ORLANDO – Janine Klein has always felt a strong kinship with two things: theater, and the gay community.
The fact that those two entities often seem intricately linked helps quite a bit.
“As a kid I grew up with theater parents,” said the native of West Palm Beach. “My father was a director and my mother was an actress, so I have it in my blood, pretty much. I’ve been performing since I was a child. We were always doing shows, that was our whole life, that was the way we always got along together.”
Klein, who now lives in Orlando and works at Universal Studios, remembers meeting and becoming friends with a lot of gay people during her years performing in South Florida’s community theater world.
“With theater comes gay people,” she said. “There’s a couple of reasons why I identify with gay people. I was this theater geek and never felt like I fit in. I always related to gay people because I felt like they were the underdog and I gravitated to them. I love gay people.”
Klein’s love of both performing — and performing before gay audiences — hit a peak in May 2010, when she had the premiere of her campy, sexy cabaret show, “Gay Bar Star: Return from the Big House” at the Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival. The show, written by her friend John Ryan, was tailor-made for gay audiences, and it’s one reason why Klein is reviving the show this month, at the Footlight Theatre at the Parliament House Resort.
“I have a really big Broadway, Ethel Merman-ish quality that gay audiences love,” she said. “This show is about an aging diva that performs in a gay bathhouse, and John wrote this great script and we took these songs that were well known songs, but changed the words so it fit with a gay diva star. It has a little bit of a Bette Midler feel to it when she was singing in the bathhouses and got her start. It’s campy, it’s sexy, it’s making fun of myself.”
It’s also been a hit. After her run at last year’s Fringe festival, Klein got an invitation to bring the show to the Footlight Theatre by its director, Michael Wanzie, and audiences immediately embraced her performance.
“They just love it,” she said. “I get a lot lof repeat people who come to see it. They’ve found it just so fun, with those familiar tunes but with the different lyrics. It’s like a show written for them. But straight people can enjoy it, too.”
Klein will be performing the show on Saturday night, but in an abbreviated form. Her 30-half performance will be the lead in for “Mr. Charles, Currently of Palm Beach,” another comedy show that got its start at the Orlando Fringe Festival back — this time, in 2006 — and then found a second home at the Footlight Theatre. Frank McLaine is reprising his role as the “deliciously queer Mr. Charles” in a new interpretation of the Paul Rudnik play, directed by Wanzie.
“Coming up for this month, I’m running with ‘Mr. Charles,’ ” Klein said. “For the first half hour before his show, I’ll be doing a medley from my show. It’s like a, ‘Hi I’m back, but I’m doing the same songs I did in the first one’ show. Then I’ll be doing my own show the whole month of August. It will be the second version of ‘Gay Bar Star.’ “
“Gay Bar Star II” will be performed on Saturday nights at 8 throughout August. The Footlight Theatre is at 410 N. Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando. To make a reservation, call 407-540-0317, or log on to www.FoothlightTheatre.com.
At the moment, Klein said she’s staying put here in Orlando and doesn’t have the time to take this show on the road – although she admits that eventually she would love to tour with “Gay Bar Star.”
“It’s a show that can travel,” she said. “I’d love to take it on a gay cruise. It’s an hour and it’s fun, and I think it’s an enjoyable experience for people who go on cruises and like to hear shows. I do feel as I get older, that possibility will come up. I’m kind of planted in Orlando now. It’s a comfortable place.
But I’d love to go to all of the gay-friendly areas where they have shows,” she added, “from P-town (Provincetown, the gay Mecca on Cape Cod in Massachusetts) to South Florida and in Tampa to the gay district over there.”
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