Art & Culture
Theatre Royal’s New Saturday Night Party
Billy Rayner is a singer who could not care less if you actually listen to him sing.
“People have a lot more fun when there’s no pressure,” says Rayner. “I just want everyone to relax and have a good time in a pleasant, theatre-lounge setting.”
Whether you’re looking for an entertaining performance or a cozy spot to hangout, Rayner’s show, Royal Boudoir, is the perfect Saturday night scene.
“This is one of the only places in Prague where you can hear quality live music with a charismatic showman,” says Rayner. “I want people to say, ‘Let’s go hang out with Billy,’ not ‘Let’s go watch his show.’”
Half lounge-style singing, half stand-up comedy and playful banter, the show is nostalgic for past eras of showmanship while still seeped in decadence and modern humor.
This all began just one year ago, when Rayner started working as a backstage helper for the popular Prague Burlesque show. Quickly advancing from a behind the scenes aid to choreographer and dancer, Rayner found a mentor and theatrical partner in David Jahn, a.k.a. Sonny Vargas, founder of Prague Burlesque.
“We teamed up and were a good match, really bumped up the show,” says Rayner. “He has the vision and I’m his glasses. I sharpen his vision.”
Rayner was a lounge singer in his spare time and realized the genre was missing in Prague’s nightlife. With the support of the theatre and Jahn, Rayner brought Boudoir to life to fill this void.
“I’d like to bring that performance back where you can watch if you want to or just let it be pleasant background music,” says Rayner. “I think lounge music is very much dead right now.”
Rayner’s love for lounge music has been an ever-present part of his life. Growing up in Queens he dedicated his life to theater early on, attending the renowned LaGuardia High School (the arts school the movie Fame is based on).
“I’ve always had a penchant for older times,” says Rayner. “Because of the honesty and charisma of the performers. I can’t stand modern music and entertainment, with performers just flippantly showing up in t-shirts and DJs playing for themselves in corners.”
Dressed in a vest and tie for our afternoon drink at Bullerbyn, Rayner certainly looks the part, emanating a modern-day Frank Sinatra.
“It’s a step back to a simpler time when every place had a band and a singer who’s connected with the crowd,” says Rayner. “I like to be very ironic, have some fun with it – I’ve got my bottle of tequila next to me, I’ll drink with the audience, saunter through the crowd, sit on their laps and play with their hair.”
To Rayner, the show is an intimate, personal and comedically entertaining interaction with the audience. He tailors his jokes to current events and people in the crowd, addressing them directly. “I want them to feel the performer cares about them,” says Rayner. “I give everything to my audience, making every show unique and personal. Everyone leaves with a cheers and a little chuckle.”
Rayner and his partner, pianist Robin Finesilver, not only cover classics but also rock songs from artists like Guns N’ Roses, Radiohead and even Cher.
“[Finesilver] definitely has my back,” says Rayner. “I throw him a lot of weird requests. He’s amazingly versatile, always changing keys for me. He loves playing Blues and Hard Rock but I have him doing Liza Minnelli and Bette Midler.”
Their relationship is a big part of the show as well. They banter back and forth, taking sad songs, like the Eagles’ “Desperado,” and turning them into comedy gold. “I choose the songs and set the tone, but without him doing the heavy lifting behind the scenes I would be a total mess,” says Rayner.
The historical ambience of the theatre lends itself perfectly to this nostalgia for a past era and “deserves quality vintage entertainment” according to Rayner.
Founded in 1929 and known at the time as one of the largest and most modern cinemas in Prague, the Royal Theatre and Club Chic is a portal into Czechoslovakia’s most iconic time, the First Republic era. Much of the theatre’s original furnishings and architecture still remain, including the stained-glass windows, elaborate lighting fixtures and marble-detailed stairs. Even the original woodwork from the 1920s remains, lining the balconies and walls.
In 2014 Frenchman Jean-Christophe Gramont took over the theatre, helping the space to regain its original popularity – it was recently named as one of the top six bars in the Czech Republic by Elle magazine. Besides Prague Burlesque on Fridays and Royal Boudoir on Saturdays, the theatre also hosts concerts, film screenings and art exhibitions.
Gramont, who is a writer, director and film enthusiast himself, is incredibly supportive of the Royal’s shows and performers.
“What I love about the Royal is they’re really ambitious,” says Rayner. “They’ve given us full reign and assurance that the budget will grow with the show. I’d like to bring in comedians and other quality performers, we’re really blessed to have the support to do that.”
Although the song selections change every week, Rayner always ends the show with Sinatra’s “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road),” an ode to the stories he’s shared and created with each audience member.
“We’re drinking my friend,
To the end, of a brief episode.
So make it one for my baby,
And one more for the road.”
Catch Royal Boudoir every Saturday at the Royal Theatre in Vinohrady, Vinohradská 48, Prague 2. Doors open at 9PM, music starts at 10PM.