Unbelievably, I was the sole person in my party of four who hadn't already seen Luann de Lesseps—aka the Countess—perform live before. We were all day one Real Housewives of New York City stans, but among this group I felt my Bravo cred take a plunging nosedive.
My friends had all attended Countess Luann's fabled cabaret show in Vegas earlier this year—in fact, one of them had essentially planned her entire bachelorette party around it—and I had shamefully missed out. But tonight would be my redemption song. Not only were we catching the Houston stop on the Countess and Friends tour, but we were doing so in style as VIPs at Revention Music Center.
I'll pause here to let any non-Bravo fans exit the page. If you feel any disdain, contempt, or confusion around the Housewives franchise, this post is not for you. If the terms Jovani, eggs a la Francaise, Johnny Depp, truffle fries, Herman Munster boots, or "don't be all uncool" mean nothing to you, kindly close this tab and move on with your day.
Now that we're alone, let's get back to it.
We began the night at 40 Below, the underground, industrial-style lounge space so named for its distance—40 steps—beneath Revention Center. It quickly became clear that this was the designated Countess and Friends pregame, as nearly every patron in the place sported sequins and statement necklaces in the trademark Countess Luann style.
We guzzled our house red blend and talked Housewives with other guests, comparing notes on Bethenny Frankel's recent departure and Kelly Dodd's ongoing insanity. One grandmotherly type in a bedazzled blazer suggested she take our photo, and we obliged. "Now say 'Jovani!'" she instructed from behind the camera.
These were our people.
Finally, it was time to ascend the 40 steps to the main stage, where we had a table reserved with dedicated service throughout the show. We promptly ordered three bottles of wine and a slew of apps as hundreds of guests filed in to their seats around us, each ensemble sparklier than the last. We shrieked with delight at the living room set awaiting the Countess—a chaise, several potted ferns—and wondered aloud if she'd begin on time or keep us all waiting the way she did her friends at last season's Halloween performance, which Bethenny famously left early to put her daughter to bed.
No, the starlet was prompt tonight, it turned out, gliding on stage in one of her signature, plunging cabaret gowns, elbow-length black gloves, and a glittering necklace that could be seen from the International Space Station. It was her first time in Houston—and, shockingly, her first time in Texas, she'd later tell us, along with the fact that she went to Zara in the Galleria earlier that day.
"You guys looks so amazingly fabulous in your sequins," she lauded the crowd. The show kicked off with a distinctly Luann rendition (that is, sultry and of a questionable key) of the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends," pausing at the lyric "I get high with a little help from my friends" to interject: "High on life, darlings!"
That's the thing about the Countess: You can't exactly make fun of someone who's decidedly in on the joke. "I've been traveling, I've been to prison," she famously says in footage of her leaving rehab (for what would not be the last time).
The entire cabaret show is like one giant, campy gift to RHONY fans, chock-full of Easter eggs and inside jokes from the 11 seasons it's spawned since 2008. There are video montages, hilarious monologues, and a not-insignificant number of costume changes.
As for the music, Luann enlists some bona fide talent to back up her... controversial abilities. ("You can't carry a tune," Ramona Singer tells her on the RHONY season 11 reunion. "You're not Adele, Luann," adds Barbara Kavovit.) Grammy-nominated composer Billy Stritch, best known as Liza Minelli's confidant, directs Luann's cabaret, which sees Brian Nash on piano and The Real Houndogs of New York City as her backing band. Then there are acts from other names in showbiz—comedian Murray Hill, Broadway performer Brent Heuser—usually during costume changes, from which the Countess will reemerge to much fanfare in yet another glittering Jovani number (and sometimes even a faux ponytail).
"That's a new dress," one of my companions says at one point, as everything in the act is now compared to the Vegas show. "I remember this part," another says when Luann begins to read from her "diary" about pivotal moments in RHONY history.
She also divulged that season 12—currently filming—will feature a new housewife with (gasp) tattoos. "Ramona goes, 'I don't talk to people with tattoos,'" Luann tells the audience. "Who f***ing says that? Ramona, you're rude."
She devotes the tail-end of the evening to audience questions, which sends director Ben Rimalower—clad in a denim jacket painted with Luann's face—scurrying around Revention with a mic, followed by a camera. Luann remarks on everyone's statement necklaces and is particularly delighted by one group's homemade T-shirts printed with some of her most famous quotes, like "we got the yacht."
"Damn it, we should have done that," one friend whispers.
She gamely answers all queries, even those slurred by fans who have clearly drank their dinners tonight. What do her kids think of this whole cabaret thing? "They love it." How does she stay in such good shape? "Yoga." Who's her favorite housewife? "Dorinda." (They made up.)
The crowd goes wild when Luann indulges in a round of "f***, marry, kill" for her fellow housewives from all franchised cities. She wastes no time deciding: "F*** Sonja, because she already wants to; marry Lisa Rinna, because we'd have a good time; and I just have to kill Ramona. I just do."
But by far the highlights of the night are when Luann performs her four original songs—"Money Can't Buy You Class," "Chic C'est La Vie," "Girl Code (Don't Be So Uncool)," and the latest, "Feelin' Jovani." The audience is on its feet with each one, and we all know every word.
Like I said—these are our people.