HARTFORD — TheaterWorks and the Wadsworth Museum of Art are joining forces to present drag superstar Varla Jean Merman in her one-woman comedy cabaret “Under a Big Top” on Sunday, June 23 at 7 p.m. The performance, co-written by Hartford-area playwright Jacques Lamarre and directed by Michael Schiralli, will be held in the Wadsworth Atheneum’s theater.
While Cirque du Soleil is set to dazzle and amaze this summer at their off-ramp Hartford location, drag superstar Varla Jean Merman will be pitching a tent for one night only at the venerable Wadsworth Atheneum. This daffy diva will delight with jaw-dropping videos, high-flying notes, and death-defying wigs. Varla’s circus-themed extravaganza is a PETA-approved show that is best enjoyed without children.
Tickets for Under a Big Top are $35 and $45. A $65 VIP ticket includes a post-performance cocktail reception and meet and greet with Varla Jean. Due to racy content, this show is recommended for ages 16 and up. Tickets can be obtained by visiting www.theaterworkshartford.org or by calling 860-527-7838. The Wadsworth is located at 600 Main Street in downtown Hartford. Enter the theater at 29 Atheneum Square North.
The Varla Jean Merman performance is presented in conjunction with the Wadsworth’s upcoming exhibition, “Be Seen: Portrait Photography Since Stonewall,” which features photographic works from over 25 artists including Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Patti Smith. The 1969 Stonewall riots are viewed as an important turning point in the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement. Be Seen explores how artists have used portrait photography to challenge, subvert, and play with societal norms of gender and sexuality. In the past 50 years, photographers have documented the experiences of the queer community. They have also examined how gender identity and sexual orientation were viewed historically and how they are constructed today. The exhibition is on view June 22 through Sept. 15, and can be viewed Wednesday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 to $15 with discounts for members, students and seniors. Free admission for Hartford residents with Wadsworth Welcome registration. Free “happy hour” admission 4 to 5 p.m.
Varla Jean Merman (aka Jeffery Roberson Loe) starred in the musical “Lucky Guy” opposite Leslie Jordan in New York in 2011 at the Little Shubert Theatre, prompting The New York Times to rave, “If Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman had stood in front of the right pair of funhouse mirrors, they might have resembled Ms. Merman and Mr. Jordan in stature as well as comedic talent.” Jeffery starred in the films “Hush Up, Sweet Charlotte,” “Girls Will Be Girls” and “Varla Jean and the Mushroomheads.” Off-Broadway audiences have also embraced Jeffery in the title role of Giancarlo Menotti’s opera “The Medium,” as well as the title role in the musical comedy farce “Mildred Fierce.” Jeffery played the role of Mary Sunshine on Broadway in the revival of “Chicago” and in the First National Touring Company. In 2010, he won Boston’s Elliot Norton Award for Best Musical Performance in “Phantom of the Oprah.”
Jeffery, as Varla Jean, has filled concert halls and cabarets across the world including the Sydney Opera House and Carnegie Hall. He made his network television debut on “All My Children,” guest starred in “Ugly Betty,” and was on Bravo’s “Project Runway” Season 5 as the winning model for the show’s drag challenge.
His decade-and-a-half-long collaboration with Hartford playwright, Jacques Lamarre, has produced such one-woman shows as “Girl with a Pearl Necklace,” “Under A Big Top,” “Bad Heroine,” “Twice Upon A Mattress,” and this year’s “A Star is Bored.” Hartford audiences will remember Varla from Hartford Stage and Long Wharf’s smash comedy “The Mystery of Irma Vep,” as well as appearances at Cinestudio and The Mark Twain House & Museum. Varla performed her 2018 show “Bad Heroine” at TheaterWorks to a sold out house, so audiences are encouraged to purchase their tickets early.
TheaterWorks produces high quality, contemporary theater that is relevant to our audiences, engages a diverse community, and provides insight into the human experience. TheaterWorks has produced over 130 plays and presents approximately 225 performances per season. TheaterWorks also owns and manages the historic 1927-built property at 233 Pearl Street, known as City Arts on Pearl. City Arts also provides an affordable home and services to a diverse family of non profit arts organizations.
About the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art
Founded in 1842 with a vision for infusing art into the American experience, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art is home to a collection of nearly 50,000 works of art spanning 5,000 years and encompassing European art from antiquity through contemporary as well as American art from the 1600s to today. The Wadsworth Atheneum’s five connected buildings — representing architectural styles including Gothic Revival, modern International Style, and 1960s Brutalism — are located at 600 Main Street in Hartford. For more information, call 860-278-2670 or visit www.thewadsworth.org.