Jinkx Monsoon & Major Scales: Unwrapped 2014
Cabaret's favorite Vaudevillians return to New York for a very special holiday show.
Major Scales takes to the stage of the Laurie Beechman Theatre wearing a red smoking jacket, a flash of platinum accenting his carefully combed head of hair. As he presses down on the piano pedals with his black-and-white wingtip shoes (we get a glimpse of socks sporting festival Christmas colors), he summons Jinkx Monsoon, the 2013 winner of RuPaul's Drag Race.
Scales and Monsoon (legal names Richard Andriessen and Jerick Hoffer) are rising stars in the cabaret world following the runaway success of their 2013 act, The Vaudevillians. It's easy to understand why, considering their idiosyncratic mix of humor, popular culture, The Great American Songbook, and good-old-fashioned talent. But this special holiday show, dubbed Jinkx Monsoon & Major Scales: Unwrapped 2014, begins with an uncharacteristic crash landing on the opening number, "Christmas Scat" from The Muppet Christmas Carol.
After seriously going up on the last few notes of the song, Monsoon tells to the audience, "Christmas used to be my favorite holiday." This is a shocking confession for a nice Jewish lady-boy like Monsoon, but we soon realize she's wised up: "Christmas is for grown-ups to get drunk."
And indeed, it does seem throughout the show as though Monsoon is somewhat under the influence. She stumbles around the stage delivering an unintelligible rendition (is there any other type?) of Lana Del Rey's "Video Games." Downing in one gulp what appears to be a hot toddy, she falls asleep on the piano while Scales performs his cleverly acid original song "Let's Have a Passive-Aggressive Christmas." Is it real, or just an act (or perhaps somewhere in between)? With a talented physical comedian like Monsoon, it's impossible to really know, but she certainly makes it all feel genuine.
A highlight of the show is Fay McKay's "The Twelve Daze of Christmas", a rewrite of the classic carol that replaces all the gifts with merry cocktails. Another drag performer, Lypsinka, also uses this hilarious number in her show downtown (using McKay's recorded voice). Monsoon actually sings it, adding her own distinctive brand of drunken buffoonery.
Monsoon unleashes her yuletide rage on St. Nick with a simultaneously biting and joyous version of Sarah Silverman's "Give the Jew Girl Toys." You feel briefly like you're at a punk-rock concert, with Monsoon hitting every wicked lyric with impeccable diction. Could an honestly sloshed queen do that? Probably, yes.
Of course, no Christmas would be complete without a magical trip through the audience. "This is the moment some of you dread and some of you bought VIP tickets for," she says as she descends from the stage. Monsoon may be a singer and actress with a talent for sprucing up scripted material, but her improvisational skills put her up there with her RuPaul successor, the Don Rickles of drag: Bianca Del Rio. Leaning over a couple of gay doppelgangers, she blithely asks, "Is it weird dating someone who looks like your little brother?" The laughs are nonstop in this boozy tribute to the holidays.
While some have derided her as purely a "comedy queen," there should be no doubt about Monsoon's drag bona fides. She wears a nude unitard covered by a sheer gown, strategically bedazzled and split open at the waist.
If NBC insists on making a live televised musical a holiday tradition, can the Laurie Beechman do the same with Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales? If you're looking for a respite from all the saccharine sentiment of the season, you can do no better than Jinkx Monsoon.