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Quinn Lemley – Through Rita Hayworth: The Heat is On, Singer Transforms Into the Legendary Star

Quinn Lemley

Through Rita Hayworth - The Heat is On, Singer/Performer Transforms Into the Legendary Star

by Brad Balfour

On Nov 20, 2023, the singer/style queen Quinn Lemley will present her last NYC performance of The Heat Is On! – Rita Hayworth at Don’t Tell Mama (343 W 46th St.), the long-established cabaret center in midtown Manhattan, before going on the road. Hayworth, known as “The Love Goddess,” is iconic for her indelible performance in Gilda, the film noir classic – performing the sexiest striptease on celluloid, “Put The Blame On Mame.” The hottest sex symbol of the 1940s, Hayworth’s pin-up on the Atomic Bomb gave her the international title of “The Atomic Star.” Courted by the world’s most powerful men – Orson Welles, Prince Aly Khan, and Howard Hughes among others – Hayworth was a legend until she had early onset Alzheimer’s Disease which led to her death.

Fire-haired performer Lemley brings the star to life in her sold-out shows. Having headlined various performing arts centers and casinos across North America, she received The Bistro Award and two MAC award nominations. Lemley’s jazz quintet performs internationally and she’s the iconic face of the Half Note in Athens, Greece. The New York Times defines her performances as "Dazzling... with one show-stopping number after another!"

Besides this show, Lemley has directed and co-produced Rebel Rebel, The Many Lives of David Bowie, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Wall and The Ultimate Queen Celebration. She’s had a presence on national TV through appearances on Good Morning America, Oprah and as a finalist on Shark Tank. Lemley also has five CDs available, and her music is on Spotify and Apple Music. She’s hosting the locally produced TV show, Secrets of the Stage on with a monthly virtual concert on Zoom – “Up Close & Personal.” A graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts, she's a Distinguished Toastmaster at Toastmasters International and a member of National Speakers Association as well as SAG, AFTRA, AEA, DTM, NSA NY, APAP, and IEBA.

This critically acclaimed concert about Hayworth's life — the star who built Columbia Pictures — is a humorous, heartfelt and heartbreaking look at The Golden Age of Hollywood, the MeToo movement and the price of fame — especially in light of Hayworth's tumultuous relationship with the head of Columbia, the infamous Harry Cohn. The show reflects the price of fame, celebrating a remarkable life with humor, wit and impeccable storytelling. It’s all woven together with tunes from The Great American Songbook and the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Written and directed by Carter Inskeep (“Always Patsy Cline”), Lemley’s performance is either backed by a quartet or by an 11-piece big band. The show includes hits from such legendary composers and lyricists as Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen and Jerome Kern. It includes “Bewitched,” “Zip,” and “The Lady is A Tramp” from such iconic films as Gilda, Pal Joey, Cover Girl and more.

The following Q&A was conducted online in advance of the upcoming show.

When did you know you wanted to be a performer?

I came out of the womb entertaining. I’ve always known that I wanted to perform. Singing and acting have always been my passion. Even as a young girl from Indiana I was always producing puppet shows, carnivals and musicals for our neighborhood. Luckily, my parents were incredibly supportive and made sure I took lessons and classes. I’m so grateful today!

Talk about the first time you performed. Can you describe the moment?

My first show was when I was in fifth grade. I played a Far-Out Foxy Lady from A Foreign Land in Whitecloud and the Seven Dwarfs. I guess I was bound to be a glamour gal from the get-go!

Have you focused on cabaret because of the intimacy of the experience?

I love cabaret. I love its intimacy. It’s taught me to connect to each and every person in the room. It provides an opportunity to try things out and to take a chance, to take risks.

Although it’s been a big part of my life, I haven’t focused on cabaret. My late husband – producer, manager and best friend, Paul Horton – expanded my shows by putting them with 9- to 12-piece big bands. That opened up the scope of our shows. For the past 15 years, I’ve been headlining casinos and performing arts centers like The Kravis Center, Naples Philharmonic, Thousand Oaks Civic Center and BB Kings in NYC. After Covid, Paul suggested I go back to the club where I started my career – Don’t Tell Mama in NYC – before going back on the road in theaters. We won the Bistro Award, a MAC Nomination, rave reviews and have enjoyed a 17-month residency. I’m grateful Paul booked these dates leading up to going back to theaters starting in North Carolina at the Tryon Center Nov. 4, The Pheasantry in London on Feb 16 & 17th, and a one-week run at The Cape May Playhouse in July. We have our last NYC date on Monday, Nov. 20 at Don’t Tell Mama. It’s given me a chance to heal and put myself into the performance on another level.

How do you choose the songs you do?

First, it’s the lyrics. What am I trying to say? How do I want to say it? Where does it fit into the show? Secondly, it’s about melody and structure. How does the melody make me and the audience feel? How do I want it arranged to tell the story? Finally, does it fit me as an artist? I love all kinds of music. But like clothing, not everything fits with my voice and personality or belongs in the arc of the story that I’m telling. I have to try the songs out and see how they feel and sound in my voice.

How did you develop this show?

Rita Hayworth – The Heat Is On! has had three stages of development. The first stage was when I got out of NYU. I was starring in a show off Broadway. A reviewer saw me and said, “You look like Rita Hayworth. You should meet Carter Inskeep and do the story of her life.” That was pre-internet, so we read every biography, watched her films on tape and went to the library. We also read every article we could find on microfiche. The question we kept asking was, “Who is Rita Hayworth – the public persona? But more importantly, who is Margarita Cansino? The girl who has hopes and dreams and just wants to be loved?” Just like me, like all of us. We had tremendous success, got rave reviews, were on Oprah, Geraldo, Good Morning America. I was in my mid 20s then. In my 30s, I met Paul Horton. He changed my life. He had us rewrite the show, using the songs from the Great American Songbook during the Golden Age of Hollywood to help tell the story instead of limiting it to songs from Rita’s films. He had it orchestrated for both a big band and a quartet. Now we can play intimate theaters as well as large ones like The Kravis Center, Naples Philharmonic and BB King’s. We toured throughout North America. During Covid, Carter rewrote the book to make the story about resilience, accepting our choices with topics like the “Me Too” movement, women’s empowerment and the price of fame. He had us return to Don't Tell Mama’s in NYC where we started the show after COVID, before going back on tour in theaters. Our residency was so successful that we got extended from four to 17 months, had rave reviews, won the Bistro Award and got a MAC Nomination.

Besides this one performance left in NYC on Monday, Nov. 20, I’m going to London in February at The Pheasantry. I am so grateful that Paul put this in motion. It's been a lifesaver since he unexpectedly passed in March. It was his vision to do this residency. The story is so rich, deep, funny and moving. I’ve been able to tap into Rita’s story on a deeper level than I ever could have when I was younger. I’ve been able to put myself into the role in a way I never dreamed was possible. And the audiences are responding.

Do you try to make your shows thematic, or sometimes just a simple revue?

All of my shows are thematic. The Heat is On – Rita Hayworth is about Rita and The Golden Age of Hollywood. Burlesque to Broadway is about the women who went from Burlesque to Broadway and Beyond. As a director and producer, I've done these shows: The Ultimate Queen Celebration, Rebel Rebel: The Many Lives of David Bowie and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Wall. My TV Talk show on MNN, Secrets of the Stage is where I pull back the curtains and explore the creative process. My speaking keynote is about resilience through the lens of my relationship with my shows Rita and Burlesque to Broadway.

You did have a burlesque moment. Did it feel liberating, powerful or what?

I did a show called Burlesque To Broadway. It was so liberating. I was onstage with four beautiful and talented women who celebrated their talent, beauty and humor. It was powerful to claim and own my femininity and fun to tease. As the great poet Mel Brooks said, “When You Got It, Flaunt It.” Every woman should step into her power and “Be”!

Besides the songs you're already playing, what are your benchmark tunes?

My heroine is Julia Child. I got to have lunch with her at her house in Cambridge with her husband Paul. Her spirit was incredible. She was a woman who took massive action and didn’t let anyone or anything stop her. Other icons of mine are Cher, Ann-Margret, Lady GaGa and Diana Ross. I’m putting a list of songs from '70s and '80s rock, so my benchmark songs are "The Show Must Go On," "You Take My Breath Away" and "Rock and Roll Suicide." I perform Queen and Bowie plus others to celebrate my late husband, Paul’s genius and talent. Plus, “Don’t Fret World” from his Rock Opera which was his anthem.

Who would you like to perform with or what show would like to be in?

My dream is to work with the French artist, arranger and producer Benjamin Biolay. And, of course, I’d love to work with David Foster.

What goals do you have for this show and for yourself?

We are going back on the road in theaters. I’m on a plane now headed to Tryon Arts Center in North Carolina. Going to London. I’m hoping to find producers and promoters who will help us tour and produce a run on the West End of London. I’d like to do a national tour. We’d also like to do a NetFlix special filming of the show for broadcast. Paul was my agent as well as producer, so I need to find an agent that can help me internationally. I am also looking to get my TV show, Secrets of the Stage, picked up by a major network with sponsorship. As a director and producer, I’m working on our tour of The Ultimate Queen Celebration with Yvan Pedneault and MiG Ayessa, both endorsed by Queen. It’s the best Queen tribute band on the market. We will be at The Egg in Albany, May 11th, and are routing around that. The audiences are on their feet. It's a Queen party.

Starting next month, I’m working on a new show with ’70s and ‘80s rock that’s a tribute to Paul and our incredible 20-year journey together through music. I’m grateful to have so many talented colleagues with me on my journey.

Who: Quinn Lemley

What: "Rita Hayworth - The Heat is On!"

When: November 20th, 2023

Where: Don’t Tell Mama – 343 W 46th St. – New York, NY – (212)-757-0788

For more info go to:

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: November 15, 2023.

Photos ©2023. Courtesy of Quinn Lemley. All rights reserved.

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