of “Crazy in Love.” Martha has been invited over to a neighbor’s house for dinner and freaks the fuck out when the hostess tries to serve red wine with chicken.
Who are the supporting characters and actors this time around?
I’m truly lucky to have an insanely talented supporting cast. Amanda Sykes plays Martha’s daughter, Alexis. They have quite a contentious relationship. American Idol finalist Jerome Bell lends his gorgeous voice to the role of Snoop Dogg, and character actress extraordinaire Miranda Noelle Wilson plays “Literally Everyone Else.”
How much commentary on our current administration is there, if at all?
Well, Martha did work with Donald Trump on her own version of his show The Apprentice, so that gets a mention, but while politics aren’t heavily featured, the current desire to make everything fast and easy in our lives is definitely a theme. That is not the Martha Stewart brand. Rachael Ray may want to get you in and out of the kitchen in 30 minutes, but Martha is a firm believer of hard work paying off in the end.
Have you had any contact with Martha yet? Do you think she will be there?
I know that she knows about it. She’s a very busy woman, but I would love for her to come.
Before I let you go, who’s next?
I’ve always been fascinated by the designer Halston, but I’ve kinda already done the fashion angle, so I’m still looking for inspiration.
What has Martha taught you? What’s her key to success?
Well, as a result of my research for this show, I can now perfectly fold a fitted sheet.
Martha has a great quote: “There is no single recipe for success, but there is one essential ingredient: passion.”