Come on, Miami, why don’t we paint the town? And all that jazz. The production coming to Miami this weekend is good — it’s grand, it’s great, it’s swell, and it’s fun. Ladies and gentlemen, coming to Villain Theater: It’s MissCellaneous, a monthly event that mixes cabaret and drag; and Sexcago, a sexy parody of the musical Chicago. The two performances add up to one magical Saturday night at Villain Theater, both paired with a Midnight Brunch. (Organizers joke it's the “earliest brunch in Miami.”)
“MissCellaneous differs from the typical drag show because of the space, the audience, and uniqueness of the performances that allow the performance to connect to the audience,” host Miss Toto explains. “They should be expected to laugh, maybe cry, but absolutely be entertained.”
This collaboration between the Miami improv house Villain Theater and Miami’s drag superstar began when Miss Toto performed at an afterparty for the theater. “I remember chatting about the idea with Jannelys [Santos, Villain's Chief Operations Officer] before the space was finally finished into the gorgeous structure that it is now,” Miss Toto notes. “It was after a Pride edition of Tales of the Magic City. That party was so fun, and it really allowed me and the other performers to do more theatrical numbers because the audience would understand them, and also because we wanted to!”
And thus, MissCellaneous was born last month with a Virgin Diaries theme for its very first show. Performers Andro Gin, Casey Caldwell, Jupiter Velvet, and Kunst took the stage at Miss Toto's side, doing numbers from classics such as Grease. This month, Hialeah’s Finest Karla will join Andro, Jupiter, and Miss Toto on the stage, and some of the performances will be live musical numbers.
Because Chicago is a loose theme for the evening, Toto says anything can happen. “If their theme isn’t exactly Chicago, I’m sure there’s a tie-in to prison or the time period or a female-heroine message. Sticking on-theme makes for a very cohesive night in which everyone is in the same mindset and can go fully all out, especially with a well-known musical like Chicago.”
Sexcago takes Chicago and blows it up in an exciting way. Maria Tomaino and Priscilla Blanco, the creative minds behind the parody, explain their segment best. Blanco recalls, “One night, Maria approached me about writing a show ourselves and mentioned how much she loves ‘Cell Block Tango’ and how badly she wanted to perform in it. We first wanted to do that but then expanded to a medley of some more well-known songs from the show.
“We love the concept that a marginalized group of women are so powerful in this show; therefore, it made sense to make it the first one. It’s a strong, bold choice and an audience favorite,” she adds. “In the future, we hope to do more parodies for different events at Villain Theater, each one with its own new theme and each one breaking a new taboo — each one empowering the performers and the audience to embrace who they are.”
Tomaino notes Chicago is one of the most iconic, most celebrated, and longest-running Broadway shows and says they’re changing the way you see the production. “‘Cell Block Tango’ in particular gives the backstory of women murderesses — you may also say they were prisoners in their relationships — and the crazy reasons why they killed their husbands. Sexcago isn’t about murder or greed or corruption or violence, like the original. You are going to see a show about love, about sex, about comedy, about acceptance and empowerment. We wanted to incorporate the taboos of sex in a comedic way that allows us to feel comfortable to express sexuality in all forms, all relationships, all gender identities, and sexual orientations.”
The duo created original lyrics for a number of songs from the musical. “We worked on changing lyrics and the concept, but the real work is putting it all together with music and choreography,” Blanco explains. “Some of our performers have not done a choreographed piece before, and this was a new experience for some. Everyone stepped up to the plate and took on the challenge. We couldn’t have asked for a better group of performers to work on with this new venture.”
Leo Alvarez, a veteran Broadway performer who has toured nationally and internationally — joined the team to choreograph the show. “It’s taken many hours of rehearsal, but I have seen everyone grow," Blanco says. "The versatility of improv allows our performers to pick up all the direction and choreography quickly, and their commitment to characters is easily achieved.”
This is a far step away from Villain Theater’s weekly improvised musical, Miami Noise Machine, which Tomaino explains are her favorite shows. “Not only do you have to improv and create a comedy show; you have to sing songs that you made up and sound good doing it. And create a narrative! The rewrite didn’t take that long, though. We knocked it out pretty fast because the lyrics, you can say, just came to us.”
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The mix of cabaret, theater, drag, and improv is just a natural progression of things at Villain. "We want to make Villain Theater your one-stop shop for entertainment," Tomaino says. "It’s always changing, literally by the hour, and this night will have improv, cabaret, midnight brunch bites, and a full-out drag show.”
And as many a drag show have taught us, there is definitely room for theatricality in a drag performance outside the typical lip-syncing to pop icons. “I think drag shows are the most beautiful display of performance art there is," Tomaino says. "You have individuals that identify with all genders, all sexual orientations, all walks of life, emulating, parodying, and embodying strong, fierce, beautiful performers. Think about that: They are telling the audience: This person is so important to our culture that I am performing them and reinventing it in a new way that you have never seen before.
“And the songs they choose and the choreography they dance to is not only intricate and takes practice, but typically has a strong underlying message of hope, strength, identity, endurance, courage, and life. On top of that, these performers have full makeup, wigs, costumes, heels, and go all out to give you a visual and emotional experience,” she continues. “Twice I’ve gotten teary-eyed watching Jupiter Velvet and Miss Toto perform because it was so poignant and spectacular. How could you not? If you aren’t seeing this when you watch drag, then change your perspective and you have a whole other show.”
MissCellaneous: Midnight Brunch Featuring Sexcago. 11:30 p.m. Saturday, February 24, at Villain Theater, 5865 NE Second Ave., Miami; villaintheater.com. Tickets cost $10.