Mercy McKay

Compassionate cabaret/pop artist Nellie McKay has displayed impressive musical versatility in her decade-long career

In addition to her pop albums, McKay has also made it happen in the cabaret world. The past couple years she’s performed well-received original shows at Feinstein’s, including I Want to Live! McKay will perform this ”Death Row Musical Revue,” accompanied by a jazz quartet, next Thursday, April 26, at the Birchmere. The show focuses on the executed criminal Barbara Graham, who was only the third woman in California sent to the gas chamber, in 1955.

McKay is convinced Graham, whose previous crimes had all been nonviolent, didn’t commit the murder for which she was executed. In the show McKay ties questions about Graham’s execution to more present-day examples of death penalty fallibility. ”Her story is sadly still relevant,” she says.

And then there’s the lesbian angle.

”Barbara really confided in a fellow inmate, and that was what she was most embarrassed about at her trial,” McKay says. ”Not the accusations of murder, but that she had been that close to another woman. That speaks to the homophobia of the time.”

McKay’s asked if it would be any different today.

Would it be any different today, McKay’s asked.

”I think people see the writing on the wall. It’s like white people want to be black; straight people [will] want to be gay. It’s only a matter of time.”

Does McKay want to be gay? ”Oh, gee,” she responds. ”Well, you know…I guess I’m pretty hetero. But a girl can’t help hoping!”

Nellie McKay performs Thursday, April 26, at 7:30 p.m., at the Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria. Tickets are $25. Call 703-549-7500 or visit birchmere.com.

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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