|And a star is born at "The Vaudevillians"
Jinkx Monsoon won the top prize (and tens of thousands of ardent fans) on the last season of Rupaul's Drag Race.
But it turns out that was only the start of what Jerick Hoffer (Monsoon's his inspired alter ego) can do. In his new show off-Broadway, The Vaudevillians, he's showing that at 25 he can already nail inspired impersonations of actresses twice his age (and many of them long dead actresses, at that).
In The Vaudevillians Hoffer switches between riotously funny incarnations of Golden Age Hollywood stars with a facility and knowing that I haven't seen onstage since drag legends Charles Busch and Jonn Epperson.
Onstage Hoffer (aka Monsoon) is funny, endearingly sweet, possessed of a caustic wit, and my goodness can he carry a tune. Rupaul's Drag race saw the birth of a star, but this summer in New York City in his show The Vaudevillians we're witnessing something rarer: the birth of a drag superstar.
It must be said The Vaudevillians is not a ground breaking show. Kiki and Herb have been down this twisted cabaret route with far more darkness years back. But what Hoffer and The Vaudevillians absurdly talented pianist and co-creator and Richard Andriessen (aka Dr. Dan Von Dandy) have achieved is something equally compelling - they play a bickering pair of married variety show artistes from the 1920's who've been cryogenically frozen and transported to ours. In the process their show becomes a sophisticated time capsule of gay history and culture between the 1920's and now. It's thrilling to witness and it's unspeakable fun too.
The frozen in time idea has immense dramatic payoffs. Songs the old time pair claim to have written in the 1920's like Girls Just Want to Have Fun (originally about the woman’s Suffragette movement, natch) and Drop it Like it’s Hot (originally about the invention of the electric iron) have - they are horrified to discover - been found and exploited by lesser artists whilst the authors slept for decades.
That means the original creators are back to reclaim their own works, performing them as they were originally intended. In a show stopping act of retrieval Monsoon explains how Gloria Gaynor's disco classic I Will Survive was actually written as an eleven o'clock number for Nora in their musical sequel to Ibsen's classic, A Doll's House 2: Electric Boogaloo. This leads to one of th comic high points in a show that never flags.
References to Britney Spears, Madonna, Snoop Dog, Kurt Weill and Ibsen and the acting styles of Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and Gloria Swanson (and old time variety shows) display both Hoffer and Andriessen's impressive musical range and acting skills. The Vaudevillians is both adolescent and highbrow at the same time, self-delighting and surprisingly sweet at the center, making for one of the great nights out you'll have at the theatre this year.
'We met in college and in our sophomore year we became roommates,' Moonsoon tells me. 'That's when we started setting well known songs to a ragtime beat. Soon we realized we needed to come up with 1920's characters as a justification for the interpretations. That's how The Vaudevillians was born.'
'The reason I auditioned for the Rupauls Drag Race was that I noticed the show was challenging the queens in all kinds of different ways that involved acting and comedy and I thought that would be a great introduction to everything I want to do with my drag.'
Moonsoon was an immediate hit with the public on the show, but less so with some of the self-described pageant queens she competed with.
'I think that drag can convey a whole history of gay culture. I just happen to be fascinated with an era of gay culture that I wasn't actually around for!' she explains
Given the public interest in the show, The Vaudevillians been extended twice, and it plays now through August 22 at the Laurie Beechman Theatre on 42 Street. To buy your tickets click HERE.