Through a roundabout series of events, it’s come to pass that I shall be starring as Velma Kelly in a London’s West End genderqueer production of Chicago. I suppose that’s rather a story in and of itself…
The short version: I auditioned for Chicago at Toronto’s The Star—a theatre well known for its progressive casting—and they hemmed and hawed and turned me down. My audition video was leaked, and…I suppose that’s also rather a story in and of itself…
The short version of the leak: The intern who contacted me to audition for Moulin Rouge ended up taking a job at The Star. He filmed my audition and after his bosses nixed my involvement, he sent it to The Apollo in London where they were also mounting a production of Chicago and told them they’d be fools not to take me, and also him. Turns out this intern—Topher—is shrewd as can be and has been rather riding my coattails all along. We’re having discussion about the JS Brand and how he may or may not fit within it…
Back to the other short version: So, there I am in London, finding out that my boi drag Velma is exactly what The Apollo wants, and won’t I sign a contract for an autumn run? I met their Billy Flynn—ironically, named Flynn—a devilishly charming man who gushed about the way my character would expand his role and allow him to embrace his true pansexuality. Then I met their Roxie—Karolina—who sent me a lunch invitation signed ‘Your Frenemy’ and coyly stuck me with the bill after a bottle of champagne. And I thought, oh yes, I am all in.
So, the main story.
The day after I signed the contract I received a letter from the woman herself, Nell Gwyn. She asked that I meet her in one of the private rooms of The Orangery, her West End club, and requested that I wear whatever was ‘truly you’.
Naturally, I spent a day tearing apart my closet and then ended up in my usual—tight black trousers, slightly heeled boots, a loose, shimmery club shirt, and a deep red frock coat. I put my hair up and went for old-school kohl about my eyes, and headed out feeling rather the thing.
Went only downhill from there, let me tell you.
I arrived at the club, and the bouncer showed me in, but not because he knew who I was. Which sounds…like it sounds, but really. He did one of those, ‘you there, you can skip line’ gestures, and made kissing noises as I passed him, which landed me firmly in a mood.
I pushed through a throng of dancers, under a load of chandeliers that had been dusted with gold so the light looked more orange—really, rather on the nose—and asked the bartender which private room was Nell’s. Right as he was about to tell me to piss off, hand to god, some slick fellow in a velvet suit moseyed up to the bar and saved me the embarrassment, leading me upstairs to the balcony suites. He deposited me rather unceremoniously in front of a door, knocked, and then pushed it open.
Nell Gwyn wasn’t waiting for me so much as she was lying in wait for me, oozing every bit of scandal she’d been known for in her day–
—18th century gown cut dangerously low, powdered hair frothing up above her head like a cloud, dripping jewels. She sat up slowly, eyed me even more slowly, and said, ‘tell me why that outfit is ‘you’’.
And I said, ‘no’.
I mean, bloody hell. I know it was her club, and I know she’s likely asked hundreds of up and coming London actors and singers the same question, but for chrissake, I’m an international super model. If that has earned me one right, it is the right to wear what I want without having to explain or defend it.
She said, ‘no’?
And I said, ‘no’.
Then I sat before she asked me to, which was probably another ‘misstep’ because she looked just scarcely off to the side and a parade of cronies came literally out of the woodwork. As in, the brocaded wall of her suite cracked open, and no less than five powdered, decorated, foppish young men and women dutifully flew out of it like bats from a cave, and perched around her on the settee.
They all stared at me.
I stared back.
I said, ‘so, I’m here’.
One of the fops failed to hide his gasp.
Nell then proceeded to quickfire question me as to my rise to London prominence. Yes, I knew who she was in life. Yes, I had loads of experience with theatre as an alively. Yes, I’ve been on the stage a while this time around, too. No, I have no interest in her agency for me in the London theatre scene.
That threw her.
‘No one makes it in the London theatre scene without my patronage,’ she said. I know, for a fact, that this isn’t true, because I’ve made it in the London theatre scene without her patronage. ‘But’, she continues, ‘I cannot possibly let you hitch to my star unless you part ways with Marie’.
It took me a minute to sort through what she could possibly mean, and when I came to the crux of it, I became rather livid.
First, how dare she think I would throw over the woman who saw my work with Marcus and decided to launch my international modelling career. Who dazzled me with quirky humor and put me in her most beautiful designs and gave Marc a pet lizard with no explanation whatsoever and has become a dear friend to both us and the children.
Second, gurl knows I’m a model and questioned my outfit. Confirmed.
‘No’, I said again.
‘You must’, she said. And she sat up straighter, looking suddenly both vicious and frightened, and one of her fops looked away.
‘I won’t’, I said. Not that I owed Nell any explanations, but I added, ‘Marie is the balance to Marcus at the heart of my modelling career. I would never betray her trust’.
To which Nell replied, ‘Then you’re a Francophile and a traitor’.
And I sighed. I openly sighed. The fop gasped again.
‘Madam’, I said, ‘I’m thoroughly an Englishman, and I’m thoroughly finished with this conversation’.
I stood, right as Marc swept into the room. I had texted him earlier on to ‘come get me’, and the man knows how to come and get. He had on his most regal toga, his most regal expression, and he put out his hand to me.
‘Where you are want to go’? he said.
‘Oh, anywhere really’. I took his hand, and he spared just a fraction of a second of eye contact for Nell, before kissing my cheek and leading me out of the room.
I did not look back.
No, I know, the whole thing was exceptionally done.
After the fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that Nell Gwyn is bored. She’s bored with this whole song and dance. Every question she asked me came from a script, all her ‘pretty young things’ looked like they wished to be elsewhere about five minutes in to the conversation, and I noticed the wallpaper peeling in a corner, which would never happen if she didn’t want it to happen.
Also, noticeably, London has not come crashing down around me after our interview went poorly. The theatre did not rescind my contract, the tabloids have not buried me alive, and no one has actively snubbed me.
It’s like the whole thing never happened, quite frankly, which might be as Nell wants it. I’ve decided I’ll let her have that—aside from posting about it here, where ghosts are less likely to see it and make a thing of it—and see if our paths cross again. Maybe she’ll come around. Maybe she’ll decide to ignore me. Maybe she’ll give me a poor review, or snub the show. The fact is…it doesn’t really matter whatever the case.
Because it might also be that nothing has come of the interview because Nell is irrelevant. Which, that would be a difficult place to end up…and I do hope she finds something more fulfilling to do with her time, and something more akin to peace.
Also, I texted Marie to ask what sort of bad blood runs between her and Nell.
She replied, ‘Who? ; )’