Out actor John Jarboe wants to “drag” us back to World War II when the Media Theater hosts “Back In The Army,” a gender-bending cabaret inspired by the music of that era, when the manliest of men pined for that girl back home — and to be around other manly men.
“I work at the Media Theater a lot,” Jarboe said about the show he created. “They gave me a cabaret slot and said do what you want with it. I started looking at music from the 20th century. I wanted to do something that was a little bit gay because I wanted to show sides of myself. I stumbled upon this World War II Army music. I have these two different characters: the iconic masculine man and the longing woman who is back at home waiting for her man. I came up with the idea to put these two characters together in a room and in the same person and have a dialog.”
To pull together this drag-inspired drama, Jarboe enlisted the talents of 11th Hour music director Daniel Kazemi and actress Liz Filios — and said the cross-dressing in the show goes in both directions.
“Liz is dressed up like a man the whole time,” Jarboe explained. “She’s one of the Army guys.”
Jarboe said that many of the songs of that era were full of sly entendres ripe for lampooning today.
“A lot of the songs are really funny,” he said. “There’s a song called ‘Why Do They Call a Private a Private?’ The sexual undertones of that song are pretty clear. Even songs that are more of an homage have this dirty undertone. They’re pretty hilarious. I think it’s going to be a really entertaining and fun event. I’m going to be doing a lot of quick changes throughout, running behind the screen as one character and running out in a totally different outfit as another character.”
Jarboe also drew inspiration for his cabaret show from the works of Irving Berlin, the prolific composer and lyricist whose fingerprints can be found all over the traditional American songbook.
“Irving Berlin wrote ‘This is The Army,’ which was a show during World War II. I kind of took that idea and I’m using that convention and playing with it in my own way. I think it has to deal with that hyper-masculine man. It’s so concerned with what it means to be a man and it’s so utterly patriotic and strong. It’s something we don’t have in music anymore today, this kind of gender propaganda.”
(Apparently Jarboe has never heard a Toby Keith album.)
“That’s really attractive to me, so I wanted to take this music that is so assertive and make it more complex to undermine it and expand the definition of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a man in the Army. It’s really topical right now.”
The show sounds like it’s going to be a riot, but Jarboe said he’s having a great time just getting the costumes together.
“It’s really fun going and buying huge petticoats and things like that,” he said. “And Goldberg Army Navy is helping me out giving me a discount on some of that stuff. That store is just a joy to sort through.”
The John Jarboe Cabaret performs “Back In The Army” at 11 p.m. May 15 at Media Theatre, 104 E. State St. For more information or tickets, call (610) 891-1000.