Since 2009, RuPaul’s Drag Race has been shaping the popular face of the drag scene, moving the art form away from an underground club culture and towards mainstream television and Netflix repeats. One of the show’s most memorable winners, Jinkx Monsoon, ‘Seattle’s premier Jewish narcoleptic drag queen’ — her own words — has gone on to tour the world since her 2013 win with the old-Hollywood glamour and incredible set of pipes that made her a star.
The Vaudevillians, Monsoon’s queer comedy cabaret extravaganza with musician Major Scales may have been on the road for four years, but the actors’ endless energy keeps the show feeling fresh and new. We follow touring jazz-age musicians Kitty Witless (Monsoon) and Dr. Dan Von Dandy (Scales) who, having been frozen alive during an avalanche (don’t ask) in ‘nineteen-bigotry-two’ have found themselves defrosted almost a century later and ready to perform their show again.
The show plays upon the musical trend made popular by acts such as Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, with contemporary pop hits — of which The Vaudevillians were, of course, the original artists — being performed in a swing style. Where we see this mixed up, however, is through the pair’s comedic chops; Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’, for example, becomes a darkly comic ode to Marie Curie that has the audience rolling about in their seats.
The script is hilarious and expertly executed by the actors; references to Henrik Ibsen are intercut with endless cocaine jokes and add to the crazy cabaret feel of the show. As a result, The Vaudevillians can be seen to lack a little cohesion as we leap from one topic to another and there is very little in way of plot throughout the show besides a vague link used to string the scenes together.
Jokes aside, the talent exhibited by both artists is undoubtedly unparalleled. Monsoon is undeniably the star of the show and the vocal range that made her famous, from manly grunts to incredible falsetto highs is well demonstrated throughout and whilst Major Scales is understandably overshadowed by her, the show would not be the same without his excellent arrangements and jazz piano improvisations.
A warning: if audience participation sends you out in hives then The Vaudevillians is not the show for you. No-one is safe from Kitty Witless, as we see audience members sat on, licked and pulled up onto stage. The lights are brought up on the crowd to remind us that even those sinking into their chairs are only drawing more attention to themselves; you can’t help but feel sorry for those chosen to join in with the show and it is this relief at not being chosen which, when mingled with the comedy, gives the humour more impact.
Anyone entering Contact Theatre expecting a low-key, relaxed night of smooth jazz might be somewhat horrified watching The Vaudevillians. If, however, you fancy a dazzling 70 minutes where microphones are deep-throated, headstands and splits are performed simultaneously, and there’s a good chance you might have fellatio simulated on you by a drag queen, then this is the show for you.
The Vaudevillians is quirky, funny and outrageous and Jinkx Monsoon shows Drag Race fans exactly what they are expecting to see: Monsoon’s charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent.