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Varla Jean Merman Lets Loose

The daring diva discusses her new cabaret show, The Loose Chanteuse, her new film, and her return to Off-Broadway. logo
Varla Jean Merman
(© Joel Benjamin)
There are many facets to the elegant yet bawdy Varla Jean Merman, the illegitimate love child of Ernest Borgnine and Ethel Merman. She's a singing sensation, dramatic actress -- and even a cheese-whiz impresario -- who has thrilled crowds for over a decade with such shows as Varla Jean Merman Is Anatomically Incorrect! and Varla Jean Merman Loves a Foreign Tongue!

Now, Varla Jean finally has a new show she's ready to unleash on her adoring public, The Loose Chanteuse -- one that her creator, Jeffery Roberson calls "Varla Unplugged."

"It will be more of a cabaret show than some of our recent productions, " says Roberson of the show, which plays the Cavern Club in Silverlake, California, January 6-15, before heading to San Diego, New York, and New Orleans. "I think it will be fun to play it by ear a little more and to be a bit less structured."

Which doesn't mean that Roberson hasn't put a lot of thought into the piece. Among the new numbers in the show is a tribute to her new sponsor, Fleet Enema. "I found out that Fleet Enema was marketing towards gay men so had [my producer] call them. I have a hilarious number!" says Roberson.

In addition to her club work, Varla Jean has made plenty of television and film appearances over the years -- including episodes of Project Runway and All My Children. And she just completed a full-length feature film Varla Jean and the Mushroomheads, in which Roberson acted as co-writer, producer, and star.

The mockumentary-like film -- which also features New York favorite Seth Rudetsky -- is based on an evening Roberson created and toured in 2009, which was a spoof on the Sid and Marty Kroft children's shows. "I thought, 'Why not do a film?'" he says. "I already had the show created, so it will be easy to do a movie. It was insane. It took years off my life. "

Moreover, the production got off to a horrid start when a lead actor was shot on the streets of New Orleans the day filming began. "He was one of the reasons we did the film in the first place," says Roberson. The actor has thankfully recovered, but the incident caused scheduling nightmares for the low-budget production.

Later this year, Varla Jean will return to the legitimate stage in Willard Beckham's new musical comedy Lucky Guy at Off-Broadway's Little Shubert Theatre. Set in Nashville, Tennessee, the musical weaves a tale of down-home dreamers and low-down schemers all willing to do whatever it takes to come out on top in the cut-throat world of Music City, USA. "It's a very campy and a completely happy musical," Roberson says. "It's a throwback to the old days, but it's very modern as well."

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