I have to confess that I’ve never seen RuPaul’s Drag Race, a reality show where contestants compete to be crowned Queen of the Falsies, Empress of Eyelashes, the Grand Duchess of Tuck . . . well, you get my drift. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve interviewed Ru several times, and there’s no one smarter, savvier and sassier. But I’d written off the show as a mediocre reality-cum-talent show for lip-synching and bitchiness. That is, until I saw my first video of Season 5 winner Jinkx Monsoon (Jerick Hoffer), a dancing, singing dynamo with genuine humour and infectious pizzazz.
Certainly Hoffer could have parlayed his TV victory into a couple of years on the drag circuit, playing for tips and giggles to an adoring crowd. His shtick was funny without being abrasive, and the guy can sing like nobody’s business. But instead, the Seattle-based siren has moved on to a very different sort of stage with the successful off-Broadway show The Vaudevillians.
This cabaret-style production is the brainchild of Hoffer and collaborator Richard Andriessen (also known as Major Scales), a stylish and hilarious romp that has been drawing huge crowds while garnering rave reviews. It’s a classic two-hander show: Hoffer and Andriessen play Kitty Witless and Dr Dan Von Dandy, a married songwriting team from the 1920s whose classic songs have been plagiarized by present-day artists. Yes, it turns out this talented duo were the brains behind hits like “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “Piece of My Heart” before succumbing to involuntary cryogenesis thanks to an unexpected avalanche.
Fortunately, global warming has thawed out the intrepid couple, who are back to set the record straight on who really wrote Snoop Dogg’s megahit “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” originally their tribute to the invention of the electric iron.
“It really started out as this stupid joke between the two of us,” says Andriessen, who also serves as the show’s music director. “We already had this predilection towards music from the 1920s and ’30s to begin with, so we started thinking about what songs would sound funny done in that style.”
Some of the more memorable of these have been songs by Britney Spears and Lady Gaga, whose hit single “Judas” was featured in the pair’s Christmas show. Andriessen and Hoffer like to mix things up a bit to keep the show fresh. They’ll mix and match songs that fit with the show’s zany arc of a couple dealing with their own relationship issues, while acclimating to the new world around them. Andriessen and Hoffer have been roommates since college, and, Andriessen says, these onstage hijinks aren’t far off the mark from reality.
“There’s very little artifice in the relationship,” he says with a chuckle. “We’re basically an old, bickering couple at this point, so it’s fun for us to tap into those characters.”
Unlike many shows that feature a singer and accompanist, The Vaudevillians gives equal stage time to both performers. Hoffer certainly shines with his standout vocals and pristine comic timing, but Andriessen is no mere comic foil. He’s gotten solid reviews for both his wonderfully unexpected musical arrangements and his brilliant portrayal of a 1920s music man, complete with creamed hair and bang-on period singing. But perhaps his favourite aspect of their hit show is the expectations some audience members bring with them.
“It’s always enjoyable for me when we get Drag Race fans coming,” Andriessen says. “They think they’re going to see a drag show with lip sync, but what they get is this fully realized theatrical show.”