Justin Michael Van Pelt has been back in Kansas City from New York for a few months now, reprising his role of Harleux in The New Adventures of the Old Girly Show and presenting his one-man cabaret show in the persona of Valentine.
The Girly Show had its origins in bar Natasha, the Kansas City cabaret and restaurant that was owned by Missy Koonce and J.D. Mann. The club featured some of Kansas City’s leading talent and was known to be a great hangout for those in the theatre community after their shows.
Van Pelt created the role of Harleux with fellow singers Daisy Buckët and Paige Turner, and the group has brought it back to Kansas City for this limited run at Missie B’s, along with emcee Dirty Dorothy and Andre Du Broc on the piano. Although the singers are men dressed as women, this is not a drag show, and it features some incredible vocalists in the roles of women performing great songs and engaging in a fun repartee with the audience.
Many Kansas Citians also know Van Pelt, a native of Lee’s Summit, Mo., from his iconic role of Hedwig in the John Cameron Mitchell rock musical, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. He has performed that show several times in Kansas City under the direction of Steven Eubank for Egads Productions.
In New York, Van Pelt had the lucky opportunity to meet the man behind the play and movie.
“We were in line at a club, and I was standing in line for coat check with some friends for work who are not theatre people, and I turned around and John Cameron Mitchell was, like, three people behind me. So I had seen him, and I was with my friend Emily, and I said, ‘That’s John Cameron Mitchell, and he wrote Hedwig, and if I don’t introduce myself to him, I will regret it for the rest of my life.’ So I introduced myself and said, ‘I just want to thank you for creating that role. It’s been very important to me professionally and personally.’ And he was so gracious and sweet.”
That evening, Van Pelt said, “it was karaoke night at the bar, and some dumb chick gets up and sang ‘Origin of Love,’ [from Hedwig> really badly because she knew that he was there. And it was so tacky and I would have never done it. So I sang ‘Somebody to Love,’ which is kind of like my go-to song in karaoke. He [Mitchell”> was there watching, and so I get off the stage and go up to the bar to get a drink and he touches my elbow and said, ‘That was great. You were fantastic.’
“That was it,” Van Pelt said, with a sigh. “So I guess I can die now.”
Van Pelt said he sees his role of Valentine as something similar to the role that Joel Grey played as master of ceremonies in Cabaret or a modern-day Kit Kat Club. Valentine performs with ensembles of other cast members such as Candi Barr and Honey Tahini in Kansas City and Cha Cha Modica, Honey Hightower, Pixie Rouge and Lady Bukkake in New York.
“This character that I’ve created, Valentine, is sort of a response to this strange, fucked-up culture of a desperate need to be masculine,” Van Pelt said. “I hate it. I hate the whole, like, masculine, muscular thing. You can grow as much chest hair as you want, you can wear your flat-brimmed hat, you can have your beard, but that doesn’t make you masculine. It’s not as bad here as it is in New York. It’s like clones. It’s like the Stepford Gays walking down Ninth Avenue.”
“So I created this Valentine character to be kind of this gender fuck. Sort of like, you wear a lot of makeup and the character is visually somewhat feminine, but very much in control, very dominant. It’s unfortunate that I am in New York now, as opposed to the early ’90s when it was people like Sherry Vine and John Cameron working in places like the Squeeze Box, because these people share my ideas, what I think performance should be.”
“There’s nobody in New York now that I know of that is doing boy drag, which is, I guess, what I’m calling what I do.”
Van Pelt will be heading back to New York City when the apartment bedroom he has subleased is available. But it’s not too late to see him perform in several appearances in December in Kansas City.
“I need to get back to work. I’ve been gone from New York for eight months,” Van Pelt said. He performed last spring and summer at Fire Island when not doing cabaret in New York.
“I will be co-hosting a weekly show that starts Jan. 10, which is part of the reason I need to go back,” he said. “So I do have that, and I can just step back into the bar where I was working.”
“The entire reason I left is because I had this really clear opportunity and it just felt like the universe was saying it’s time to go.”
Van Pelt said he thought he would do what he had been doing in Kansas City to pay the rent, such as working in restaurants and acting and singing when he could.
“I hate to burst anybody’s bubble — and New York is a fantastic place — but it’s just a city like anywhere else, and you work hard here and you work hard there. It’s really not all that much different. Although you don’t have to have a car. I hate having a car,” he said with a laugh.
“I trust everybody here. That’s what I love about Kansas City audiences. People watch here. They are there watching the show. Nobody’s on their phones, on their Grindr, no one is texting, talking and drinking. New York is hard.”
Van Pelt said that projects for the future may include trying standup comedy and possibly working on a sequel with John Cupit to the legendary Late Night Theatre production of Super Models From Space.
Van Pelt credited much of his success to people like Ron Megee, Missy Koonce, Steven Eubank, Heidi Van and others. “I wouldn’t be who I am without these people,” he said.
Justin Michael Van Pelt’s December shows in Kansas City
The New Adventures of the
Old Girlie Show
Last performance is at 8 p.m.
Dec. 7 at Missie B’s,
805 W. 39th St., Kansas City, Mo.
8 p.m. Dec. 14, 21 and 28.
Missie B’s, 805 W. 39th St.,
Kansas City, Mo.
Valentine and Daisy Buckë