Drag Strip: Peaches Christ puts her own spin on Showgirls! The Musical!

In 1995 cult flick Showgirls, Vegas stripper Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley) dreams of kicking off her hooker heels and thrusting her way into a major burlesque revue. With Showgirls! The Musical!, starring April Kidwell as the exotic dancer turned showgirl, Peaches Christ, who plays Nomi’s nemesis Cristal Connors and also directs, realizes her own ambition of bringing a full-length stage show to San Francisco.

In anticipation of Showgirls! The Musical!‘s west coast premiere on August 10, Peaches Christ spoke to SF Weekly about making the show her own, why the film that it’s based on continues to titillate and why her new ice cream flavor is more mouthwatering than an iced nipple.

How did you get the opportunity to bring Showgirls! The Musical! to San Francisco?
Back when the musical started off-Broadway, in 2013, I didn’t think much of it other than I hope it’s good. But after the buzz was super positive, I knew I had to pursue it. After the two-year run had ended, I reached out to the creators, Bob and Tobly McSmith, about a year ago, and told them I’d be interested in doing a San Francisco production.  I said, “We’ve been doing Showgirls for 18 years,” and they said, “We love what you do and would be thrilled with you mounting it for the west coast premiere.” That’s how it all got going.

Other than the 22 original songs, how does the musical differ from the film? 

It’s outrageous and it doesn’t soften Showgirls at all. If anything, it takes it to a whole ‘nother level. This musical is not for the easily offended.

What did you do to put your own stamp on it?
I put a Midnight Mass Players spin on it. The way it was presented in New York was almost in a black box theater with very simple staging. We’re staying true to that, but, of course, I have to add more drag to the costumes and there’s way more sequins. There’s a few more set pieces and props. We’ve added musicians to the band, so the sound is richer. We’ve gotten a few more drag nods in the show than in the original New York production, so it’s about putting it up in the most spectacular way possible.

I know the show is 18 and over, which begs the question: how racy are you going to get?
It’s racy. It’s a musical version of Showgirls, and everything that’s offensive about the movie is in the musical, no doubt. It’s pretty unapologetic as an in-your-face comedy, and it’s going to appeal to fans of the movie, for sure. It’s going to be outrageous, and, of course, in San Francisco we’re not used to seeing topless women on stage doing pole dances as part of musical theater. I just saw Hair at the Victoria Theatre, which is famously done with nudity, and said to someone, “At least we won’t be the only production here this year with nudity.”

Is this the first of many full-length stage shows to come?
As a producer that’s worked in San Francisco for 20 years, I’ve always wanted to continue to challenge myself and raise the bar and change things up, so it was just time for us to do this. My fully realized Return to Grey Gardens parody, co-starring Jinkx Monsoon, is coming on October 8th. So I think, in that way, we will continue to do these bigger productions.

You have now screened the Showgirls movie 18 times in 18 years. What’s the appeal of this film?
It was an immediate attraction from the moment I saw it because I had never experienced anything so bizarrely extreme before and unapologetically over the top, perhaps in an unintentional way. When I think about it now, since it became our signature show and a movie I’m super proud to be considered a part of in terms of making it a cult film, it’s because it’s in a lot of ways a great drag queen. If a movie could be a drag queen, it would be Showgirls. It’s narcissistic, glamorous, beautiful, extreme, opulent, bitchy and catty.  It can’t be taken too seriously, so the audience’s response is to laugh at the rudeness of it all.

You hitched your wagon to a dark horse with Showgirls, a movie that was initially panned by critics, bombed at the box office and eventually won a then-record seven Razzie Awards.
I think it’s unfair. Elizabeth Berkeley was really crucified for Showgirls in a way that is completely unjust. Here was an actress giving 120 percent, and I think that Elizabeth Berkley is part of the reason the movie’s so special. She gave such a committed performance.

Fortunately, there’s this group of fans that got it and knew what to celebrate and understood that this film has real value. I disagree with people who say that movies like Showgirls are bad movies that are good. I think they’re good movies that are misunderstood.

You’ve made no secret of your desire to tap Elizabeth Berkley for one of your Showgirls movie screenings. Do you envision this ever happening?
Well, I haven’t been very subtle about the desire to put her up on a pedestal and celebrate her, so my dream of all dreams, is that next summer she would come, because it’s our 20th anniversary celebrating the movie Showgirls. This is year 19, and we’re departing a little. But for the 20th anniversary, we are going to go back to the annual screening. I’ll be inviting Elizabeth and doing everything in my powers to entice and attract her because I don’t think she realizes what an evening of worship it would be to have one-thousand screaming fans loving her.

You have just realized another life goal: your own ice cream flavor. “Peaches and Popcorn (PNP), available all of August at Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream, cements your status as the Queen of Movies. How did this collaboration come about.
When we were brainstorming ideas for getting the word out for Showgirls! The Musical!, we wanted the world to know that this isn’t the same Showgirls show you’ve seen for 18 years. One of our collaborators said, “Hey, Humphry Slocombe, they’re friends of mine. What if they did a Peaches ice cream?”  So they came back to me and said they have this idea for doing PNP ice cream: Peaches and Popcorn. I thought, “OK, this is a life goal I never knew I had.” Now that I have an ice cream, I should have wanted this all along.

San Franciscans who’ve been here for a while, contribute to the community and enjoy the things this city has to offer, really look at this partnership as two things they enjoy that have really been nurtured and supported by the local residents: this bizarre and unique ice cream company that creates fantastically wild flavors and has done well for themselves and this drag queen named after Jesus that is still here whether we like it or not.

I imagine that the public will either love or hate the peaches and popcorn flavor combination, making the ice cream as polarizing as the Showgirls movie, itself.

That’s hilarious and exactly right. It’s not a flavor I would have put together, but I’ve gotten to taste it and I really liked it, and that’s not just lip service. It’s a flavor you can’t expect. I thought I knew what it was going to taste like, but I was wrong. It’s very much its own thing.

Showgirls! The Musical!, Through August 27 at Victoria Theatre ($32-45), 2961 16th St, 415-863-7576 or peacheschrist.com.

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