Cherdonna Shinatra is the drag queen alter ego of performer Jody Kuehner and she recently had a birthday. Attending Cherdonna’s birthday party at Re-Bar is like attending a birthday party for a sixteen year old beauty queen, except for the thong leotard, the sparkly pasties, and the giant butt plug with a curly, blonde tail. There’s big hair, cardboard cone party hats emblazoned with Cherdonna’s face, party games, and crying. Is it really your birthday if you don’t cry?
In Cherdonna’s Birth-o-Rama, Kuehner uses the character of Cherdonna as a way to explore the consequences of shattered expectations. Poor Cherdonna seems stuck in that place I’m sure we’ve all been on our birthdays, where we’re in need of sympathy as we’re reminded of the inevitable passing of time, but where we also can’t stop reassuring everyone that we’re so excited and happy and having so much fun. At the opening of the show, she insists this birthday party is exactly what she wants. Sure, the stage curtain is less pink than she would’ve liked… and wrinkled too, and some of the friends she expected to show up aren’t in the audience, but other than that it is so perfect!
Cherdonna does her best to brush the imperfections under the proverbial rug and maintain her insistence on positive party vibes. As the night goes on though, Cherdonna remembers vital elements of the birthday party atmosphere that are missing and demands they be produced. Thank Goddess for the Donnas (Carlin Kramer, Jenna Eady, and Julia Sloane), Cherdonna’s devoted threesome of back up dancers and party planners who keep the audience’s attention with dazzling wide grins and elastic facial expressions while somehow placating Cherdonna’s every request.
Cherdonna isn’t the only one who receives some surprises throughout the night. The performers dismantle our expectations too. The intimate setting of the bar makes it easy for Cherdonna and the Donnas to interact with us and they break the fourth wall immediately. In fact, Cherdonna maniacally pushes the audience’s every button like a toddler who finally got a hold of the remote control.
After receiving a Choco Pie as a gift from an audience member, Cherdonna is so pleased that she makes her way through the crowd to crawl over an entire row of seated patrons, all the while singing a squeaky rendition of Joe Cocker’s, You Are So Beautiful to the person who gave her the candy. Later, she makes her away around the room with a catchy tune to ask the unsuspecting party goers how old they think she is turning. Before they have a chance to answer she looks them right in the eye and yells “NOPE!” before veering off to the next befuddled victim.
As hard as the Donna’s try, they aren’t able to calm Cherdonna’s woes enough to dodge the diva’s inevitable birthday tantrum. The clues are present throughout the night that Cherdonna’s emotions are about to get the best of her. Before the closing of the first act, she stomps the balloons the Donna’s so graciously produced. When a frosting trick goes awry and the delicious sugary sludge ends up plopped on the stage floor in front of her, Cherdonna reminds us with a song that it’s her party and she’ll cry if she wants to. She points accusingly at the Donna’s and screams “you would cry too if it happened to you!”
Thankfully, Cherdonna is as endearing in her cooky, yet explosive anger as she is in her silly, sultry sensuality. By the end of the show, my cheeks hurt from smiling so hard even as I wipe the birthday cake Cherdonna has shoved at me off my chin. Cherdonna may have the emotional control of an overstimulated two year old, but she sure does throw a great party.
Cherdonna’s Birth-o-Rama is slated to be an annual show, so if you missed it this time around, watch for it next October. More about Cherdonna at Cherdonna.com.