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Girls Gotta Sing

And wear awesome wigs

Esther Schor
December 16, 2010
THE KINSEY SICKS (l-r: Trixie, Winnie, Rachel and Trampolina)(Maurice Molyneaux)
THE KINSEY SICKS (l-r: Trixie, Winnie, Rachel and Trampolina)(Maurice Molyneaux)

The best—and raunchiest—Jewish-inflected holiday revue running will be in New York and Washington this month. For two weeks, The Kinsey Sicks, “America’s Favorite Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet,” will be offering their Christmas show, Oy Vey in a Manger.

Make that “Christmas show.” The titles of these rapier-sharp parodies of holiday standards tell it all: “God Bless ye Femmy Lesbians,” “Crystal Time in the City,” and “I’ll be Cloned for Christmas.” And for those who want to hear a Hanukkah ditty hoist on its own petard, there’s “I Had a Little Facial.”

Those who think drag is gawky transvestites in bad wigs lip-synching have another think coming: The Kinsey Sicks are gawky transvestites in bad wigs singing with voices to die for, whose lush arrangements would make the Sing-Off judges swoon.

The Kinsey Sicks take their name from the Kinsey scale of sexuality, in which 6 signifies “exclusively homosexual.” In 1993, Irwin Keller and Ben Schatz, along with two other friends no longer in the group, went to a Bette Midler concert dressed as the Andrews Sisters and were approached to perform at an event. They demurred, but after a night of harmonizing and riffing, The Kinsey Sicks were born. Since then, they’ve played 40 states, Canada, Mexico, Europe, and Australia.

The “girls” (as the four—male—singer-actor-comedians call themselves) are what my grandmother used to call characters. There’s Rachel, a feminist who favors Minnie Mouse bows and inappropriate touching (mostly of herself); Winnie, a lesbian, who brings down the house with her plangent rendition of “Tranny Boy”—in Elvis’s key; the elegantly warbling, glamorous Trixie (don’t hate her ’cause she’s beautiful); and finally Trampolina, who needs no introduction.

The men behind the “girls” joke that their characters are their therapy issues. Ben Schatz (Rachel), who does most of the writing, is a recovering attorney. A Harvard-educated civil rights lawyer, he wrote Bill Clinton’s HIV policy during the 1992 presidential campaign. Irwin Keller (Winnie), with a law degree from the University of Chicago, is the author of Chicago’s gay rights ordinance. In his other life, he is Reb Irwin, the lay leader of a Reconstructionist synagogue in northern California; he does bar mitzvah lessons via Skype in his dressing room. In his other other life he lives on a windswept hill overlooking the Pacific with his family, including two sons.

Jeff Manabat (Trixie), a native of San Francisco and a graduate of UC Berkeley, is a seasoned musical theater performer, and Spencer Brown (Trampolina), whose mother is younger than Keller, is a Kansas City-based actor and singer, already known for his drag character Daisy Buckët (pronounced, of course, “bouquet”).

Only Keller and Schatz are Jewish, but their show is shot-through with Jewish jokes, Jewish words, Jewish irony, and Jewish anxiety—particularly of the Christmas variety. And judging from these parodies, Christmas songs, parties, and cheer may well bring out as much gay angst as Jewish angst. “Have yourself a harried little Christmas,” they sing; “Tell your folks you’re gay./ Folks will hear your mother cry from miles away!” With his parodic minimalism, Schatz channels the spirit of Allan Sherman, often changing a mere syllable for a whopping laugh. And Winnie shows Irwin’s rabbinical training by calling Boxing Day (December 26) “Chol Hamoed Christmas.” And it’s Winnie who performs—straight, and in lilting, fluent Yiddish—the melancholy favorite, “Papirosen.”

“The show is updated with an infusion of new songs and 2010 politics,” Keller said, “but no holiday show is complete without a production number in Yiddish.”

The group will perform at New York’s Times Square Arts Center tonight and tomorrow and at the Washington JCC’s Theater J from December 18 through January 2.

Esther Schor, a poet and professor of English at Princeton University, won the National Jewish Book Award forEmma Lazarus. Her poems include The Hills of Holland and Strange Nursery: New and Selected Poems, and the memoirMy Last JDate.