“Swiss Miss”—Brooklyn Papers

Boerum Hill singer-songwriter Jackie Gordon celebrates cheese in concert
Lady sings the bleus: Jackie Gordon, a.k.a. Divalicious, regales audiences with her show, a concert and tasting combo, at the Laurie Beechman Theatre in Manhattan.

By Tina Barry for The Brooklyn Papers

Brooklynite Jackie “Divalicious” Gordon strides up to the microphone on the small stage of the Laurie Beechman Theatre in Manhattan. After a rousing rendition of Tommy Wolf’s “Say Cheese,” Gordon rips off her white lab coat. Under the wrap is a Billy Holiday-style brown satin gown—adorned with yellow satin wedges of cheese.

It’s safe to say, no one wears a fake cheese-covered gown like Gordon.

The tall, striking, singing chef from Boerum Hill stars in “Say CHEESE!: A tongue-titillating tasting of artisanal cheeses, wines and the songs they inspire.” Think of it as the most amusing wine and cheese party you’ll encounter in a lifetime.

In her first one-woman show in the United States, Gordon performs 90-minutes of song and conversation. While she sings, photos of her charming the rind off a fantasy man made from huge wheels of cheese flash upon a screen.

During the performance, audience members sample eight international cheeses from the Artisanal Cheese Center on 37th Street in Manhattan. The cheese is paired with two red and two white wines from the Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines Company.

Each of the eight cheeses is presented with a song that illustrates its history. For example, the Bayley Hazen Bleu Cheese from Jasper Hill Farms is introduced with “Milk Cow Blues.”

“If I Could Date Cheese,” “All We Are Saying is Give Cheese a Chance,” and “Don’t You Make my Bleu Cheese Blue” are sung in Gordon’s smoky, smooth voice.

Audience members are asked to rate each of the cheese-and-wine pairings, which leads to good-humored banter among those seated and between the audience and the performer.

Gordon, who has lived in Boerum Hill “foreva,” said she conceived of the show after an epiphany in the cheese department of Zabar’s, the famous, Upper West Side food emporium. Rows of creamy goat cheese, called chevre; smelly, succulent bleus with their blue-veined centers; and sharp, nutty sheep cheeses seemed to call to her. But which of the hundreds of offerings should she select?

If someone like Gordon, who says she “majored in restaurants” after graduating from Brooklyn Technical High School, in Fort Greene, was bamboozled by the choices, wouldn’t a food novice in the same situation run screaming back to their Velveeta?, she wondered. Gordon then conceived of the learn-while-you-eat performance that would educate the cheese-loving public.

In 2003, she approached Terrance Brennan, founder of the Artisanal Cheese Center (ACC) in Chelsea with the concept for her song-and-sample musical. Brennan, who had just opened the doors to the center, loved the idea and became Gordon’s sponsor for the project, supplying the cheese for all of Gordon’s performances. (In addition to his work at ACC, Brennan is the chef and proprietor of two Manhattan restaurants, Artisanal and Picholine.)

If it seems like a stretch to walk through a food aisle and then think of turning the experience into a multimedia, song-and-tasting experience, it isn’t for Gordon. She is an “eatertainer,” a skilled singer and chef with two successful “eatertaining” shows to her credit. During a recent phone conversation, Gordon told GO Brooklyn how her unique style of entertainment evolved.

In 1991, she left Boerum Hill and moved to Melbourne, Australia, with a friend. Gordon’s first one-woman performance, “Black Pearls and Strange Fruit,” was a huge hit, she said, in the 1998 Fringe Festival of the Arts in Australia, a performance venue featuring avant-garde acts. “Black Pearls” told the history of black women singers and their struggle for racial equality. Of that performance Gordon said, “Black American food came through in every story.”

Her second production, which debuted in 1999, “The Fried Chicken Theory According to Jackie Gordon,” was a four-hour extravaganza that she performed at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. Gordon sang her “History of Soul” music accompanied by an eight-piece band and 22-member gospel choir. Two kitchens were erected to produce a 10-course buffet using Gordon’s recipes. Diners feasted on gumbos, fried chicken, ribs, turnip greens and macaroni and cheese, followed by six down-home pies including Gordon’s black bottom banana cream.

Just five days before Sept. 11, 2001, Gordon resettled in Boerum Hill.

“I was rushing to get home. I just sensed something was happening and I needed to be in Brooklyn,” she says. Since her return, Gordon has started a quarterly newsletter (information at www.Divalicious.biz), that offers tips on improving life in New York.

Looking ahead, Gordon has “something sweet in mind” after “Say CHEESE!,” but wouldn’t elaborate further. “Say CHEESE!” is an eatertaining opportunity to see her in action. She is a versatile singer with a rich, velvety voice, and an appealing stage personality.

The moniker “Divalicious” suits her.

Jackie Gordon’s “Say CHEESE!” is performed in the Laurie Beechman Theater, 407 West 42nd St., Manhattan Plaza, in the downstairs performance area of The West Bank Cafe, June 9 and 11. Shows start at 7:30 pm; doors open at 7 pm. The theater is wheelchair accessible with prior notice by calling The West Bank Cafe management (212) 695-6909. Tickets are $60 (includes cheese and wine samples) and can be purchased through www.ticketcentral.com.

Say Cheese Go Brooklyn