Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler continues his conversation with Jerick Hoffer, the creative force behind drag persona Jinkx Monsoon and the co-creator of The Vaudevillians.
When we last left Hoffer, he was recounting the tawdry trials and tribulations it took to become RuPaul’s next drag superstar. But the winner of season five knew from the get-go that wearing that crown has a short shelf life, so he pulled together a creative and management team to keep the Monsoon momentum going. Part of this process was revisiting an act that germinated while he was still in college — the characters of Kitty Witless and her piano-playing husband, Dr. Dan von Dandy.
Hoffer says the characters were inspired by an arduous college production of Our Town, where he and future collaborator Richard Andriessen were both playing “boring roles in a boring play.” Trying to pass the time backstage, they pretended to be the oldest characters in town and riffed on popular songs as if there were written in an older era. Eventually that evolved into the concept for The Vaudevillians, a Tin Pan Alley husband and wife team who have been frozen alive while on tour in Antarctica.
Thanks to global warming, the faux stars of follies, speak-easies and burlesque reviews have been thawed out for modern audiences. Their repertoire, including “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” which was originally about the Woman’s Suffragette Movement, and “Drop it Like it’s Hot,” which was originally about the invention of the electric iron, is filled with hilarious comedic bits and powerhouse vocals.
Currently playing to sold-out crowds at New York City’s Laurie Beechman Theatre, The Vaudevillians is a tour-de-force for Hoffer as he kicks up his heels and belts out retro-arrangements of popular songs ranging from “I Will Survive” to “Tainted Love.”
If you’re confused as to whether you’ll see Jinkx Monsoon or some other drag iteration, Hoffer says that Ms. Kitty Witless is a branch of Jinkx Monsoon, who he considers “the base of my drag tree.” Hoffer says, “Jinkx is the only one who is a drag queen. Kitty is a woman. She has one hairstyle and a wardrobe. And that’s the truth for all my sub characters.”
Hoffer sees Jinkx Monsoon as an unlimited creative outlet. “I let her do whatever she wants. Sometimes I do antiquated numbers. Sometimes I do hip-hop or rap. [Jinkx] acts and sings. I feel like I came to life as an artist when I started fully investing myself into Jinkx.” This creative empowerment has been noticed beyond the world of drag. Hoffer recently starred in 5th Avenue Theatre’s concert production of Hairspray as Velma von Tussle. He’s got his eye on the prize for other heavy-hitting roles — including those not in drag — such as Prince Herbert in Spamalot and Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon. And watch out Neil Patrick Harris, Jinkx is ready to step into your heels after you’re worn out from the forthcoming revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
Hoffer says that, “Broadway has always been the Emerald City on my yellow brick road. I would have taken a Broadway role over TV, but now that I’ve done it, I love television, too, and am pitching ideas for some TV shows.” But he’s quick to say, “ One isn’t more important than the other. I have an open mind and am excited to do any of it.”
Hoffer says, “It’s the happiest I’ve ever been, even though I’m totally exhausted. Drag is an art form. With every art form — to be outstanding in your field — you need to be willing to change and adapt. When you think you’ve reached the point where you think you’re done developing, you’re done. A true artist never gets to that point.” Beyond the physical stamina of the show itself (The Vaudevillians is approximately 75 minutes with no intermission and plenty of high kicks and high notes), the physical transformation into Kitty Witless takes two hours.
But Hoffer is enjoying every tucked moment. “As an actor, you’re constantly told how it’s never going to happen, how you have to work your ass off, get used to rejection, and accept that one in ten might make it. So to have this kind of success and believe my dreams are plausible and more is on the way is surreal. I’m ecstatic. Even though it’s a lot of hard work, it’s so worth it.”
CLICK HERE for Part I of The Broadway Blog’s interview with Jerick Hoffer, which reveals the inspiration for Jinkx Monsoon and at one point he believed he could take the crown on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Want more Jinkx Monsoon?
Where will The Vaudevillians appear next?