Last night saw certified drag legends BenDeLaCreme and Jinkx Monsoon play the first of two shows at New York’s Town Hall, as part of the US leg of their The Return of the Jinkx & DeLa Holiday Show, LIVE! tour which runs until December 30th. The queens, who have once again co-written this year’s festive show, with BenDeLaCreme producing and directing under her production company, BenDeLaCreme Presents, decide to address the pandemic head on with the hilarious and poignant opener, Two Years Gone.
The number, which has a Les Mis epicness about it that shows off the pair’s vocal talents, deals with their delight and trepidation at returning to the stage after performing digitally and making ends meet by recording random greetings for strangers on Cameo—including a breakup video on someone else’s behalf—making them feel like they were reduced to begging for handouts. There are are also enough familiar references for everyone to relate, like running out of Netflix, toilet paper, and patience for this global crisis to end. In a show where the uninitiated might have come for some pure holiday escapism, it’s perhaps a slightly risky way to begin, but pays off beautifully, proving to be funny, thought-provoking, and unexpectedly cathartic, much like the show that follows. In fact there’s something about acknowledging the COVID elephant in the room, and our collective trauma, upfront that makes you feel like you can truly relax and enjoy the show; we’re on the same page, trying to find some light in the darkness, that is what’s brought us all together for the evening, as DeLa and Jinkx continue to create an inclusive space for LGBTQ+ folks who feel the holidays don’t include them.
The audience’s enthusiastic applause at Town Hall practically brings them both to a delirious climax—with Jinkx lighting up a post-coital cigarette—and the feeling is mutual. It’s a joyous and touching experience to be in a theatre full of fellow culture-lovers, vaccinated and masked, sharing in the pleasure of seeing two performers so clearly thrilled to be back in their natural habitat. As DeLa sings in Two Years Gone, performing on Zoom alone in one’s room can have a drag queen asking questions about their unseen audience, “Are you even laughing? Are you even clapping?” Or as Jinkx puts it, “If a drag queen tells a dick joke, and there’s no one around to take offense to it, does that drag queen even exist?” They might not be able to see the broad smiles under our masks, but they can definitely hear the crowd roar, and take in that much-deserved standing ovation as the show comes to a close.
After the success of last year’s movie, The Jinkx & DeLa Holiday Special (still streaming on Hulu and available on VOD), the drag duo cleverly integrates filmed sequences into this year’s live show, which of course allows them time off stage for quick changes, but more importantly forms an absorbing narrative, featuring tales from their quarantine bunker with a witty Twelve Days of Christmas 2020 video diary that adds extra layers of meaning to the what unfurls on stage. While the atmospheric and impressively cinematic epilogue visualises Jinkx and DeLa’s emotional and mental state of being deprived of performing live as a gloomy medieval imprisonment, with them both draped, not in their sweats, but in over-sized grey robes, looking like a pair of dishevelled Miladys from Dogtanian. Both performers excel as drag storytellers and use the video element effectively to create a multi-media theatrical experience.
Incorporating favourites from the Jinkx and Dela Song Book—they’ve been performing holiday shows together for over a decade—along with brand new numbers, the twosome are joined by a charismatic and frolicsome troupe of dancers (Ruby Mimosa, Jim Kent, Chloe M. Albin, Elby Brosch, Nashon Omari, and Shane Donohue) in increasingly sexy costumes doing some alluringly raunchy and fun choreography. Meanwhile Gus Lanza makes for a hunky tattooed elf, stealing the limelight every time he sets foot on stage to assist with costumes changes and props.
Much of the show is an exploration of the chemistry between the two queens—the apparent naïveté, relentless cheer, and optimism that comes courtesy of DeLa, contrasted with the sardonic humour, heavy-drinking, and delightfully filthy dick jokes from Jinkx—with the help of their puppet alter-egos found at the bottom of their purses; a peppy peppermint named Peppy, and a stiff and cynical cumrag athletic sock, named Sock. Whereas many lesser performances might start to fall apart at the seams under this much analysis of the blend of materials that goes into its sequin-covered fabric, it is exactly the kind of meta approach that is as integral to this duo’s brand as the hilarious lyrics, pinpoint comic timing, and powerful vocals. The show runs at a zippy pace and maintains an engagingly spontaneous quality, despite every moment being intricately crafted and precisely delivered. Jinkx and DeLa have enough stage presence to fill the Colosseum and don’t need any fancy set dressing, and although many of the costumes are a feast for the eyes, they are never relied upon to keep the audience entertained.
While the downsides of the most wonderful time of the year are insightfully captured in the ironically upbeat and catchy anthem Everyone’s Traumatized By Christmas, Jinkx and DeLa take things further by delving into what lies beneath that obligatory seasonal cheer, particularly in the lead up to this second pandemic Christmas, as exemplified by DeLa’s incessant perkiness, as we’re given glimpses of her inner-despair. It’s an approach that gives her character more nuance and an intriguing richness, while Jinkx treats the audience to a slide show expounding the queer-baiting inherent in heteronormative presentations of Christmas, rips into the privilege of the WASPy Connecticut yuletide DeLa is accustomed to, and deconstructs Santa, revealing him as a complicit patriarch of capitalism.
Coming back together after a rift with a new-found appreciation of what each of them brings to their partnership, having made us laugh and think, Jinkx and DeLa create a beautifully moving penultimate number, Looking At The Lights, which had me wiping away a few tears. Written by BenDelaCreme and composed by Major Scales, with sublime vocals by Jinkx, the song captures the true spirit of friendship, and the holiday season, with a simple, striking theatrical tableau, giving us all some hope in these dark times to leave the theatre with.
The Return of the Jinkx & DeLa Holiday Show, LIVE! is a riotous, unapologetically queer early Christmas present, wrapped in multiple layers, that proves Jinkx and DeLa are still mistresses of their craft who never miss a beat, working their padded asses off while making it look like a breeze. Running at around two hours including an intermission, this is a hugely entertaining cerebral spectacle that lingers long after the curtain falls, and a showcase for what is possible when theatre meets the art of drag. My Christmas wish is that this is one holiday tradition that continues for decades to come.
By James Kleinmann
The Return of The Jinkx & DeLa Holiday Show, LIVE! tour continues across the USA until December 30th 2021. For more details and to purchase tickets head to jinkxanddela.com. The show is produced and directed by BenDeLaCreme, co-written and co-created by BenDeLaCreme and Jinkx Monsoon, and associate produced by Kevin Heard.
The Return of The Jinkx & DeLa Holiday Show, LIVE! Tour Dates:
December 4 – New York, NY (The Town Hall)
December 5 – Washington, DC (Lincoln Theatre)
December 6 – Philadelphia, PA (Keswick Theatre, Glenside)
December 8 – St. Paul, MN (The Fitzgerald)
December 9 – Chicago, IL (Thalia Hall)
December 10 – Detroit, MI (The Majestic Theatre)
December 12 – Austin, TX (Paramount Theatre)
December 14 – Denver, CO (Paramount Theatre)
December 16 – Phoenix, AZ (The Van Buren)
December 18 – Los Angeles, CA (The Theatre at Ace Hotel)
December 19 – San Francisco, CA (The Palace of Fine Arts Theatre)
December 21 – Seattle, WA (The Neptune)
December 22 – Seattle, WA (The Neptune)
December 23 – Seattle, WA (The Neptune)
December 24 – Seattle, WA (The Neptune)
December 26 – Seattle, WA (The Neptune)
December 26 – Seattle, WA (The Neptune)
December 21 – Seattle, WA (The Neptune)
December 28 – Vancouver, BC (Vogue Theatre)
December 30 – Portland, OR (The Newmark)