ORLANDO – She’s brassy and sassy, has an absolutely amazing voice that offers a marked contrast to her sometimes grouchy and cynical demeanor – and she’s in jail.
She’s Jewish, so she knows guilt. She’s made her living singing at Orlando’s theme parks, even though she doesn’t really like tourists – particularly the ones who come here. And while she’s found herself a comfortable niche performing before appreciative gay audiences at the Parliament House gay resort, she’s got a genuine dilemma: She’s inmate #525000 – oy vey!
”Here I am, an existential problem dressed like a drag queen,’’ she laments.
”Gay Bar Star: Return from the Big House,’’ is not actually a one-woman show – Janine Klein gets some help from Doug Bowser as the sidekick who refuses to let her wallow too heavily in self-pity when she’s got an audience to entertain, and Bowser has one of the 45-minute-long show’s funniest moments when he takes over the microphone and sings ”All Men Are Freaks,’’ then offers his own slick dance moves as Klein carries on the tune.
But there’s no question that Klein’s comedic cabaret is one deliciously good showcase for her multitude of talents, from her stunningly rich singing to her sharp comedic timing, to her ability to go from showstopper tune belted out with roaring energy and enthusiasm to a howling funny growl about just how unfair life can be. If cabaret is all about that happy mix of Broadway-style showtunes and campy, over the top humor, Klein knows her talent, and her audience, so very well.
Created by her friend John Ryan, ”Gay Bar Star’’ is pure Fringe, the kind of show that gives the annual Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival a built-in audience year after year.
You can start with the classic situation that any of us can relate to: if you walk into the theater thinking you’ve got problems in life, allow the self-proclaimed “wild Jewish diva’’ explain that honey, you don’t know jack about life’s hardships.
So here she comes, direct from the 33rd Street Jail, the diva who once sang at the Parliament House’s Footlight Theatre, but now finds herself singing behind bars – only it’s not the kind of bars that serve alcohol – boy, doesn’t she wish!
Klein tries at first to make the best of a crummy situation, saying ”I find nothing more relaxing than a four by eight cell,’’ or noting that new environments bring about unique and unexpected opportunities, including a little dalliance with lesbianism.
”I’ve met some lovely new ladies,’’ she says.
Eventually, she gets released, when the corrections officers springs Klein from her cell and hands her the items she had when she first got to the Orange County Jail: six dozen condoms, a feather boa, and a restraining order from actor Hugh Jackman.
”Goodbye, George Zimmerman, goodbye my cellmates,’’ she sighs, as Klein heads back to what she does best: entertaining the tourists at the theme parks, and the gays at the Parliament House.
She makes no bones about which audience she prefers.
”For someone who’s worked a long time in the tourism industry, I know I’m not alone when I say – Go away!’’ she grumbles.
Klein, who works at Universal Studios, has spent years perfecting this role. Her talents hit a peak in May 2010 when she premiered this constantly funny cabaret at Fringe. She revived it at the Footlight Theatre at the Parliament House Resort last year, and now is back with another round of campy Bathhouse-style humor.
Klein has talked about taking this show on gay cruises, but the truth is her singing and comedic talents are so rich that you don’t have to be gay – or Jewish – or a tourist basher – or even a 33rd Street inmate – to appreciate it. In fact, at the show I caught on Monday, Klein had one of her funniest moments at the end of the performance, when she made an improvised joke about her mother not standing up during the closing applause — a quip that brought down the entire house.
”Gay Bar Star: Return from the Big House’’ continues with performances on Thursday at 6:15 p.m., Friday at 8:15 p.m., and Saturday at 4:20 p.m.
There’s no question about it: this is absolutely what Fringe is all about, and what makes it so very, very entertaining.
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