Let’s get this one out of the way: Melissa Vardey is a little crazy. Talented? Yes. Funny as hell? Sure. But crazy nonetheless. It seems the British-born singer, songwriter, performer, and music teacher, who currently calls Southern California home, cannot be bothered with silly inhibitions—onstage or off. But considering what she’s been through, it seems sort of appropriate.
- PHOTO COURTESY OF STEVE E. MILLER
This is a woman who, when her application for a loan modification was denied, poured her frustrations into a flurry of songwriting, dedicating each piece to a Bank of America employee—and sending it to them. She began calling the bank every day, pleading with whoever would listen and recording her frustrated conversations, many of which began with an increasingly creative garbling of her name. “Mekissa Dandy” was a personal favorite. Well aware of their dramatic power and inherent star potential, she videotaped her ensuing nervous breakdowns as well.
When the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA) held a foreclosure prevention event in the Los Angeles Convention Center—a chance for homeowners to speak personally with a counselor from the organization, which helps borrowers obtain affordable mortgage payments—Vardey camped out in line with thousands of other hopefuls for days on end, serenading the crowd in Spanish with the accompaniment of her ukulele.
After three days and four nights in the convention center, she said, she was able to meet a NACA counselor in person, a woman Vardey naturally greeted with song and adoring worship: “I love you. You are all-powerful!”
“She said, ‘You’re completely crazy,’” Vardey recalls. “I said, ‘I’ve got nothing left.”’
But her efforts paid off.
“In the space of three minutes, I had a loan modification,” she recalls. She also had amassed enough material for the one-woman musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Foreclosure, which comes to The Spot in Arroyo Grande Dec. 29-31.
Catchy, piano-driven songs such as “Making Homes Affordable,” “Delinquent Mortgage Blues” and “The Twelve Days to Foreclosure”—one of the ditties she sang during her campout at the L.A. Convention Center (On the 12 days to Foreclosure/ My lender sent to me/12 Notes of Default/11 Threats of Eviction…you get it)—became the framework for her performance. Vardey’s clever, goofy, semi-improvisational banter connects the dots, telling the tragicomic tale with a few well-placed embellishments.
“There’s a lot of laughter, believe it or not, in my attempts to increase my income,” she says.
When Vardey sought work in local clubs as a live musician, the oft-repeated refrain “We’d rather have a DJ” became the title of a new song, as did the tellingly named “Trying hard to stay alive,” which she wrote as a rap.
At one point in her show, she holds up a sign that reads “Music Lessons,” explaining dryly, "I swung this for about four months, and then when there were no takers, ‘I just put ‘blow jobs’ over the top.”
A beat. A shrug.
“And still there were no takers.”
There are interesting nuggets culled from Vardey’s more distant past as well. Memories of her onetime gig at the American Embassy in London—where she worked as an entertainer to visiting dignitaries—are exploited to hilarious effect in the song “Ronnie and Gorbie,” the tune that, Vardey insists with mock authority, “brought two world leaders together and stopped the Cold War.”
But behind Vardey’s cheeky delivery, and beyond her apparent need to turn every significant event in her life into a musical (not just after the fact, but at the very moment it happens), is the desperation-laced story of a woman fighting to save the home and the livelihood she loves, a story that is, sadly, all too common.
At the bottom of it all, says Vardey, “I’m writing about the human experience. It’s personal and universal.”
Arts Editor Anna Weltner can be reached at email@example.com.