Husband and wife musical comedy acts aren’t so big nowadays. We’d have to cast our minds back to Sonny and Cher’s 70s, and before that Lucy and Desi’s 50s, to remember great couples wowing big audiences. Of course the original marital double act was the roaring 20s’ Kitty Witless and Dr Dan von Dandy, who knocked the socks off every speakeasy and music hall they played on the vaudeville circuit.
According to their highly credible version of events, Kitty and the Doc were touring Antarctica when they found themselves caught in a blizzard. Due to their copious consumption of a certain powdery substance, they found themselves cryogenically frozen and have only now been thawed (thanks to the wonder of global warming).
Upon arriving in our time, the couple is shocked to discover many of their own hits attributed to other, subsequent artists. Their suffragette anthem "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun", and their ode to the electric iron "Drop It While It’s Hot", have been wrongly credited to others. Determined to reclaim their glorious back catalogue, they have reformed to show the world how these songs should really be sung. Thus the audience of The Vaudevillians is treated to the most long-awaited comeback in musical history.
Of course, as with most married couples, tensions soon rise and Kitty’s prostitute past, not to mention Dr Dan’s latent homosexuality, threaten to upend and unravel the carefully calibrated dynamics of the duo. Will they keep it together, or will past indelicacies ruin the act?
Thankfully, the audience needn’t care, because the laughs are jam-packed and the musicianship is flawless. Jerick Hoffer (aka Jinkx Monsoon) and Richard Andriessen (aka Major Scales) masterfully reinvent pop music standards as 20s music hall routines, their influences ranging from Cole Porter and Kurt Weil to Soft Cell and Snoop Dog.
The whole thing could easily have rested on a quaint, nostalgic charm, but for the performance of Hoffer. Famous in the gay community as the reigning champion of RuPaul’s Drag Race – a reality show that pits drag queens against each other – Hoffer’s alter ego Jinkx Monsoon is extraordinary. Coming off as Maggie the Cat meets Fritz the Cat, Monsoon’s Kitty is a powerhouse. She sings, dances and, in one memorable sequence, acts the role of Nora from Dr Dan’s little-known flop A Doll’s House 2 -- Electric Boogaloo.
The set is basically a piano and a chaise-lounge, two clearly-defined realms the performers dominate utterly. Andriessen’s playing is virtuosic but Hoffer uses the couch to no less brilliant effect. The rendition of the seemingly exhausted "I Will Survive" trades so hilariously on the audience’s knowledge of the song that it becomes almost miraculously fresh.
Excruciating audience participation aside, this is the kind of show to which you could bring your (admittedly broad-minded) grandmother. The love of theatre and the witty, machine-gun approach to the gags means the audience is in hysterics throughout.
Dismissing a productionlike this as a cynical attempt to capitalise on televisual fame would be a mistake. Hoffer and Andriessen draw a convincing line from the immediate desperation of vaudeville to the more laid back pleasures of cabaret. It’s an expert blend of comedy, song and theatre and I’m going to do my best to see it a second time.