Review: Jinkx Monsoon

You know, Jinkx actually asked me not to review this show – she asked that of the whole audience, saying “you wouldn’t review karaoke would you?” But since I’m going to rave about her, I don’t think she’ll mind. For, as loosey-goosey as this show is, it’s light years away from karaoke.

Jinkx Monsoon’s rapport with the audience and ability to roll with the punches brings Marilyn Maye to mind, and that’s about the highest compliment I can give. She takes requests and interacts with the audience throughout, and makes it looks easy. Let me assure you, this is about the hardest kind of show to carry off without crashing and burning, and it takes a major talent to do it without falling to pieces.

Of course, Jinkx’s stage persona is a great distance from Maye’s. She has an acid sassiness that’s closer to, say, Bette Midler, Madeleine Kahn or even Jackie Hoffman. She skews interpretations to the raunchier and darker edge of entertainment. There’s never been a doubt that Monsoon is more entertaining and smart than the vast majority of the competition – she’s much more than just another winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race – and she’s in fine fettle here.

Jinkx Sings Everything, as unstructured as it may be, is certainly much more thoughtful than your typical “by request” show. Let it be forever Monsoon season! Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Review: Marcos Valle & Celso Fonseca

I like bossa nova singer / songwriter and all around luminary Marcos Valle because he combines a strong sense of syncopation and groove with a rich and vibrant harmonic palette – these things will get my attention anytime. Add to that a sunny disposition and sensibility best expressed by his signature song “Summer Samba (So Nice)” (made famous by Astrud Gilberto), and I’m in musical love.

In his current club act at Birdland, Valle is backed by a trio of musicians whose precision and energy border on the supernatural. When they lock into the groove that Valle is playing on the keyboard – which is most of the time – the room positively levitates with musical excitement in its most direct form. The effect is so dynamic, in fact, that I found myself wishing that Birdland had a dance floor. Even more than your typical samba, this is music that moves.

About half of the concert is duets with a Brazilian singer / songwriter from the generation following Valle’s, Celso Fonseca. In contrast to Valle’s infectious brio, Fonseca emanates a wry laid-back quality that is described by his signature tune “Slow Motion Bossa Nova.” The two compliment each other surprisingly well, Valle energizing Fonseca, Fonseca contributing witty color to Valle’s drive. They made an album together in 2009, Página Central, and the instrumental selections from that album are the evening’s most fiery moments, taking as much from the funkier end of disco as from Brazilian music. Hot stuff, indeed!

Valle is also joined by his vocalist wife Patricia Alvi on a handful of numbers, and she brings a quality similar to the women of Sergio Mendes’s Brasil ’66, which works especially well on Valle’s 1967 bossa nova classic “Crickets.” Overall, one of the most stimulating cabaret shows I’ve seen in some time.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Review: Kinky Boots

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This is very much in the mold of musicals like Hairspray and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – both shows in which Kinky Boots‘ director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell had a major hand, it should be mentioned. Like them it’s a splashy, colorful, drag-filled joyride of a show, with a soft-sold message of tolerance that never gets in the way of high-energy production numbers. And like those shows, I predict Kinky Boots will be a big fat hit (if I had to guess, I’d say bigger than Priscilla, not as big as Hairspray).

In Kinky Boots, Charlie Price suddenly inherits his father’s failing shoe factory in Northampton, England. Quite by accident, Charlie meets drag queen Lola, whose broken-down performance heels inspire Charlie to take the family business in a wild new direction.

This musical’s main pursuit is fizzy entertainment, and it more than achieves that goal. It’s much more cohesive than Mitchell’s previous directing foray Legally Blonde, leading me to feel that he has become that rarest of creatures, a director/choreographer who does both equally well. Harvey Fierstein’s book is his usual, delightful model of traditional Broadway with a gimlet eye but a heart of gold. Cyndi Lauper’s music is appropriately emotional and propulsive.

The show’s most major flaw – and it really isn’t that major – is that Lauper’s lyrics can sometimes be a little “on the nose” with things like “where do I fit in,” “is this my destiny,” “what do I really want,” and the like. But she certainly doesn’t do that all the time: her “History of Wrong Guys” is marvellously specific; delivered with wonderful comic timing by Annaleigh Ashford, it’s one of the show’s high points.

Also terrific is Billy Porter as Lola – he’s deliciously over-the-top, at one point turning “sex” into a three-syllable word. And as Simon, the man behind the Lola persona, Porter can also be quite poignantly understated. Stark Sands is also quite winning as factory owner Charlie. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter what I and other critics say. Kinky Boots is a breezy crowd pleaser that I for one have no hesitation in recommending.

For tickets, click here.