Boys Like Me; The Vaudevillians

Boys Like Me

Sydney Theatre, February 25

Courtney Act. Photo: supplied

Courtney Act. Photo: supplied

Boys Like Me: it’s a great title, with a double meaning that aptly describes Courtney Act’s highly entertaining new cabaret show.

Not only does Act (the drag persona of Shane Jenek) talk insightfully about what it’s like to live “on the gender divide” but – given the string of amorous adventures detailed – we can safely say boys like Shane/Courtney a lot. As did the boys, and girls, in the audience at this one-off performance staged as part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (of which Act is a patron).

Act has to be one of the most gorgeous looking drag artists around (hell, I’d love to look like her), appearing here in three stunning outfits: a short, shimmery green dress, a long blue gown with sequins and feathers, and a flesh-coloured dress with rhinestones split up to here, under which she confided she wore nothing but duck tape.

Quick-witted with a warm, engaging manner, a certain way with words and an innate sense of comic timing, Act is a natural, charismatic entertainer who tells naughty stories with winning charm. Rather than getting too close to the bone, as it were, she pitches anecdotes just the right side of “too much information” – though her sex life (and Shane’s) features prominently and in some detail at times.

The image of a Pomeranian rooting a Rottweiler to describe one relationship will be hard to forget. (“Sorry Mum”, quipped Act whose parents were in the audience).

We hear how Shane lost his virginity to a girl (known to be accommodating). There’s a very funny story about separate sexual encounters with identical male Canadian twins, both of whom professed to be straight, and a moving account of finding his own sexual identity and appeal somewhere between Shane and Courtney.

Accompanied by a four-piece band led by musical director Lance Horne on piano, Act sang Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl”, “I’m Not That Girl” from Wicked, Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”, Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”, “Sweet Transvestite” from The Rocky Horror Show and a West Hollywood twist on “At the Ballet” from A Chorus Line, among other songs.

Despite battling sound problems, she sang with a warm, clear, bright voice and wrung the emotion and meaning from the songs beautifully.

The show also featured a couple of duets with transgender man Chaz Bono (born Chastity Bono to Sonny and Cher). Bono is no singer but a good sport and the reworked lyrics to “Bosom Buddies” (“we’ll always be gender rebels”) made for a powerful moment.

In the end, the message of Boys Like Me is that sexuality isn’t straightforward, there really are 50 shades of pink, and a real man is someone who isn’t afraid to be themselves.

Running two hours including interval, the show could do with a bit of a nip and tuck, and would arguably work better without the interval. But it’s an entertaining night – and a forthright, thoughtful one at that.

Act is featured in the new season of RuPaul’s Drag Race (a reality TV competition for drag queens), which has just begun screening in the US, so her profile is set to soar. Here’s hoping she wins. #teamcourtney

 The Vaudevillians

The Vanguard, February 20

Major Scales and Jinkx Monsoon in The Vaudevillians. Photo: supplied

Major Scales and Jinkx Monsoon in The Vaudevillians. Photo: supplied

Meanwhile, across town, Jinkx Monsoon, the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race season five, which screened in the US last year, is performing with Major Scales in The Vaudevillians, also as part of the Mardi Gras arts festival.

Monsoon (the drag persona of Jerick Hoffer) and Major Scales (the alter ego of composer/musician Richard Andriessen) play 1920s vaudevillians Kitty Witless and her sidekick Dr Dan Von Dandy.

The conceit of the show is that while touring Antarctica they were struck by an avalanche and frozen for 90 years. However, thanks to global warming they have thawed out and returned to civilization only to discover that many of their original songs have been pinched by contemporary artists.

Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” was really a suffragette anthem. Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” was the opening number for their musical theatre sequel to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” celebrated the invention of the electric iron.

With Von Dandy at the piano (and Monsoon frequently draped over it) various other numbers – “Anything Goes”, Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love”, Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” and a mash-up of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” with “Big Spender” from Sweet Charity, among others – are given a vaudeville-like musical treatment.

Monsoon has a fierce, diva-esque presence (“read a book” she snaps when a reference to Henrik Ibsen is met with blank stares) and a superb, big, ballsy, belting voice to match. Her physicality is pretty impressive too (think headstand on an audience member’s lap – yes, there’s audience participation – dramatic falls to the stage and leaps onto the piano).

Scales, meanwhile, does dandy-on-speed to a tee and even manages to wear a fez with something approaching a dandified sense of style.

The Vaudevillians is fierce, fab and funny. Fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race, in particular, will be in their element.

The Vaudevillians plays at The Vanguard, Newtown until March 2. Bookings: thevanguard.com.au

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