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Musical play by Carson Kreitzer.
The 40s jazz scene had rules.
Rules that were sexist.
Rules that were racist.
Rules not meant to be broken.
Johnny Christmas broke the rules.
Like the best jazz, his story is passionate,
moody and absorbing.
A tale of booze.
A tale of the blues.
A tale of smoke filled bars and the secret
he took to his grave.
Johnny Christmas was a woman.
"I wasn't born a man, I was born a musician"
This is a small scale musical play which is loosely based on the true story of jazz saxophonist Billy Tipton.
Tipton was married three times and had 3 adopted sons - but it was only in 1989 when he died was it discovered that he was actually a she. This production was originally seen at the Freedom Theatre on London's fringe in March this year. With Kim Criswell, Lisa Sadovy and Christopher Colquhoun.
WHITEHALL Theatre, Previewed 27 October, Opened 5 November 1997, Closed 17 January 1998
Extracts from the reviews:
'Theatreland is currently obsessed with necrophilia, disinterring the remains of the famous. Kreitzer, however, bucks the graverobbing trend by eschewing the dull chronological trawl and opting for fiction. Nor is she content merely to discover how such an explosive secret could he kept. Instead, she takes the conundrum and treats it like a diamond, constantly cutting it to show different facets of this fascinating tale. The structure of the characters meeting up after Johnny's death to retell their stories ought to be cheesy, but despite the odd longueur towards the end, the immediacy and the intimacy of Lisa Forrell's extremely well-cast production (with smart musical staging by Bill Dreamer) is extremely seductive. The band is hot and the singing hotter. Kim Criswell, in addition to floating Oscar Levant's supremely wistful Blame It On My Youth and setting the place on fire with Harold Arlen's great Blues in the Night, is surprisingly touching as, the love of Johnny's life, while lithe Christopher Colquohoun is marvellously relaxed as Chester, the pale-skinned black musician who joins Billy's all-white band. As Johnny, the excellent Liza Sadovy plays the sax, sings like a male crooner and adopts a gruff, tough Jimmy Cagney manner which cunningly underlines the bizarrely traditional demands Johnny makes of his wife. First seen at the tiny Freedom Cafe, this West End transfer deserves to be a great success.' David Benedict, The Independent
'Kreitzer calls her piece a "jazz musical". Scenes from Johnny's life are interspersed with wonderfully performed songs by the cast and the on-stage jazz quintet. It is a polished, playful piece and slips down as easily as the bourbon consumed on stage. But the very style that makes the show so easy to enjoy also prevents any real engagement with the story...it is best to just sit back and enjoy the performances. Lisa Sadovy makes a charismatic Johnny, with her slicked-back hair, pale, pinched features and uneasy gait. Christopher Colquhoun, beguiling as the lanky, cheeky Chester, can leapfrog a grand piano, light up a cigarette and sing, all without drawing breath. The lynchpin of the evening, though, is Kim Criswell as June. Her fabulous voice can wrap around you like smoke or knock you flying. Her electrifying performance of "Blues in the Night" is worth the ticket alone' Sarah Hemming, The Financial Times
'I would have thought a thilling play could be squeezed from the true life-story of a female jazz saxophonist who successfully fooled the world into believing she was a man, married a woman, had three adopted sons and kept up her sexual disguise until death. But the American playwright Carson Kreitzer has certainly not written it. The Slow Drag is, like her leading character, not quite one thing or the other. Kreitzer calls her entertainment "a jazz musical", though it's not even that. A jazz quintet simply provides the music for classic ballads from the age of swing...The ballads, mostly sung in a thrillingly big voice by Kim Criswell's June, call back jazzy yesterdays with nostalgic effect if you're that way inclined. Criswell and a superbly athletic singer-dancer, Chistopher Colquhoun, as Chester, delightfully do Tea for Two and Criswell asks Who Can Say What Love Is with real ironic force. In pinstripe double-breasted suit, short, slicked-back hair, and gruff tenor voice Liza Sadovy['s Johnny] cuts a disquietingly masculine figure. She also plays the saxophone like a
chap...Sadly, in Lisa Forrell's rather clumsy though well-cast production, with the band centre-stage and action often on the
side-lines, the relationship of Johnny and June remain tantalisingly in the dark.' Nicholas de Jongh, The London Evening Standard
'Like many short shows, The Slow Drag lives down to its title and lingers too long after dark. A jazzy entertainment with a late start (90 minutes at 9pm) near Trafalagar Square might sound just the ticket for pre-Christmas merriment. Instead, we are offered a deeply unsatisfactory mix of bad blues in the night, red sails in the sunset and green gills in the morning...American author Carson Kreitzer weaves an uninspired showcase for the considerable talents of Kim Criswell as the masquerading saxophonist's torch singer wife...The Slow Drag is a sham of a musical whose tinny production values - onstage small jazz band honourably excepted - underline and expose London's clamorous expectation for a hot new musical show...[Kim Criswell] sings up a regular storm in the great Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen song Blues In The Night, and deals exquisitely with lesser-known standards.' Michael Coveney, The Daily Mail