Jeffery Roberson, the man behind Varla Jean Merman, answers John Burfitt’s questions about Girl With A Pearl Necklace.
You claim to be the love child of Ethel Merman and Ernest Borgnine -“ why?
I read Ethel’s autobiography and the page about her 38-day marriage to Ernest Borgnine is blank. I thought, what if they had a child during the short time they were together who was a constant reminder of a man she hated? And that’s how Varla started.
Girl With A Pearl Necklace is about Varla’s search for love. How did you research this show?
I tried to date as many people as I could while researching pearl necklaces and, can I add, Varla always got a happy ending. In the show, Varla is going through all the relationships she’s had, trying to work out what went wrong. There is one story about how Varla fell in love with a chain smoker and how he set her on fire -“ and that’s true. You know, one of those habits that really bring you down.
Does the show comment on the gay marriage debate?
Of course, that’s part of Varla’s motivation to do this. I have been witness to many, many gay marriages. In the States, it is amazing -“ people are so frightened by gay marriage.
How did you get into performing?
When I first did drag, I really wanted to get attention. I was fat and weighed 300 pounds, so I was this giant gay man dressed in drag who was so shy that I would never do the things I felt I could do on stage as Varla.
How has your act changed over the years?
Now, I rehearse. Oh, and when I work, I don’t drink before the show -“ only during.
Who are your inspirations?
I worship Ann-Margret, and I think it is quite evident from my act. She is the last of the great Las Vegas entertainers. I saw Pam Ann in London and she’s hysterical. I also saw Dame Edna just a couple of weeks ago and she is still so, so funny!
Do you think drag has become pass?/b>
The people who are successful are not really doing traditional drag. They have made a character and it is acting and comedy. Straight lip synch without any kind of point is pass?I love a good lip synch number, but the kind of drag you see in any bar is giving drag a bad name. But the people who add a point to the number or do something unexpected, I still think that entertains.
Are you looking forward to your first MG?
Well, I won’t be here for the parade and party, but I have heard so many stories! I am from New Orleans, so I am pretty familiar with Mardi Gras -“ in other words, I know how to binge.
Varla Jean Merman in Girl With A Pearl Necklace plays at The Studio, Sydney Opera House, on Saturday 19 February at 7:30pm. Phone 9250 7777 for bookings.