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Q&A with 'The Vaudevillians'

Jinkx Monsoon and 
Major Scales bring their old-timey pop cabaret back to Seattle.
Thursday Trivia | October 6, 2014 | By Gemma Wilson

Here’s the genius of The Vaudevillians: When you make the rules, anything makes sense.

The cabaret-style show has a hilariously simple concept. Back in the 1920s, Kitty Witless and Dr. Dan Von Dandy were the toast of the vaudeville circuit—until they were frozen alive by an Antarctic avalanche. Now thawed out, they’re back on stage reclaiming their songs, which have been appropriated over the years by unscrupulous pop artists. Did you know that “I Will Survive” was originally written for the musical sequel to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House? It was, and Kitty and Dr. Dan wrote it. Ditto for Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” Janis Joplin’s “Piece Of My Heart,” and so on.

Kitty is played by Jinkx Monsoon, herself the drag alter ego of Seattle theatre vet and winner of season five of RuPaul’s Drag Race Jerick Hoffer. On the piano is Dr. Dan, played by Major Scales, the alter ego of composer/performer Richard Andriessen.

The two met studying theatre at Cornish College of the Arts. Five years ago, they started performing 10-minute sections of Kitty and Dr. Dan material in Balagan Theatre’s monthly revue. After Monsoon’s Drag Race success, a one-night show in New York turned into a four-month engagement, followed by two months in Australia and shows around the U.S. Now, after a summer run in Provincetown, Mass., they’re bringing The Vaudevillians home to open the season at Seattle Rep.

How has The Vaudevillians changed since it was last in Seattle?
Hoffer: We used to do the show at the Rosebud restaurant and it was very open-ended and improv-based. It didn’t really have a set story, it was just characters we portrayed. When we went to New York we revisited the plot line and made it a more succinct one-act musical. In Australia we found that a foreign audience was really blunt about what’s funny and what’s not, so we were able to trim the fat.

What makes you work so well together?
Andriessen: We are actually common-law married based on how long we’ve lived together—seven years. So we basically are that bitter, George-and-Martha couple now. In the best way!

Hoffer: We’ve got a really tight-knit group of creative and extremely funny friends, and we’re all constantly coming up with new bits and material because we’re nerds like that. Richard and I are basically never not rehearsing our shows.

Do you drive each other crazy, George-and-Martha style?
Andriessen: Less emotionally scarring! It’s funny we don’t get on each other’s nerves more than we do, frankly.

Hoffer: This summer [in Provincetown] was great because we took our aggression on each other out through Mario Kart. We also had a cute little family with my best friend Kenneth and Major’s boyfriend, Eric, and lots of Seattle friends like the Atomic Bombshells and BenDeLaCreme to keep us from going full cabin-fever.

So the Seattle community is with you wherever you are?
Hoffer: Definitely. And Seattleites are becoming known for our special aesthetic around the country now because of artists like the Bombshells and Dina Martina and BenDeLaCreme.

Andriessen: It’s been nice to get some wider recognition thanks to things like the last two seasons of Drag Race and how prominent the burlesque community in Seattle has become.

What’s that Seattle aesthetic?
Andriessen: It seems like you could perform something crazy in another city and get shot down immediately. In Seattle you won’t get shot down, you’ll get to work on it, so everyone gets to see this more polished work of art you’ve created out of craziness.
Hoffer One of the great things about Seattle is that there aren’t a lot of people saying no. When we first started performing The Vaudevillians we met so many people who added to it, who gave us another venue to perform it, who invited us to perform it in one of their shows. It kept growing because of how supportive the community in Seattle is.

Do you have other characters you perform, or want to perform?
Andriessen Kitty and Dan are more exaggerated versions of our Jinkx and Major characters, so it would be hard to do something even more exaggerated. We have other ideas, but one of our fantasies is that one day we’ll own a bed-and-breakfast that sells pies where we can perform Sweeney Todd. Nightly.

The Vaudevillians
Oct. 3–Nov. 2
Seattle Repertory Theatre

Above: Richard Andriessen aka Major Scales (left), Jerick Hoffer aka Jinkx Monsoon (right), photo by Claire Alexander.

This article originally appeared at City Arts.

October 3, 2014 to November 2, 2014
155 Mercer Street
Seattle, WA 98109