Drag Queen Storytime Gone Wild!
Benjamin Schatz (Book), with Spencer Brown, Jeff Manabat & Nathan Marken
Benjamin Schatz (Lyrics); Jeff Manabat (Vocal Arrangements)
New Conservatory Theatre Center
The masters of brilliantly delivering both corn and porn in glorious, a cappella harmonies brimming with biting political and social satire are back in what they call “our favorite theatre in a basement.” The Kinsey Sicks returns to New Conservatory Theatre Center for the regional premiere of their latest zinger, Drag Queen Storytime Gone Wild!
A frequent visitor to NCTC during their twenty-five history of bringing hard-hitting, hilarious parodies with such titles as Dragapella, Boyz to Girls, and Oy Vey in a Manger, their current tour tackles head-on the wave of legislative and politicians’ attacks on drag queens, transgender rights, and equality for all those not white and straight. And as they are oft to do, they do so with groaner jokes that are often like a potty-mouthed version of Heehaw – familiar songs whose altered titles and lyrics for the most part are ones not to be shared in print.
Drag Queen Storytime Gone Wild! takes place during an assembly in a conservative, Christian elementary school whose principal just happens to be named Ron DeSantis. While each of the foursome is dressed in a wildly colorific version of 1950’s housewives like Donna Reed, Lucy Ricardo, or June Lockhart, they are quick to tell us they are definitely NOT the dreaded drag queens they are here in fact to demonize. They also are quick to plummet their fists on the the breast of any one of the others who dares to say the forbidden “G” word (as is “gay”). To prove that everything LGBTQ and drag is of the devil’s doing, they proceed to sing songs about every imaginable sex act between two men (and sometimes women) to the tunes of nursery rhymes, “Sesame Street,” “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood,” and Disney. No orifice is off limits; no word a child should never hear is left unsung. And all is delivered as part of the quartet’s supposed, self-righteous duty to prove to us “kids” the horrors of where diversity, equality, and inclusion of all can lead. This is masterful, mordant satire that cuts to the core as we laugh and cringe at that same time.
The targets the four aim their worded weapons are of course the likes of Trump, DeSantis, and Republicans in general. Trampolina sings “Ursula’s Song” from The Little Mermaid as Spencer Brown vibrantly, vigorously intones about the “poor unfortunate trolls” who are paying all their hard-earned money to bolster the coffers of Trump. Ron DeSantis is the well-deserved focus of a barrage of pointed insults as the four march around singing the governor’s complaints about “D-I-S-N-E-Y.” The Far Right’s focus on the Second Amendment becomes a hard-hitting, dynamically sung parody by Trixie (Jeff Manabat) about Jesus as one of the Founding Fathers declaring, “There is no freedom greater than to commit massacres.”
Jeff Manabat’s Trixie is a particularly pointed paradox. As a Filipino actor, his Trixie is dressed in all yellow, with eye and face make-up playing to the very stereotypes that are at the heart of the current, horrific anti-Asian prejudice racing across much of the country. Trixie also voices the biggest advocacy of gun rights and the loudest insults about Jews. She is The Kinsey Sicks’ way of mockingly embodying the very evils often directed toward and affecting people who do not fit into the mold of straight, white, Christian, and male.
Joining Trixie and Trampolina in rolling, four-part melodies and impressively presented solos are Nathan Marken as Winnie and J.B. McLendon as Angel. Each of the four has many moments to reign forth in the spotlight as well as time to recede as back-up, doo-wop singer to another’s time to shine.
Throughout much of this seventy-five-minute (plus intermission) story time, The Kinsey Sicks are manifesting exactly what the likes of DeSantis falsely proclaim drag queen story hours are like in libraries, churches, and schools all across the country. The smut they dish out so deliciously proves to us how outrageous the lies of politicians like him really are. The more they spout pro-gun, anti-immigrant, antisemitic garbage – all spilling forth in silly lyrics sung to the tunes children often sing – the more they are calling on us as audience to be on our guard, to fight back, and to be aware that not everyone lives in a city like San Francisco or a state like California.
Alan Huang’s set design is a brightly hued, kid-friendly library where two, giant alphabet blocks display the letters D-R and A-G; where a teddy bear sits amidst kids books and a school’s globe of the world; and where a rainbow, sun, and fluffy clouds light up the windows. Kyler Stanion’s lighting design appropriately shines spots on both the no-no’s and the tee-hee’s of the foursome’s antics as well as softens the scene with dappled shadows on the floor.
When the crooning quartet turns at the end to Peter, Paul, and Mary for inspiration, their “Puff the Magic Drag Queen” rings forth with hope for a better world through respect of others and a world where diversity reigns. Gone is the snarky, snappy sarcasm used earlier to cut deep into the current prejudices populating our country. Replacing it are flowing notes sung with genuine grace and humanity.
The too-short stop here in San Francisco is the regional kick-off for a tour that now takes The Kinsey Six to Edinburgh for the famed Fringe Festival in August. The roars of laughter of audiences soon heading to the Fringe from countries across the globe will surely be as loud and the applause as appreciative as have been those here at NCTC. With only a few shows left before closing, grab a ticket and come to be titillated and troubled at the same time.
Rating: 4 E
Drag Queen Storytime Gone Wild! continues through July 16, 2023, in a regional premiere performance at New Conservatory Theatre Center, Decker Theatre, 25 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco. Tickets are available online at http://nctcsf.org or by phone at 415-861- 8972.
Photo Credits: Lois Tema