Review: A Ribald Tribute to Jackie Curtis at La MaMa

Jackie Curtis was a Lower East Side legend. The actor, writer and singer would perform as both a man and a woman throughout his career, becoming a Warhol superstar and pioneering downtown drag with his signature red hair, torn stockings and face bedecked with glitter. In Jukebox Jackie, starring Mx. Justin Vivian Bond, Bridget Everett, Cole Escola, Steel Burkhardt, which opened at La Mama over the weekend, Jackie’s legacy is brought to life in vivid color. The review is a medley of ribald rock monologues musing on Jackie’s life, sexy scenes from his films such as Women In Revolt and a coordinated ensemble reading of Curtis’ famous poem, B-Girls.

The show is a passionate homage to glamour, played out on a glittering pink stage in front of a screen projected with images of Warhol stars like Nico and John Cage and the Hollywood legends that inspired much of Jackie’s style, like Greta Garbo and James Dean.

Most moving about Jukebox Jackie is the commentary on fame and loneliness, the half-broken dreams of stardom as a saving force, one that lifts us up from our mundane surroundings and celebrates individuality and the strange—in this case Jackie’s outspoken drag personality—in ways that everyday people might not relate to.

The whole cast takes on aspects of Jackie’s personality with gusto; Mx. Justin Vivian Bond, especially, performs wryly, often speaking directly to the audience. The rough throb of rock n’ roll runs through the whole performance, adding a toughness to Jackie’s story. After all, Curtis’ New York was a Bowery still lined with bums and junkies, a Soho desolate at night with clanking metal elevators opening on empty lofts, a Lower East Side sprawling with burned out tenements and pockets of struggling artists amidst immigrants from another generation.

The poetry of the show comes from Jackie’s life, his struggle with gender and addiction, art and madness. As Warhol said, “Jackie Curtis is not a drag queen. Jackie is an artist. A pioneer without a frontier.” In Jukebox Jackie, it appears that frontier has been found and breached.

The show is part of the Queer New York International Arts Festival and will run at La Mama through June 10th.