Regional Reviews: San Francisco
The Undaunted Miss Coco Peru
Drag queen extraordinaire Miss Coco Peru is holding court at the larger Decker Theatre at the New Conservatory Theatre Center through April 3rd. This very svelte diva, with a belting voice that is part Merman and part Tommy Tune, gives a dazzling 90-minute performance of stories and songs. Miss Peru, aka Clinton Leupp, is making her San Francisco debut after thirteen years in the business. As she says, "What the hell took you so long to ask me?" I want to know that too since she has been knocking out audiences on both coasts and recently won the 2004 GLAAD Award for Outstanding Los Angeles Theatre.
You might ask just who is this person whose looks are a cross between Marlo Thomas and Joan Collins and whose voice is a mixture of Charles Nelson Reilly, Paul Lynn and Lola Falana. Clinton Leupp is a native of the Bronx who had a rough childhood, with everyone calling him a "fag" or "girlyboy," so he decided to become a drag queen. After college he produced, directed and starred in his first show, Miss Coco Peru in My Goddamn Cabaret in 1991 which ran for two years at New York's Rose's Turn where she became a downtown cult favorite. Miss Coco became Leupp's alter ego when he received a 1992 MAC and Backstage Bistro Award for Miss Coco Peru: A Legend in Progress. Miss Coco has appeared in such movies as Girls Will Be Girls, To Wong Fo - Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar and Nick and Jane. She appeared on Bravo's reality show Boy Meets Boy and NBC's Will and Grace.
Michael Schiralli - who has directed Seth Rudetsky, Kristin Chenoweth, Varla Jean Merman and will be directing Tammy Faye Starlite - has devised a smooth 90 minutes of fun stories and songs. Leupp has written all of the material, recollections of his growing up and coming to terms with his identity. The act opens with Coco looking out of the frame of a large dressing room mirror and saying "Who is the fairest of them all?" She finds out she is not the fairest and then goes into a story of a middle-age woman in a chain drug store buying beauty creams but afraid to look into a mirror that reflects middle age.
The vivacious diva tells stories about her experiences on the reality show Boy Meets Boy with a person named Andrea, on the film Girls Will be Girls with Varla Jean Merman and Evie Harris. There is a wonderful story she tells about going to "work" in drag on a subway in New York plus some very heartfelt stories about her mother in the Bronx. Coco even makes a confession of being a "free prostitute on the streets of Manhattan" that is absolutely hilarious. She gets very serious when talking of finding who exactly she is and where she is currently in life's progress.
Throughout the story telling, Coco intersperses songs with her belting voice, including songs from The Little Mermaid and Beauty and Beast. She is great with "Sing," and, in a song from Chicago, she changes the the name from Roxie to Coco. There are two very upbeat songs at the beginning of the session, the upbeat "Beautiful" from Carol King's Tapestry and Alan Menken's exuberant feel-good song, "These are the Good Times."
Clinton Leupp has created the most engaging drag character in years. Miss Coco is elegant and glamorous, with a New York sophistication, yet she is very human and personable. Eric Cole accompanies her on the piano with great ease.
Miss Coco Peru Undaunted continues at the New Conservatory Theatre Center through April 3rd. The center is located at 25 Van Ness just off Market Street, San Francisco. Tickets can be obtained at their box office 415-861-8972 or on line at www.nctcsf.org. Productions coming up are Michael Lewis Maclennan's The Shooting Stage opening on April 1 and The Blue Dress opening on March 31st.