Miss Hope Springs' Cabaret Cool at Oasis

  • by Jim Provenzano
  • Sunday April 3, 2016
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 Miss Hope Springs
Miss Hope Springs

Statuesque chanteuse Miss Hope Springs lives in a Las Vegas trailer park called Paradise, with her mother, Rusty (Rusty Springs; get it?). To make ends meet, she performs cabaret acts with a small band, or by simply self-accompanying on a piano.

But under the frost-white wig is a no less fabulous persona, British-born Ty Jeffries. The multi-talented actor, composer, writer and former supermodel has wowed audiences in the UK and around the world, and brings his Miss Hope Springs cabaret concert to Oasis on Wednesday, April 6.

While some hilarious camp moments and a saucy wit are part of the show, Jeffries' more subtle approach offers a different take on the usual drag show.

As the son of the late, much loved British character actor Lionel Jeffries (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Rocket to the Moon, Camelot ) and film director, Jeffries spent part of his young life in Hollywood with his dad.

Educated at The Purcell School of Music in Hampstead, Jeffries' musical talents were also encouraged by family friends and mentors Sir John Mills, screen composer Elmer Bernstein and Vangelis.

Signed to a publishing deal with Elton John's Rocket Music in his late teens, Jeffries had some chart success, and also worked with, among others, Chaka Khan and Neneh Cherry.

While working as a pianist at upscale venues like London's Ritz Hotel, The Kensington Roof Garden and Langhan's Brasserie, Jeffries was discovered by Click Models in New York. Notable for his shaved head and tall good looks, Jeffries worked the runway and in fashion shoots for Jean Paul Gaultier, Paul Smith, Commes des Garcons and other designers.

The London resident has performed in the West End as Miss Hope Springs since 2012, including two sold out years at The Crazy Coqs Cabaret in Piccadilly and other successful runs. Yet American audiences may still be unfamiliar with the performer, whose drag persona evokes Peggy Lee and Dusty Springfield. He answered a few questions about his illustrious career.

Jim Provenzano: I've watched several of your videos. You have a very subtle style, and all original music! What inspires the creation of your songs?

Ty Jeffries: I'm inspired by the ladies of Golden Age Hollywood and that era of sophisticated cabaret; you know, the songstresses who took to the stage of the Hollywood Palace or, in the UK, Saturday night at the London Palladium. What I do is not parody, though. It's an homage to those theatrical ladies of a certain age who have been through the mill and around the block and know a thing or two about life and love, success and failure.

I've been writing music and lyrics since I was a kid, and I created the character of Miss Hope Springs five years ago to be the vehicle for everything I love to do. I've written an entire repertoire for her, several full shows in fact, which I have been lucky enough to work in over the last four years during my residency at London's fabulous Le Crazy Coqs in the West End.

Do you think British/UK audiences appreciate your more subtle performance style, perhaps more than U.S. fans? Most of our queens are a bit less subtle.

Well, I have to say that, after the wonderful reception I received at the curtain of my New York City debut the other night at The Metropolitan Room, I think U.S. audiences are just as hungry for new songs and a fresh twist on the traditional cabaret genre, as those in the UK are. It's subtle, yes, but the laughs are big and the emotional response from the audience to the more moving stuff is very real.

I sing about universal things, heartache, aspiration and success and disappointment. Everyone knows about those things. My audience is very broad. Yes, I have a gay following, but I perform mainly in places that are not what you would call 'gay' or 'drag' venues. So I have a very broad cross section of audience members; young, not so young, straight, male, female, gay, straight, bi whatever. It's really not a drag show as such so don't come to it expecting that or you'll be disappointed. It's been called 'gender illusion'.

This is quite different than most female impersonation acts. Can you discuss the inspiration for creating Hope?

I think Hope is one part Blossom Dearie, as I accompany myself on the piano for all my songs, one part Peggy Lee, as I write all my own material. Miss Lee wrote a lot of her own, and one part Bea Arthur, as I am well over six feet and have a somewhat husky baritone timbre. Someone once said I don't have the voice of an angel...I have the voice of a fallen angel, which I liked. Early Barbra, Piaf, Marlene, Lotte Lenya and, of course Liza, are all influences.

You've performed at several prestigious venues. Is this your first time performing in San Francisco?

This is my first time performing in the U.S. at all. So I'm very excited to play my favoritest city in the world. I hope they will like me.

You lived in Hollywood when your father (Lionel Jeffries) was working there. Tell me how that experience of meeting famous actors and musicians, and how that figured in the creation of Miss Hope Springs.

I grew up in Hollywood for a few years as a kid while Dad was making movies over here such as Camelot and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Shelly Winters and Shirley MacLaine came to dinner to sample my mother's very British steak and kidney pie; Fred Astaire and Alfred Hitchcock, too. I danced with Mr. Astaire down Sunset Boulevard one night after dinner at the Brown Derby when I was seven, and went swimming with "Herman Munster" Fred Gwynn, in his pool. They were both delightful unprepossessing men.

Diana Dors, the British answer to Marilyn Monroe, was my mom's best friend. I got a glimpse of the darker more fragile side of these legends. That's what fascinates me; what goes on beneath the bright sparkly sweet-wrapper.

Shortly after you started developing Miss Hope Springs, your father shared acting photos of himself in a drag role.

Ha... I know he was in a St Trinian's movie in the '60s in drag for a few scenes; not a pretty sight!

Can you share a bit of coming out to your family, and moving on with your own performances and life?

I had the same struggle as a teenager as many with talking to my family about my sexuality. But I came out at around 20 years old, and it would have been very hypocritical for my parents to have an issue with it, working in the theatre as they did. They had many gay friends including Britain's greatest ever drag artist Danny La Rue, so I was very lucky.

You moved to New York, where you were signed to Click as a model. I remember seeing you in magazines at the time. That was an amazing era, Manhattan in the 1980s.

Yes, I knew and hung out with Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat; both gone too soon. I did a lot of catwalk for Gaultier and Commes Des Garçons and worked doing print for Vogue and so on, both in the US and Europe. It seems I was really the first mainstream 'top' male model with a shaved head. It caused shock at the time. Now it's a completely accepted look. It's always wise to make the most of your flaws.

Has the bittersweet aspect of your lyrics and performance anything to do with being an older survivor, a man who's seen so much change and strife in the gay community?

I am a naturally melancholic type, to be honest. And who cannot have been deeply affected by the tragic loss of so many beautiful men who had so much to give. We lost a whole generation of creative minds and creative forces, free thinkers and originals who were swept away in that grim tsunami. I lost many friends, and I often like to think that I am doing this for them. I'm keeping the flame alive, right there on the stage in front of mainstream audiences who don't really have any idea how radical what I'm doing really is. They see me as a woman on stage, not as a drag queen, and they believe Miss Hope's hopes and struggles are as real as their own.

I love all kinds of drag and have great admiration for anyone who gets out there and is brave enough to be themselves, on stage or off it. I love the Oscar Wilde expression, "Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."

Miss Hope Springs (Ty Jeffries) performs at Oasis, Wednesday, April 6 at 7pm. $25. 298 11th St. at Folsom. 795-3180. www.sfoasis.com

East Coast readers can catch Miss Hope Springs on the last leg of her US tour at Pangea NYC April 11, at the Metropolitan Room NYC April 14, at The Rrazz Room in New Hope, PA April 15, at The Duplex NYC April 17, and at The Lincoln Centre in a guest spot with original Cockette Rumi Missabu.

Miss Hope Springs returns to her monthly residency in London at The Crazy Coqs on April 24. www.misshopesprings.com www.facebook.com/misshopesprings