In this column, I’ll be covering shows that are more theatrical in nature - Broadway, Off-Broadway and even a few cabaret pieces that don’t quite fit the standard norm of nightclub acts. I’m starting with some good ones!
Bastard Jones - at The Cell Theater
Based on Henry Fielding’s bawdy tale “The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling,” Bastard Jones is a remarkable new musical - rockingly tuneful,
sexy, silly, bursting its knickers with talent, and hugely entertaining!
With a book and lyrics by Marc Acito (Broadway’s “Allegiance”) and music and lyrics by Amy Engelhardt (Formerly of The Bobs), this raucous tale follows the adventures - or rather, Miss adventures, of bastard-born Tom Jones and the women he lusts after...and who lust after him.
This story may be old, but in Acito and Egelhardt’s deft hands, Bastard Jones has a funny, fresh, modern energy, using humor to deliver a timely message of unconditional love and acceptance, in this age where being “other” is seen by some as dangerous. We see characters forced out of their homes for simply being who they are and loving who they love - a situation that still happens far too often with LGBTQ youth. To this end, the show’s creators are donating all of the proceeds to Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Fund. Additionally, in the quest for positive social change, they’ve given us a wonderfully inclusive, multi racial cast, band, and crew. One cast member is legally blind, and Evan Ruggiero, who plays Tom, has a wooden leg, having lost much of his own right leg to cancer. Interestingly, although his prosthesis is in full view, the missing limb is never mentioned within the script. It becomes clear that the actors were cast for their abilities, rather than their perceived disabilities.
And such abilities! The cast is uniformly terrific, and everyone gets their moment to shine. With his lilting tenor and boyish good looks, Ruggiero’s Tom strikes a balance between wide-eyed country boy and complete horndog. Elena Wang, as Tom’s true love, Sophia, is gorgeous, with a stunning soprano to match, and we see her go from winsome young thing to fully sexual being! Allie B. Gorrie’s peasant girl, Molly, is alternately winsome and slutty, and as the evil Mr. Blifil, Matthew McGloin is reptilian and villainous, but I also found him rather sexy. Crystal Lucas-Perry, with her fierce stage presence and roof-raising voice, manages to make the sexually insatiable Lady Bellaston manipulative, yet sympathetic, and Rene Ruiz plays Partridge, Tom’s manservant, who serves as narrator and provides comic relief, Tony Perry cuts a noble figure as Tom’s guardian, Squire Allworthy, Adam B. Shapiro’s Reverend Shepherd is appropriately pious, with suspiciously un-pious tendencies hidden away, and Cheryl Stern plays Bridget - Allworthy’s spinster sister, who has some skeletons in her closet as well!
From the energetic opener, “Pursuit of Happiness,” the score had me smiling and bobbing my head in time with the music. In “Tingle,” Sophia sings of her physical awakening - ‘I felt a tingle in places I’m afraid to go,’ taking the song from innocent lullaby to sexual ballad. The showstopping “Nil Desperandum” recalls The Lion King’s “Hakuna Matata,” with Tom and Partridge singing ‘nil desperandum will mend all your sorrows and strife,’ and features Ruggiero tap dancing perfectly on his wooden leg! Possibly the bawdiest moment in the show is Lady Bellaston’s ode to cunnilingus, “Have Another Oyster, Dear,’ in which she commands her bed mate to ‘find the pearl,’ and conversely, Tom and Sophia’s second act love duet, “I Am There” is gorgeous and moving.
Beyond the talented cast and infectious score, the thing that really makes Bastard Jones a delight is the clever direction by Marc Acito. The Cell isn’t so much a theater, as a two-level studio apartment. Still, Acito made great use of the space, using just a few props and set pieces. Sexual trysts are shown as shadowplay, Tom rides a horse fashioned from a hatrack with a dangling basket serving as the horses head, while another hatrack, carried past them, becomes a tree, giving the illusion of movement, and a scene with Tom below and Sophia on the upper level is reminiscent of Romeo & Juliet. Sophia “climbs” down from her window using one of her curtains, which then becomes her cloak, and the end of the first act is pure bedroom farce, complete with slamming doors, mistaken identities, and a screaming granny! Oh, and Tom’s wooden leg? The first time we see it, Tom and Molly are in a four-poster bed, when suddenly, Tom grabs one of the posts and screws it into his stump! It’s used in a sword fight, Tom plays air guitar with it, and at one point, Partridge sings into it as if it were a microphone!
While this was something of a workshop production - Engelhardt and Acito financed it themselves, largely through a GoFundMe page - I look forward to seeing the next step in its evolution. But nil desperandum, my friends! Bastard Jones will...umm...rise again!
Leslie Jordan, Exposed! - at The Metropolitan Room
At the start of Leslie Jordan’s delightfully acerbic evening of personal anecdotes, we learn that the title of the show was originally going to be “Leslie Jordan, Naked” - or as he says, “nekkid!” Unfortunately, his Mama found out, and he had to change it, because his deeply religious mother would not approve. In his words: ‘It’s hard to be a cocksucker and a good Christian at the same time!’
The charm and joy of this show lies in its simplicity - it’s simply Jordan onstage in a tux, telling hilarious stories. He warns us, however, ‘My brain is like a bad neighborhood - you don’t want to go in there alone!’
The centerpiece of the show is his tale of how he landed the role of Beverley Leslie on Will & Grace. While at Whiskey Pete’s, a sleazy dive on the Nevada border, with a redheaded cowboy he’d picked up on Santa Monica Boulevard, his agent called and told him to get back to L.A. to audition for a role that was perfect for him. Originally written for Joan Collins (!) the part was now described as a tiny Southern man in a white suit, who chatters like a pair of castanets. The details of how he got to the audition, why he was late, and how he got the role, are uproariously funny.
Along the way, we also hear about his obsession with Billy Bob Thornton’s large...endowment, his nearly stealing a line away from Jessica Lange, and practically being raped by Lady GaGa on the sets of American Horror Story, getting kicked off Celebrity Big Brother: U.K. and of course, winning the Emmy Award.
Unfortunately, after the Emmy, offers didn’t pour in, so he turned to the gay community for support. There, he found his friends and extended family, including Lily Tomlin, who produced his one man show “My Life On The Pink Carpet” in London.
He ends the evening relating his experiences doing the Washington D.C. Gay Pride March, visiting Obama’s White House, and throwing out the first pitch for a game between the Nationals and the Cubs - funny, in and of itself!
By show’s end, he was “sweating like a pedophile in a Barney costume,” but he still took time to meet his fans, sign autographs, and pose for pictures. I spoke with him, briefly, and he was as warm and charming as you’d expect. I was excited to hear of his upcoming project “Warhol/Capote,” in which he’ll play celebrated author Truman Capote.
From virtual unknown in 1980’s Hollywood, to Emmy winner, to beloved activist in the gay community, I can’t imagine anyone more deserving of the adulation and fame Leslie Jordan now has.