WHEN I WAS in high school, my friends and I would routinely sneak out of the house on the weekends to go dancing all night at the all-ages Escape night club in downtown Portland, where there was usually an amateur lip-sync drag show at midnight. Except you didn’t have to be dressed in drag to perform: Some just performed as they came, as their out-and-proud selves. I specifically remember a character named Jinkx performing Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” in one of the most feminine, sexy, and charismatic displays I’d ever seen. She had so much pep in her step, such a gorgeous wide grin, and she moved with the confidence of a veteran Pussycat Doll.
My friends and I were absolutely stunned, and became borderline obsessed with this persona. It wasn’t until a couple weeks later someone pointed out that our new fave was actually not a cisgender woman, but the “genderless” Jerick Hoffer; Jinkx was their hyper-feminine alter ego—and a very convincing one at that. At the awkward age of 16, I would’ve given anything for the girlish confidence and room-altering presence that this drag queen had mastered. So when I found out the Portland-born, Seattle-residing Jinkx had been crowned the season five winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2013, becoming America’s Next Drag Superstar, it only seemed fitting. I beamed with pride that Jinkx was representing the Pacific Northwest art scene on a national level.
A year later, Jinkx went on to release The Inevitable Album, titled after her childhood dream of making a record. It’s a solid and eclectic project made up of mostly original songs written for Jinkx by music partner Richard Andriessen, and there’s even a couple tracks featuring Fred Schneider of the B-52s. Standouts include “Ladies in Drag” (an endearing play off Stephen Sondheim’s “The Ladies Who Lunch”), the seething and sassy “What About Debbie,” and the ever-appropriate “Coffee and Wine,” a well-sung ode to beverages accompanied by a cabaret-style music video that’s as funny as it is sexy.
After a long run at the Seattle Repertory Theater in 2014, and performances in the UK over the last two weeks, Jinkx Monsoon and Andriessen alter-ego Major Scales are bringing The Vaudevillians to Portland for a homecoming that’s long overdue. Jinkx plays the role of Kitty Witless, and Major Scales is her piano-playing husband Doctor Dan Von Dandy. The fictional onstage duo are vaudeville stars who were frozen alive in the 1920s, and thawed out nearly a century later thanks to global warming, only to find that pop stars like Madonna and Lady Gaga had ripped off their songs in their absence. They return to the stage to set the record straight, making a slew of cocaine jokes and performing “their songs”—popular singles made famous by the likes of Britney Spears, M.I.A., and Janis Joplin—as if they were written in the 1920s.
While many attendees might be hoping for a taste of Drag Race (or a dose of Escape club nostalgia), The Vaudevillians is anything but your typical drag show. It’s about 80 percent scripted and 20 percent improv, making each show a potentially new, unique experience. Expect to be impressed by Jinkx’ powerful pipes, and Major Scales’ innovative arrangements, but try not to laugh yourself so far into tears that you can’t even see our local star shine.