A Downtown pioneer sparkles and shines, again

Come and play in the ‘Jukebox Jackie’ glitterbox

[media-credit name="Photo by Mat Szwajkos " align="alignleft" width="300"][/media-credit]
L to R: Cole Escola, Steel Burkhardt, Justin Vivian Bond and Bridget Everett.

BY SCOTT STIFFLER  |  So this strange guy saunters up, and what’s the first thing out of his mouth? He asks if you want to be a star. Then Andy Warhol sweetens the deal: “You won’t have to do anything for it.”

Most people would grab that opportunity by the balls and hold on tight for the rest of their dear lives. Not Jackie Curtis. The first thing that went through Jackie’s head was, “I wanted to do everything. I wanted to sing, dance, talk, be a man, be a woman, and wear furs.”

That’s what set the Downtown drag artist, writer, director and glam rock “pioneer without a frontier” apart from others on Warhol’s assembly line of Factory talent. They achieved notoriety largely for the simple act of being. Jackie got attention and applause the old fashioned way: by earning it.

Decades after Jackie sparkled and shined, her body of work has been largely forgotten — while pop culture drowns in a sea of household names who shot to fame thanks to their talent for…not having any particular talent.

“Jukebox Jackie” sets out to restore some karmic balance to the universe, by giving audiences an overdue primer on what made the late, great artist tick. This self-professed “collage” has elements of a biopic, a celebrity confession beach read, a poetry slam, a rock concert and a few other things that (like its subject) can’t be defined or described. You just know it when you see it…and what you see is more than enough to make you a Jackie convert.

By the end, you haven’t exactly emerged with a complete picture of who Jackie Curtis was. But you do get a strong sense of the “why.” When Jackie took to the stage or street as a woman, an invisible, effeminate boy became a powerful, feminine figure that demanded attention. Respect or ridicule, Jackie didn’t care. Both extremes, she reasoned, certainly beat indifference.

Larger than life, it takes a cast of four to resurrect Jackie. Justin Vivian Bond, Bridget Everett, Cole Escola and Steel Burkhardt all play different shades of Jackie’s temperament and talent — and each member of the tight, highly theatrical ensemble gets an exceedingly well executed star turn (or two or three).

But it’s Bond who spends the most time in Jackie’s skin…and shoes, and ripped black stockings. Author of the memoir “TANGO: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels” and renowned inhabitant of the “Kiki” half of cabaret duo Kiki & Herb, the empathetic and dynamic Bond (who prefers to be called Justin, Vivian or “V”) is intimately familiar with the gender tribulations that prompted Jackie to declare, “I’m not a boy, not a girl. I’m just me, Jackie.”

That piercing stab at self-definition uttered decades ago  is still relevant to today’s trans youth.

Skillfully conceived and directed by Scott Wittman (who won a Tony for scoring “Hairspray” and currently pens songs for “Smash”), “Jukebox” deserves to be seen — so Jackie’s clear and strong voice can once again be heard.

THEATER

JUKEBOX JACKIE: SNATCHES OF JACKIE CURTIS
Conceived and directed by Scott Wittman
Collaged by Scott Wittman and Tony Zanetta
Performed by Justin Vivian Bond, Bridget Everett, Cole Escola and Steel Burkhardt
Designed by Scott Pask, with lighting by Aaron Spivey, costumes by Rita Ryack
Staged by Joey Pizzi
Musical direction by Lance Horne
Through June 10
Wed. through Fri., at 8pm; Sat. at 7 & 10pm; Sun. at 7:30pm
At La MaMa’s Ellen Stewart Theatre
66 E. 4th St., btw. Bowery & 2nd Ave.
For tickets ($30, $25 for students/seniors), call 212-475-7710 or visit lamama.org

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