Everyone has a night out that ends in disaster at least once in their life, but few people wake up on a trash barge bound for a Belgian container port. That’s exactly what happens to Patsy Stone, international beauty and style guru, at the end of an Absolutely Fabulous episode in which her beleaguered friend Edina Monsoon loses her bid for a public-relations award that she’d attempted to rig by bribing the judges and hiring novelist Will Self to write her acceptance speech.
It’s hilarious. But Sweetie, Darling, how is something like that going to translate to the stage?
“It’s a scary show to try and do, because it is so good and it is so funny and it’s already sort of a parody,” says D’Arcy Drollinger, the producer of AbFab LIVE!. “You can’t do a parody of a parody but you can do an homage. We’re matching their comedy, versus scrutinizing it.”
Compared to other shows that Drollinger and his team at Oasis have tackled for live drag remakes — Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and even Sex and the City — AbFab is an “interesting, delicate balance” for director Cindy Goldfield. Patsy and Eddie are already drag queens, Drollinger says, so the cast has to be especially funny to pull it off consistently during the run (Nov. 8-Dec. 1).
“I’m jealous that I can’t be in it,” Drollinger says, unwittingly punning on the title of the original episode’s name. “But I can’t be in everything. Michael Phillis and Terry McLaughlin are killing it as Patsy and Edina , and we’ve got David Bicha, Lavale Davis/Coco Buttah, Peggy L’Eggs — it’s in great comedic hands.”
In addition to “Jealous,” Oasis will also re-create “Sex,” an episode from the same AbFab season that sees Edina attempting to host a male-prostitute-filled orgy the same night her straitlaced daughter has a school presentation on genetics and ethics. Now that the UK series is more than a quarter-century old, it’s possible that some of the jokes and references may not necessarily land.
“Some things, obviously, I want to keep true to the show that I feel are important, and yes, those will fly over 90 percent of people’s heads except for the AbFab-ophiles who will know those references,” Drollinger says, adding that occasionally Oasis will swap in something more contemporary or American to retain the comedic punch.
“Each one is its own case, in the sense that if the joke depends on it then we’ve got to get something more universally recognizable,” he says, “versus an aside during the setup. We can leave it, if it’s not intrinsic to the joke.”
Staying true to the source material characterizes all Oasis’ shows, particularly the annual holiday tradition of the Golden Girls re-enactments, starring Heklina, Matthew Martin, Holotta Tymes, and others. The dedication to matching Dorothy Zbornak’s ugly sweaters is commendable, and Drollinger says they’ve gone to similar lengths with AbFab’s co-stars. With Edina, it’s almost easier in that she’s a hopeless trend-chaser perpetually going way overboard. Patsy, for all her amoral hedonism, is a fairly conservative power-dresser, with her severe beehive and St. John suits meant to convey a degree of director-level fashionista affluence (in spite of the fact that she rents a room above a discount liquor store).
“We’re re-creating Edina’s look in the first scene of ‘Jealous’ when she goes to the PR-PR Awards,” he says. “Patsy’s dress — while it’s not exactly the same, we found an amazing black-and-gold dress that harkens to the same one she’s wearing. … We found some old [Christian] Lacroix. Edina has to have her Lacroix. I’m trying to decide how appropriate it will be to have a LaCroix water that everyone calls ‘Lacroix.’ I feel like we have to try.
“It’s so specific,” he adds. “When you think about AbFab, you think of Patsy’s hair, Edina being a mess, and a bottle of Stoli. And cigarettes. That’s what you could put on sock puppets and make it work.”
As with other Oasis shows of this type, there will be audience participation. Star Trek LIVE! had trivia with prizes, but this time, it’s actors immersively working the room as if the audience were the audience for the PR-PR Awards. Doing his own publicity for a show about a show that mocks the pretensions of public relations as a profession, Drollinger admits to a certain spontaneity about it. Absolutely Fabulous is an English farce, after all — one with a fair amount of pratfalls.
Whereas Buffy the Vampire Slayer had Shakespearean-style stage combat and a cinematic sound effect attached to every drag queen’s choreographed punch and kick, AbFab LIVE! is a little looser.
“We’ve got lots of people playing lots of characters, lots of wigs coming on and off,” Drollinger says. “I feel like that’s true to the Oasis: everyone tap-dancing as fast as they can!”
AbFab LIVE!, Thursdays-Saturdays, through Dec. 1, at Oasis, 298 11th St. $27.50-$50; sfoasis.com