In Little Shop of Horrors, Jinkx Monsoon Is Discovering 'The Girl That's Inside' Her | Playbill

Special Features In Little Shop of Horrors, Jinkx Monsoon Is Discovering 'The Girl That's Inside' Her

As the newest Audrey in the hit Off-Broadway production, Monsoon was inspired by Ellen Green and Michaela Jaé Rodriguez.

Jinkx Monsoon Heather Gershonowitz

Jinkx Monsoon, (the only!) two-time winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race, is no stranger to kooky performances. From touring the world doing drag to making her Broadway debut as Matron “Mama” Morton last year in Chicago, Monsoon knows how to keep an audience smiling, laughing, and thoroughly entertained. But can she make them cry?

That’s the challenge before the drag sensation now as she tackles her latest stage role, Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors at Off-Broadway’s Westside Theatre (Monsoon is with the production through May 26). Needless to say, the Howard Ashman-Alan Menken musical is funny, too. But a huge part of its success—particularly when it comes to its leading lady—lies in its very real, genuine heart, which is not always something one associates with drag.

Monsoon says walking the line between comedy and tragedy is right there in her DNA, something she attributes to growing up visibly queer. When the community around you is not comfortable with that, the tragedy part comes easy. The rest is how you get through the day. “Being funny is a survival tactic,” she says. “My whole life I’ve been putting on a persona just to leave my house, essentially.”

Jinkx Monsoon in Little Shop of Horrors Evan Zimmerman

But then maybe the drag was there in Little Shop of Horrors all along, even though Monsoon is the first drag queen to take on the role in a major production. Ellen Greene created the role in the 1982 original Off-Broadway production, with a winningly sweet and squeakily voiced take on the character—plus a campy blonde wig and a host of delightfully trashy costumes. The performance was so indelible that Greene got the rare honor of reprising the performance when the musical got the big screen treatment in 1986. For many, Audrey is Ellen Greene and vice versa, casting a long shadow over everyone who dons their own push-up bra to play the role.

That movie version of the show, which Monsoon describes as “the one musical everyone in my family liked,” was seminal for the young queen. And, she says, Greene’s Audrey is absolutely drag, even if she is a cis-gender woman.

“She’s a head-to-toe conceived character,” Monsoon explains. “Everything is so heightened that you could either call it drag or you could call it Shakespeare, but to me those are one in the same.” Monsoon counts Greene’s Audrey as one of many performances that struck her as a kid and inspired her to become the world-famous drag queen she is today.

People tend to stereotype drag queens as gay cis men, something Monsoon chalks off to “heteronormative constructs of gender that don’t serve anybody.” But then again, even Monsoon challenges this stereotype, herself newly identifying as trans feminine. Asked how that intersects with her take on the role, Monsoon cites fellow trans performer Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, who played the role in a 2020 Pasadena Playhouse staging in California (Rodriguez was the first trans woman to play Audrey in a major production).

“Watching her sing ‘Suddenly Seymour’ was this moment where I was like, ‘Is it time? Could we…are we invited in for this?’” Trans representation in theatre remains an area where more work is needed, but Monsoon and Rodriguez are part of a handful of trailblazers showing the world that yes, they in fact can. Trans performer (and fellow Drag Race star) Peppermint has started to make a career in musical theatre. Monsoon’s Broadway debut, Chicago, has featured Angelica Ross as Roxie (Monsoon is scheduled to return for an encore run as Matron “Mama” Morton in the long-running revival beginning June 27.)

Jinkx Monsoon Heather Gershonowitz

Despite the groundbreaking nature of her casting, Monsoon cautions audiences to not to read too much into her gender journey while watching Audrey. “I’m not trying to play her as a trans feminine woman,” she says, with the asterisk that, too, would be valid. “The way I look at it is I am just bringing my perspective to the character. I don’t want to be 'Going Through Something' on stage. It’s theatre, not therapy.” But, she says, the synchronicity of it all can’t be ignored, and it’s fabulous.

“I get to go on stage eight shows a week and sing that I can ‘learn how to be more the girl that’s inside me,’ while this hunk of a man sweeps me into his arms,” she says, quoting the lyrics to the show’s soaring love duet, "Suddenly Seymour."

Strangely enough, this drag queen, accustomed to distinctly over-the-top performances, says what has surprised her most about finding Audrey is how small she’s been able to be. “It’s been a life-changing discovery that I am effective in this character singing the softest and quietest I’ve ever sung,” she says of singing Audrey's dreamy ballad "Somewhere That's Green." “It’s fun to learn that there’s more tools in your toolbox, more nuance to your voice than you thought.” 

But don’t worry, Drag Race fans. You get big, brassy Jinkx Monsoon too. “Audrey is written really wonderfully because she gets to be soft and sweet and vulnerable, and then she also gets to belt her face off when it’s appropriate,” she shares with a laugh.

And so, perhaps, Audrey is helping Monsoon discover the full extent of the “girl that’s inside” her. Either way, she says that being back on the NYC stage is exactly where she wants to be.

“I feel really, really lucky. I can’t believe this is how I’m beginning my transition.”

Photos: Jinkx Monsoon, Corbin Bleu, and James Carpinello in Little Shop of Horrors

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