|"Glamour and sleaze come alive"|
by Nina Romain for remotegoat on 20/02/09
"I Happen to Like New York", Thursday February 19, The Leicester Square Theatre. Reviewed by Nina Romain.
"I Happen to Like New York" is everything a drag show should be - quirky, funny, beautifully outfitted, full of colourful stories of the sleaze and humour in NYC - without any backbiting or malice.
The show is written and performed by La JohnJoseph, who enters in green stilettos and a beautiful creation of a white dress, similar to a funky wedding gown but created entirely from hundreds of paper planes and white paper-rosettes, both surreal and childlike. This is the kind of outfit that needs to speed-dial Max Clifford and get itself some serious exposure. If costume designer Faye-Michelle Turner never creates anything better than this, she can retire in the late 2040s feeling proud of herself.
Taking his show title from the Cole Porter song, La JohnJoseph recounts his story of "burlesque, Ritalin and prostitution", creating for Londoners the image of NYC as a place to sit on the stoop and watch the Scissor Sisters'-esque world glide by on the sidewalk, where the drudge of real life must be escaped to find a parade and "take a wander in the tickertape". His story style is witty, but not too bitchy, with Shavian stories of "stepping over the crack addict" every single time you enter or exit your front door.
Interspersed with hits from Blondie, Grace Jones, Prince, Patti Smith and the Velvet Underground, La JohnJoseph's voice is also good enough to be good rather than just funny. He is also smart enough to play up his British upbringing to have a London audience feel they are watching a local boy make good, rather than a native New Yorker come over to tell us how much cooler it is to live over there.
He is aided and abetted by a friend on the dressing room table next to him who makes herself up in a Shirley Temple wig and Angelina Jolie style glittering lippy, knocks back red wine and occasionally does backing vocals. She is never referred to, so it is up to the audience to decide who she is.
Some times, as when she grabs a paintbrush and starts to paint him pink, the show did edge into self-consciously fey "performance art for performance art sake", and does occasionally call up memories of Marc Almond claiming as a student he performed wearing nothing but a thin coating of cat food. Another puzzle is the role of his companion is never quite clear - is this his imaginary friend, theatre dresser or real life buddy who has wandered on to the stage?
But these minor quibbles aside, it's a fun night being shown around NYC with a hilarious friend. And, seriously, if I ever get (re)married, could I possibly borrow that dress for the day?
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