BOY CULTURE RATING: **** out of ****
As gifted as Jinkx Monsoon aka Jerick Hoffer appeared to be on RuPaul's Drag Race, it turns out to have been a mere fraction of what she was capable of. The rest of what she's got is on full display in The Vaudevillians, a breathtakingly creative cabaret show at the Laurie Beechman starring Monsoon and composer/musician Major Scales aka Richard Andriessen. In 20 years of seeing everything NYC has to offer, it's one of the best, most original (which is hard when you're performing all covers) evenings of theater I've ever had.
The concept is that "Kitty Witless" (Monsoon) and her hubby" Dr. Dan Von Dandy" (Scales), Vaudeville stars of the '20s, were frozen while touring the Antarctica and have been thawed out just in time to razzle dazzle us. Hilariously, they turn out to be the originators of a host of songs later stolen by other artists, songs that they perform in vintage style. Some of the transformations are not just entertaining but inspired—the audience gave Jinkx a spontaneous standing O for her deeply felt "I Will Survive." I don't think Gloria Gaynor herself understands the words as well as Jinkx does, nor would Gloria have conceived of pairing the performance with a riff on Ibsen's A Doll's House. (I should say A Doll's House 1, since Dr. Von Dandy has apparently written a sequel which, of course, is subtitled Electric Boogaloo.)
From the opening strains of Madonna's "Music," which sounds so right as a speakeasy soundtrack, to a dizzying version of "Gimme Dat Ding" to re-inventions of Janis Joplin, Queen and Britney Spears, both performers, immersed in their characters, are confident in their every move and gesture, like seasoned performers who've actually been doing this stuff for 90 years.
I've long said I don't understand why people my age and older know more about past decades' pop history than young people today when they have the benefit of Google and YouTube. Jinkx and her partner are like YouTube personified, and on top of a breadth of knowledge, they display great taste in deciding which parts of it to send up, spin and sample.
Along with having more talent on stage than a 25-year-old drag queen oughtta have a right to, Monsoon is strikingly beautiful in person, like a superpretty Hedwig, and is surprisingly Amazonian in stature. Her singing voice is powerful, never more so than when she's hamming it up by modulating her delivery to goose whatever lyric is on its way out of her mouth.
Scales, debonair in a way that would give Taco such an inferiority complex, has fantastic chemistry with Jinkx, and while he lets her shine (as any diva should be allowed to do), he is anything but a mere accompanist—he's a star in his own right.
Together, there is a Sonny & Cher B.C. streak to their bickering, but the audience never stops rooting for them to stay together.
Impressively, Jinkx worked the crowd from our midst, improvising as she went along and managing to make even the dreaded audience participation non-threatening, giddy fun. By the time Jinkx stands on her head between the spread legs of a randomly selected audience member, you'll be more convinced than ever that Jerick Hoffer is an uncommonly talented superstar-in-the-making, a youngster as likely to reference Weimar Germany (and embody it) as ABBA. Take a chance on The Vaudevillians—you won't regret it.
The Vaudevillians plays July 9 through August 22.
"Anything Goes" (standard)
"Piece of My Heart" (Janis Joplin)
"Toxic" (Britney Spears)
"Girls Just Want to Have Fun" (Cyndi Lauper)
"Gimme That Medley" (standards)
"Let Me Clear My Throat" (DJ Kool)
"Fat Bottomed Girls" (Queen)
"I Will Survive" (Gloria Gaynor)
"Tainted Love" (Soft Cell)
"Where Did Our Love Go?" (Soft Cell/The Supremes)
"Take a Chance" (ABBA)