When Jinkx Monsoon delivered the sublime seasonal ballad Looking at the Lights with her warm, delectably velvet tones to a sold-out Town Hall in New York on Friday night, staged with elegant simplicity, looking directly into the eyes of her visibly moved showgirl partner in crime, BenDeLaCreme, its mournful but uplifting lyrics felt especially poignant. As Jinkx acknowledged when the pair took their final bows at the end of The Jinkx & DeLa Holiday Show, this is a troubling time to be LGBTQ+ in this country and no amount of festive cheer can disguise that. Drag performers themselves have become a target of right-wing extremist policymakers and commentators who continue to spread hateful, fear-mongering and dangerously inflammatory rhetoric, and our community is still reeling from the deadly attack on one of our gathering places, Club Q in Colorado Springs.
The genius of Jinkx and DeLa’s holiday show (their fourth as co-writers, produced, and directed by BenDeLaCreme) is that they don’t try to make us forget what’s happening in the world, but rather help us to defiantly find some yuletide queer joy in the company of others despite it. Our community has always looked to our drag artists not just for entertainment, but to console us in times of distress and to rally us to create a better future, and these queens continue that tradition with this fun and lighthearted romp just when we need it most. We might be “surrounded by the darkness” right now, but in Jinkx and DeLa’s company we’re “looking at the lights” together.
Unlike the lyrics of the other original songs in the show, Looking at the Lights—written by BenDeLaCreme and composed by Major Scales—strips back all the biting wit and high jinks (sorry!) and directly addresses the feelings of isolation and depression that can set in at this time of year, before going on to gently reassure and encourage with a vision of huddling together with chosen family to get through it. After all, one of the reasons that the treasured Drag Race alum began performing together at this time of year (they’ve been doing smaller-scale holiday shows for over a decade) was to create queer traditions for those of us who may feel excluded by heteronormative expectations and stressed-out by forced joviality. Which, as they point out in Everyone is Traumatized by Christmas—the hysterical, melodically upbeat number featured in their quarantine necessitated 2020 film, The Jinkx & DeLa Holiday Special that’s still streaming on Hulu—when it comes down to it, that’s pretty much all of us.
Last year’s The Return of the Jinkx & DeLa Holiday Show, LIVE! saw the pair address the COVID pandemic head on, as they worked through the trauma of having been off stage for close to two years, and reveled in the ecstasy of returning to performing live; while ripping apart at the seams the sequined fabric that holds their unlikely partnership together, only to lovingly restitch it. This year, the queens ponder how we got ourselves into this “hellscape” of a world that we find ourselves in, threatened by the climate crisis, our rights being taken away, and political unease, and whether it was something that they themsleves might have done in the past that has placed us in such a predicament in the present. A misstepped dance move perhaps? Or was it something that one of them said on stage?
Cue a kind of drag mash-up of Back to the Future and A Christmas Carol. When it comes to any gaping plot holes along the way, “just relax, don’t think too much about them and you’ll have more fun”, the twosome advise as they’re propelled through time and space. As the iconic drag duo take us on a thrillingly timewarpy trip through the decades, they start by swinging into the 60s, back when they were an iconic trio (who knew!) performing on a cruise liner. They then head on through the 70s, 80s, and 90s, before taking us back, back, back, back again to a present that they no longer recognize, and get a glimpse of an unsettlingly bizarre vision of their future selves.
Jinkx and DeLa are much more than ditzy perkiness covering inner-despair (DeLa) meets witchy Martini-guzzling acerbic cynicism (Jinkx), they’re fully-formed, intricately thought-out drag creations which can thrive and reveal different sides of themselves in any situation they’re thrown into, as this wacky narrative beautifully demonstrates. The time travel aspect also allows for some killer parody covers of hits from each era with whip-smart funny lyrics; a nativity themed take on Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ being a particular standout. It’s a musical number that really shows off the talents of the eclectic dance troupe—Chloe Albin, Mr. Babygirl, Elby Brosch, Shane Donohue, Jim Kent, and Ruby Mimosa—who make for a captivating ensemble while bringing characterful, idiosyncratic touches to their moves, choreographed collectively under the direction of Albin.
The ride through the decades also calls for some magnificent throwback lewks (featuring designs by The Lady Hyde, Mr. Gorgeous, Jamie Von Stratton, and Paris Original) which are a feast for the eyes, but as ever, these queens don’t need to rely on their costumes, sets, or props to distract or entertain us. They’re just the finely-crafted ribbon on the gift. Speaking of which, the Ghost of Christmas Present’s gold ensemble is on the nose perfection, and the spirit’s means of communicate through increasingly frenetic dance moves that only Jinkx can interpret never gets old. It wouldn’t be a Jinkx and DeLa show without some delightfully peculiar puppets (created by Erik Andor at Andor Studio and Meredith Youngblood) interacting with the queens. Everybody loves puppets! While Gus Lanza returns in all of his muscly tattooed glory as the scene-stealing “Hunky the Elf” (off-stage he’s also a producer on the show, backstage manager, and merchandiser; proving that an elf’s work is never done).
In a meta pop will eat itself look at culture, Jinkx and DeLa regift us some of our favourite tunes from their festive song book, giving us what we crave, while commenting on pop culture’s constant recycling of and riffing on itself. They’re thrown to be back into a 2022 of where Kate Bush is riding high in the charts, and A League of Their Own and Hocus Pocus are on ours screens. (The latter title got an especially hearty laugh from the crowd as Kathy Najimy happened to be in the house that night). The show’s hilariously trippy video segments (with production and visuals by Trojan Original, Luka Stemberger, Percolate Galactic, Lazy Susan, and Andrew Slade) never feel like filler for the quick-changes to happen, but continually drive things forward and are just as engaging, amusing and carefully detailed as the queen’s live on-stage antics.
There’s a nice moment early on in the show that acknowledges Jinkx’s triumphant All Stars run earlier this year and although these gals are clearly both grateful for the opportunities and exposure that their appearances on two seasons of the franchise has manifested, rather than fitting in with the machinery in place for the show’s alum to go out on the road, instead they’ve remained fiercely independent, creating their own work through BenDeLaCreme’s production company. That boldness continues to pay off and allow for some really special and memorable work.
From the moment Jinkx and DeLa take to the stage the audience is in the palms of their perfectly manicured hands and they expertly keep us there as they effortlessly maneuver from the tightly-scripted dialogue to riffing with latecomers taking their seats. In fact, two hours of these queens interacting with their fans would be worth the ticket price alone, but they’re far too dedicated to their art for that. As Drag Race has taught us: there are look queens, pageant queens, and comedy queens. Then there are multiple-threat, put-on-one-helluva-show queens like Jinkx Monsoon and BenDeLaCreme, who skillfully blend the art of drag with theatre and have the ability to take us from goofy to touching, filthy to cerebral, even profound, and back again. They were both in damn fine voice on Friday night too, which made me even more excited to see Jinkx make her Broadway debut early next year as Matron “Mama” Morton in Chicago the musical (January 16th – March 12th). It also left me dreaming, not of a white Christmas, but of Jinkx and DeLa staging their own long-running Broadway show one day.
By James Kleinmann
The Jinkx & DeLa Holiday Show continues across cities in the USA and Canada until December 30th. For more details and to purchase tickets head to JinkxAndDeLa.com.
The Jinkx & DeLa Holiday Show – Remaining 2022 Tour Dates:
December 6 – St. Paul, MN (The Fitzgerald Theater) SOLD OUT
December 7 – Chicago, IL (Auditorium Theatre)
December 8 – Detroit, MI (Royal Oak Music Theatre) SOLD OUT
December 9 – Indianapolis (Murat Theatre at Old National Centre)
December 11 – Austin, TX (Paramount Theatre) SOLD OUT
December 12 – Dallas, TX (Majestic Theatre) SOLD OUT
December 14 – Denver, CO (Paramount Theatre) SOLD OUT
December 16 – San Diego, CA (Balboa Theatre) SOLD OUT
December 17 – San Francisco, CA (The Warfield) SOLD OUT
December 18 – Los Angeles, CA (Orpheum Theatre) SOLD OUT
December 19 – Los Angeles (Orpheum Theatre)
December 21 – Seattle, WA (Moore Theatre)
December 22 – Seattle, WA (Moore Theatre)
December 23 – Seattle, WA (Moore Theatre)
December 24 – Seattle, WA (Moore Theatre)
December 27 – Portland, OR (Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall)
December 29 – Calgary, AB (Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium)
December 30 – Vancouver, BC (Vogue Theatre) SOLD OUT
Looking at the Lights is available on all streaming platforms now via BenDeLaCreme Presents Records.