Female impersonation was a novelty act on the Vaudeville circuits at the turn of the 20th century; nowadays we have televised drag-queen competitions.
Jinkx Monsoon, a winner of "RuPaul's Drag Race," co-wrote and co-stars in "The Vaudevillians," a delightfully silly comedy that takes an old-fashioned song-and-dance act and gives it a winkingly modern sensibility. The show, fresh from a well-received off-Broadway run, succeeds on the charisma of its performers and the smartness of their material. It played to a sold-out house Saturday at Parliament House's Footlight Theatre.
Jerick Hoffer, creator of Jinkx, assumes a different persona for "The Vaudevillians": Kitty Witless, an addle-brained 1920s chanteuse. Kitty and her husband, played by show co-creator Major Scales, have been frozen (literally) since a freak Antarctica accident nearly a century ago. Now they've thawed out, and merriment ensues.
Smartly, the show's considerable humor doesn't derive from the tired device of "Look, a man in a dress!" In fact, Kitty is such a powerhouse of feminine charm, you quickly forget that Hoffer is somewhere behind the makeup. She's definitely her own woman.
And doesn't her hubby know it.
The two giddily bicker and banter as they demonstrate how their songs were stolen by pop singers who came along later. Scales, who arranges the tunes and expertly tickles the ivories during the show, cleverly captures the rhythms and feelings of the '20s.
The cleverness extends to the jokes: A riff on circumcision and being Jewish ends with an unexpected punch line — one in keeping with this show's mainly PG-13 style of humor.
The audience is expected to keep up. "The Vaudevillians" uses actual music from the time period (How fun to hear the "Varsity Drag.") It's not afraid to name drop scientist Marie Curie, the butt of a funny joke. And it builds an entire segment around a fictional sequel to
Lost? "Read a book," Kitty brusquely suggests.
The chemistry between the actors is so essential that the show suffers mightily during a slow middle stretch when they appear separately. Each can work the crowd — Kitty's scathing assessment of Florida: "If the alligators don't get me, the passive-aggressiveness will" — but the magic's diluted.
Kitty's singing style — and range — can call to mind Marlene Dietrich and Bernadette Peters in the same song. She works the stage: Down for a split, back up for high kicks. Atop the grand piano, she shows off some moves that look hard on the knees.