Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Review: Wonder bar

Cheap Queers: Cabaret at its most demented

EYE OPENING. Jess Dobkin and Lex Vaughn's show-stopping performance of "It's Not Easy Bein' Green." Credit: David Leyes photo

Beginning with a rousing musical number by hosts Clinton Walker and Ryan Kelly and ending with a jaw-dropping performance-art piece by Jess Dobkin and Lex Vaughn, the Jun 24 edition of Cheap Queers confirmed that the Hardworkin’ Homosexuals’ 13-year-old cabaret series showcases this community at its best — demented, provocative and joyful.

Walker and Kelly kicked things off with a saucy version of “Sniff Swig Puff (Everybody Today Is Turning On)” a bizarre look at changing mores from a 1970s musical called I Love My Wife with lyrics by Michael Stewart. “Remember when ‘hash’ was fried and ‘T’ was brewed?/ Someone ‘pushing’ was merely rude.” And on it goes. (There’s an infamous TV performance with Bea Arthur and Rock Hudson as a noodling, narcoleptic couple. Talk about cheap queers. And yes, it’s on YouTube.)

With simple choreography and strong voices Walker and Kelly’s version was delightfully gay song and dance. A high kick here and a little simulated fellatio there certainly makes lyrics come alive: “But now it’s sniff and down it goes/ Around your windpipe and up your nose.”

The first guest, funny lezzie Dawn Whitwell, noted that Cheap Queer audiences are the best — we actually laughed at her punchline about birthing fake babies instead of just groaning like most audiences. She’s right. Cheap Queers attracts a very mixed group — not just the usual theatergoers. They were in a feisty mood, eager to mix it up with performers.
Shane MacKinnon’s bootylicious ballroom, Mark Shyzer’s unsubtle subtext with mandolin and tap, Rhoma Spencer’s self-effacing standup and Kristyn Dunnion’s creeptastic humour were all highlights, capped by a tableau I won’t soon forget — Dobkin as Vaughn’s living flesh puppet.

Dobkin, naked, was painted totally green except for a small triangle around her pussy. Once Vaughn greedily started rubbing lube over one hand we knew we were in for it. To groans and shrieks of laughter, Vaughn’s hand deftly disappeared into Dobkin’s snatch. Cue music: Dobkin lip-synching to “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green,” Kermit the Frog’s signature song. “It’s not easy bein’ green/ It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things/ And people tend to pass you over ’cause you’re not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water — or stars in the sky.”

This sad story song of learning self-acceptance was twisted into fantastic shapes. With her red lips and white eyes, what colour exactly was Dobkin singing about? And who’s running the show when one character lip-synched and the other, a lesbian playing a straight man, played puppet master? And how about reading queer instead of green?

“When green is all there is to be/ It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why? Wonder,/ I am green and it’ll do fine, it’s beautiful!/ And I think it’s what I want to be.”

Strange wonder and beauty, a perfect lead up to Pride.

This first of three nights had an added bonus, a preshow opera cabaret with Helene Ducharme and Bitch Diva. What a pair: Ducharme, a gutsy soprano, and Bitch, a scene-stealing alto. Ducharme is a coloratura soprano (Rossini, my God) tackling some of the most difficult repertory with great accuracy. Her voice has a lot of character in an age when a lot of “famous” singers sound alike. No mistaking Bitch, either, singing “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams (Gigolo and Gigolette)” while accosting the audience — the veteran drag queen at his best. You don’t know how much joy I get from seeing Bitch still with it, as funny as when he used to outrage the sanctity of Woody’s bar stage 20 years ago.

From musicals and opera to drag and lip-synch — the queer performing arts never felt more vital.

As the audience drifted into the summer night Dobkin was seen leaving the building, still fully painted but wearing a long black coat. As she walked away toward Yong St, the high slit in the back revealed her lovely green ass — a perfect end to a wonderful evening.