Peaches Christ is nervous.
Nearly twenty years after becoming the first entertainer to put Showgirls on the map as a cult classic when her annual drag tributes to it began in 1997, you’d think nothing Showgirls-related could ever make her sweat. (Aside from the enormous wig and nude-illusion catsuit she wears to play Cristal Connors year after year.) She can dance her way out of an exploding volcano in a dead sleep with both hands tied behind her back and both legs tucked behind her ears, which is actually her preferred sleeping position. But this summer, the 19th consecutive year she’s mounted a tribute to Showgirls in San Francisco, something is different. And what might that be? EVERYTHING.
For the very first time, Christ is eschewing her usual pre-show/screening celebration for the most ambitious stage production of her two-decade career: she’s directing and co-starring in the west coast premiere of the full-length Off Broadway musical smash Showgirls! The Musical!. Famously described by Gawker’s Rich Juzwiak as “better than a ten-inch dick,” this word-of-mouth sensation will be brought to life by Christ and a cast that combines original New York cast members with fabulous local talent at San Francisco’s beautiful Victoria Theatre, with performances running from August 10-20. And if all that that weren’t enough, Humphry Slocombe has unveiled an official Peaches Christ ice cream flavor to coincide with it! Starting August 1, you’ll be able to enjoy Peaches and Popcorn (PNP), a buttered-popcorn flavor with peaches, at their Mission location.
Below, we sit down with the man behind the queen, Joshua Grannell, for a candid chat about being chosen for this production, the grueling behind-the-scenes work to make this show a reality, and using lap dancers for fundraising purposes.
As the world’s foremost Showgirls celebrant, how did you first find out there was such a thing as Showgirls! The Musical!? I’d heard that it was happening in New York City, and of course I was completely intrigued but also a bit skeptical. We have this longstanding tradition of celebrating Showgirls a very particular way, and sometimes I’ve seen people celebrate things that I love but not the way I think they should. Showgirls is so near and dear to my heart, so I was a little bit nervous that I might not like it. But two of my longtime Showgirls performers, Kegel Kater and Sandra O. Noshi Di’n’t, made a special trip to New York because our friend Rena Riffel (Penny/Hope in the original Showgirls) was going to be in it. When Kegel and Sandra called me with a rave review of the show, and especially of April Kidwell as Nomi Malone, I knew I had to check it out.
Eventually I got in touch with the creators, Tobly and Bob McSmith, and begged them to send me a top-secret DVD of the show, which they did. I watched it and loved it, and went back to them to ask if they’d ever considered taking it out of New York. They’d always wanted to but were very busy; right now they’re working on their very successful Katdashians! The Musical! show, which is Cats and Keeping Up with the Kardashians mixed together, and has completely exploded. Andrew Lloyd Webber threatened to sue them since they’re selling out shows in New York! They’d had offers to bring Showgirls to different cities by different production companies, but we were given the blessing to go ahead and give the show its West Coast premiere.
Why do you think they decided to choose you over the other offers? I think that they were very aware of us; we might have even been why they were inspired to create a musical around Showgirls. Obviously I do a very specific kind of show and I could never have created a musical, so I’m glad that they did and that it’s so great. So I think they chose me partly because they were familiar with what I do, and also because they were tickled by the idea of this marriage of their parody with my parody.
In past Peaches Christ tributes to Showgirls, the role of Nomi has been played by everyone from yourself to Rena Riffel to Alaska Thunderfuck. But in this show, you have acclaimed stage actress April Kidwell reprising her performance from the New York production. There wasn’t anyone in San Francisco or the world that I thought could do what April does in this role. We reached out to her before making any further plans to make sure that she was interested and available, and it wasn’t until she came on board that we started putting anything else together. Once we got April, we found out through her that there was enthusiasm from other New York performers to come to San Francisco and do the show.
We actually have two other cast members from the New York production: Marcus Desion, who is brilliant as both Molly and James in the show, and Rori Nogee, who played Cristal Connors in the NY production and will now be playing Labia, one of the chorus girls. So, no pressure, but the costar of the New York production who played Cristal, who has an incredible voice and did a wonderful job, will be right behind me as I attempt to do this! I’m a little intimidated.
You’ve been playing Cristal in your own productions for years. Will you be approaching the character any differently in this production? Yes! I’ll be singing live, that’s a new challenge for me. I’ve always sung live as Peaches, but I put the word “sing” in quotation marks. I don’t have a musical theater singing voice, so I’ve been taking vocal lessons from Scrumbly, the Cockettes genius. As far as the character goes, at our shows Cristal becomes a mash-up of my drag character and the movie character. Peaches and Cristal have often been fused together, whereas in this show it will be Peaches Christ playing Cristal Connors, and that will be different. I’m playing Cristal opposite a woman playing Nomi…and playing her very well!
I don’t know how different it will feel for the audience, but mentally it’s very different for me. It will probably come out the same, who knows? [Laughs.] Bob and Tobly were really the ones who pushed me to play Cristal, which I almost didn’t do. I thought we would have an actress play her, but they said, “We’d be so disappointed if you weren’t Cristal! Part of our excitement around you presenting it is that you would be in it!” And that made me feel good.
For the pivotal character of Zack you’ve cast local performer Tim Wagner, whom you just introduced to audiences in the Ed Begley Jr. role in your She-Devil tribute. Based on that show, he seems perfect for this! I know it hasn’t always been easy to find handsome, clean-cut, capable actors to play the male roles in your shows. It’s a challenge when you‘re cast to play the straight guy, no pun intended, against drag queens in a comedy. But you need that character to let the comedy breathe and for moments of reaction; it’s so important for any great comedy to have that character. Every other character in She-Devil was pretty insane and over-the-top, and Tim did such a brilliant job playing it straight. I wanted to throw him into She-Devil to get him ready for Showgirls! The Musical!. We had an open audition and Tim came in. I’d never met him before, but he really impressed me. Like you said, he’s very handsome and could easily play Kyle MacLachlan. He’s a talented singer and dancer and performer. I knew we were going to cast him as Kyle, but since he came from a more traditional musical theater background, I thought he should get his feet wet with She-Devil so he’d realize this isn’t exactly like other production companies he may have worked with before.
And just to clarify, the Zack Carey character’s name in Showgirls! The Musical! is actually “Kyle MacLachlan.” I don’t really know why, but they don’t call him Zack. And they call him Kyle MacLachlan, first and last name, the entire show. I think that’s a great example of why Bob and Tobly’s work speaks to me so much. It strikes a wonderful balance of celebrating the film while also making fun of it in an affectionate way that aligns with the feelings of people who love the movie; it also throws in the kind of of stupidity and silliness makes a good Peaches Christ show work. The fact that they were so goofy with the material really sold me on our ability to put it up.
Right now we’re three weeks from opening night. Do you feel differently than you usually do three weeks before a more standard Peaches show? It’s more like when I made my film, All About Evil. I’d never done that before, so there’s a kind of nervousness and fear of the unknown that I just don’t have with a regular Peaches Christ show. I understand the machine and routine of those, whereas this is so completely different. We’re learning 22 songs with live musicians and a music director and doing a run at a proper theater. From the production side to the business side, it’s so radically different from what I’m used to. I have a lot of anxiety and excitement and anticipation. It’s a different kind of stress.
How different will the rehearsal process be from the usual? [Laughs.] Well, the usual rehearsal process is like three rehearsals for a one-off show, whereas this is rehearsals every night over a much longer schedule for a ten-night run. They’re already happening; I went to rehearsal last night, I’ll be going to rehearsal tonight, and so on. The New York actors come in closer to opening night, which will be more like how it works with the guest stars at our regular shows. But because we have access to the DVD, we’re able to anticipate what we believe they’ll do as performers, and see it and look at it and react to it. And because they’ve already performed the show for years, we’re not so worried that they won’t be able to jump in and just do their thing.
What do you want the fans who’ve seen your previous Showgirls tributes to know about this one? This is unlike anything we’ve ever done before. We’re sacrificing the movie screening, which is so important to me and something I would never do carelessly. This is our 19th annual Peaches Christ Showgirls celebration, and we are doing something completely new and totally different. It’s not a pre-show, it’s a show—a fully realized show. This isn’t us bailing on our traditional show permanently, it’s just shifting gears for a year. We’ll be doing the traditional show for our 20th anniversary next summer, which will hopefully include some special guests! But I’d really encourage people to check out this musical, because it’s only going to happen once.
What about SHNSF-subscribing theatergoers who’ve never seen a Peaches Christ show before? This will hopefully entertain you differently than what you’re accustomed to from more traditional theater. Even though we’re putting up a proper musical, it will still have all the edge and insanity of a regular Peaches Christ production. There’s something about our shows that really only exists in San Francisco, so I would encourage them to come and see it with an open mind…but also prepare to be shocked and offended. It’s not for the faint of heart! If you’re unfamiliar with the content of Showgirls, you need to know that this is an adults-only production with nudity and an irreverent sense of humor about some very dark subject matter.
Also, one thing that did not exist in the New York production was any sort of audience interaction. So, to honor the 18 years that we’ve presented Showgirls, there will be a pre-show of sorts where Henrietta Bazoom will be your hostess for the evening, played by either Lady Bear or Kylie Minono depending on the date. Henrietta will be auctioning off lap dances to the highest bidders, and those lap dances will happen at the end of the intermission. All proceeds will go to the Shanti Project.
Who will the lap dancers be? Well, I can’t say! We want to raise as much money as possible, and we’ve learned the hard way that you might not make any sales if you show them the lap dancers first.
For tickets and more information, go to ShowgirlsTheMusical