Reviews London TheatreWest End & Central Published 2 May 2016

Review: The Vaudevillians at Soho Theatre

25th April - 18th May 2016

“Sheer entertainment”: Brendan Macdonald reviews Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales at the Soho Theatre.

Brendan Macdonald
The Vaudevillians at Soho Theatre.

The Vaudevillians at Soho Theatre.

I must admit I’ve been a fan of Jinkx Monsoon since she dragged out Grey Gardens’ Little Edie on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Throughout season five (which she went on to win) she interwove intelligent and cutting wit with a deep admiration for American celebrity and old Hollywood enigmas. Although lacking a penchant for pageantry, as a cabaret queen Jinkx is able to draw upon diverse cultural references and reverently dress them down in her hilarious homage to a world which so clearly sustains her.

It’s no surprise then that her show with composer and performer Major Scales, The Vaudevillians, is exactly that: a pastiche of vaudeville and contemporary pop music cinched together by a bizarre conceit. Kitty Witless (Monsoon) and her husband Dr Dan von Dandy (Scales) are iconic vaudevillian performers from ‘19-bigotry-2’ who on their Antarctica tour were victims of a chemical reaction caused by two types of ‘snow’. Left frozen alive until blessed global warming thawed them out, they’ve returned only to realise their musical catalogue of vaudevillian classics has been made famous by other lesser artists.

This show is therefore the characters’ reclamation of their artistry and icon status. It is also a perfect excuse for a cabaret performer to go wild with Madonna, Britney, Cyndi and Gloria Gaynor anthems. Yet Jinkx and Major Scales go further than simply adding some roaring twenties fashion and a swing beat to the set list. Their rendition of Toxic is a riotous tribute to Marie Curie, a woman whose accomplishments were also in danger of being diminished by her (male) contemporaries, and I Will Survive is a re-telling of Nora’s struggles in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. It’s that mash-up of high-brow allusions, coke jokes, tongue-in-cheek punning, astute and sometimes political observation, and an always deep devotion to the world wide web of pop culture which defines Jinkx’s own artistry and makes The Vaudevillians sheer entertainment.

That same mash-up can also be confusing, and occasionally the audience is lost in the mayhem. The Ibsen joke doesn’t fully pay off, especially considering Jinkx’s long-winded explanation of Nora’s plight. She reads us, ‘If you’ve never heard of it, maybe you should… um… read a book?’ So while the songs are not the highlight of the show – they are pitched a few keys too high and fail to show off Jinkx’s vocal talent – it’s the neverending talent for direct and sometimes damning rapport that makes Jinkx shine as brightly as her glittery gold gown. While Major Scales is a solid accompanist, his performance is sadly eclipsed. His solo number is more functional than fabulous, and merely serves Jinkx the opportunity to change gowns.

Jinkx is keenly aware of her rise to fame, and subtle references to Drag Race (an Alyssa Edwards lip-smack for instance) are most enthusiastically received by the audience. To add these gimmicks shows the intelligence of a performer who is constantly conscious of the power of reference, even when referring to one’s own rise to fame. Jinkx uses the lasting power that comes from re-fashioning, riffing, and revamping, and understands that her own celebrity is now included in the package for parody, is part of the make-up and part of act.

The Vaudevillians is on at Soho Theatre until 18th May 2016. Click here for tickets.

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Brendan Macdonald is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: The Vaudevillians at Soho Theatre Show Info


Cast includes Jinkx Monsoon Major Scales

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