I have to say, I’m pretty excited—not just personally, but for the entire Capital Region. That’s because tonight, Martha Stewart will be appearing just 15 minutes from Downtown Saratoga Springs! She’ll be talking about a wide range of subject-matter, including her childhood, very public trial and subsequent incarceration and lobbing home-making and design tips at her audience, effortlessly, as she’s always done. And she’ll be doing it in song.
Now, I know what you’re saying: How in the heck would Martha Stewart ever sign on to sing about her prison stay for a bunch of Upstate New Yorkers? What I probably should’ve mentioned was that cabaret star, writer, actor and singer Ryan Raftery—who’s made a name for himself, deftly paying tribute to everyone from Vogue‘s Anna Wintour to Bravo TV’s Andy Cohen in musical form onstage—will be appearing as Martha Stewart tonight at The Mansion in Rock City Falls, NY, in his stage show, The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of Martha Stewart (just a 15-minute drive from Downtown Saratoga). But I wasn’t stretching the truth that much. For all intents and purposes, after the lights go down, Raftery becomes Stewart.
Born in Brooklyn and educated at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Raftery first moved out to Los Angeles to chase down a dream of becoming a Hollywood actor. He’d soon land roles in Law & Order: SVU, Ugly Betty and Malcolm in the Middle, before realizing his true passion was back home in New York City and on the off-Broadway stage. That’s when he began writing one-man stage shows lampooning himself, including Ryan Raftery and Friends: A Solo Act and Ryan Raftery: King of the Jews!. His breakout moment would come in 2014, when he began a trilogy of musicals, the first of which focused on media mogul Wintour (Ryan Raftery is the Most Powerful Woman in Fashion), followed by one on Bravo’s Cohen (Ryan Raftery’s Watch What Happens). “I like to think that I specialize in celebrity bio-musicals,” Raftery tells me. And these aren’t just throwaway impersonations set to music; Raftery puts his blood, sweat and tears into the scripts and performances, and he’s truly paying homage to these individuals (however comedically he does it). And the people he’s writing about have taken notice: Wintour’s daughter actually came to Raftery’s opening night of the Most Powerful Woman in Fashion in New York City—and Wintour herself gave Raftery a pair of her own sunglasses to auction off as part of a charity performance for the Trevor Project. Not to mention the fact that he received flowers from the real Andy Cohen prior to the opening of his Cohen-inspired show.
The last in the trilogy is his turn as Stewart, whom Raftery tells me he spent nine months researching before putting pen to paper. And the hard work paid off on Martha‘s opening night in NYC: Everyone in Stewart’s company showed up to watch Raftery’s performance, “from the CEO all the way down,” he says. (Unfortunately, Stewart herself wasn’t in attendance.) “Martha has been my most successful show, because Martha Stewart casts the widest net; everybody knows who she is,” he says. Of course, the first thing everybody thinks of when they think of Martha Stewart? The fact that she was sent to jail. “That’s how my show opens,” says Raftery, whose character has just learned about her conviction and sings a version of Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain” to her chickens in the backyard (the music in Raftery’s shows is a mixtape of modern pop music, with the songs’ words featuring parody lyrics).
Since Stewart’s been such a mainstay in pop culture for so many years, Raftery pulled out all the stops when it came to creating his onstage persona. “I knew that I was going to have to look like her and sound like her, but the most important thing when I started writing it was that I had to exact some sort of Martha Stewart pallette onstage,” says Raftery. He realized it would be impossible to actually cook something during the show, so he taught himself how to fold a fitted sheet. “So, I kid you not, onstage, in my Martha Stewart show, in 21 seconds, timed to music, I fold a fitted sheet in front of the audience,” he says. “There’s no magic involved; it’s not a trick fitted-sheet. I spent seven months trying to learn how to fold a fitted sheet. I gave up so many times. But I told myself, ‘I owe it to Martha Stewart to learn how to fold this fitted sheet.'” When he does it onstage—and he’s quick to say that he’s not bragging—but the crowd usually goes wild. “When we did it in Los Angeles, there was a woman up front who screamed like she was in a horror movie when she saw me do it,” he says.
While Raftery does have his fun with Stewart in the show, he truly has reverence for the woman he’s portraying. “What I love about Martha is that she sells attainable perfectionism,” he says. “Martha Stewart is someone who can truly make American great again, because she really believes that if you put the work in, you can make this better.” While the Rachael Ray ethos of being in and out of a kitchen in 30 minutes is “attractive,” says Raftery, Martha’s playing more of the long game with her home-making advice. “Martha’s saying, ‘Fine, you can get out of the kitchen in 30 minutes or less, but I can teach you how to make a dinner that’ll take you three hours, and it’ll be one of the best things you’ve ever had in your life.'”
Raftery tells me that he’s nowhere near done with the musical format, and is set to premier a brand-new show in October in NYC about Calvin Klein. “I use the movie Black Swan as a narrative construct,” he says. “I found out that Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren are from the same area of the Bronx, and they knew each other, which is crazy that these two major style icons grew up in the same neighborhood,” he says.
While tonight’s version of the Martha show is a shorter, 70-minute version of the original, which usually runs 90 minutes, it won’t be any less of a hoot (did I mention there’s a twist ending?). And well, I know that Saratogians love a good musical—and tonight, we won’t even need to drive to Proctors to see it. That, and as far as I’m concerned, it stars Martha Stewart in the flesh. At least from where the audience is sitting.